The ability to forgive is a powerful tool for personal transformation.
We do ourselves a huge favor when we truly let go and forgive. There is an extremely high return of peace and joy in our hearts when we sincerely forgive those who hurt us. When we forgive others, it is really for our benefit more than for those who cause the offense (Matt. 6:14,15). Often the people whom we haven’t forgiven don’t even know it. But failure to forgive wastes our energy ⎯ causing us mental and emotional stress.
It is difficult to forgive
It seems difficult to forgive when we have been betrayed or deeply hurt. When we feel justified not forgiving someone, that bitterness stays with us, and it can gnaw away inside us as long as a whole lifetime. Sometimes we think it’s okay to say, ‘Well, I’ve forgiven him, but I don’t want to see him or talk to him again.’ Sorry to say, but the truth is that we have not really forgiven. True forgiveness erases all negative associations from our hearts. If we don’t truly forgive, then resentment festers in our hearts ⎯ causing anger. Anger then turns into hate (1 John 2:9-11). Hate is a total inversion of love. Brethren and sisters, remember that hate destroys (1John 3:15; 4:20,21). It is quite possible to react with anger or hate just for the moment, and that is wrong too. But it is far worse if those feelings constantly replay in our minds; then we need to try again, asking God to help us overcome this weakness. Total forgiveness takes time. Don’t let pride stop you from forgiving others. Be as little children. They don’t keep malice or hatred in their hearts (1 Cor. 14:20).
Christ understood the importance of releasing, letting go, and truly forgiving. That is what he did for us when he hung on the cruel cross and begged, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He expects us to do the same. Surely, when Jesus was on the cross, we were on his mind.
As we practice forgiveness, let each one say in his heart: “I forgive him. Maybe he didn’t realize what he was doing”… or “He was probably doing the best he could.”
Sometimes we judge others and then upset ourselves by refusing to forgive them. A young man was supposed to meet a young lady at a stoplight at 2:15, after which he would drive her to the store. The lady was looking forward to a chance to catch up on happenings in his family. Unfortunately, the man didn’t arrive until 3:30. The lady was really hurt. She only faintly responded to his hello. She assumed he was inconsiderate and unkind, and then felt even worse toward him when he offered no explanation or apology. The lady was so hurt that she refused to open any conversation with the man.
Two days later the young lady found out that the secretary had written down the wrong time, and the young man had no idea there was a problem.
We too make mistakes in life and need others to forgive us. As we forgive others it helps remove any negative ideas that may be held against us, thus recreating a harmonious flow between ourselves and others.
In Matthew 6:14,15 Jesus reminds us that forgiveness is not one-sided: “If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Forgiveness is a two-way street. How can we expect our Father to forgive us if we don’t forgive those who offend us (v. 12)?
Forgiveness is a lifetime process (Matt. 18:21,22); if necessary, it must go on forever. We can’t forgive today and then forget about forgiving tomorrow. Jesus told Peter to forgive as many as seventy times seven, essentially forever. Don’t worry whether or not the person you forgive finally understands you. Love him and release him. God brings truth to people’s minds in His own time ⎯ just like He does for you and me.
Responding to hurt
It’s not who hurts us or what happens to us, but our response to that hurt that entraps us, taking away our real freedom. Once we have totally forgiven, we feel the connection of a clean, or purified, heart between ourselves and others.
Do we blame others for our difficulties in life? I hope the answer is ‘No’ ⎯ because if we do, it will rob us of true freedom and peace of mind; it will sap our energy. It’s forgiving and letting go of these inner entrapments that bring us lasting freedom.
Is there someone whom you need to forgive? Do it today, and then go freely into the presence of the Lord our God. Only then will He accept the gift you bring to Him (Matt. 5:24).