Forgiveness is a choice. Forgiveness is not a feeling. Truth is you don’t often feel like forgiving, but doing so is always an act of your will. While much can be accomplished through a single declaration of forgiveness, it rarely is a one-time transaction. You will probably need to forgive again and again. We need practice. We must choose and learn to replace the habit of reviewing the offense(s) with anger, turmoil and acrimony, replacing each with grace. Bitterness wants to consume and destroy us, our relationships and our health. Choosing forgiveness is a determined process and lifestyle. Never instant or easy, there are few things more precious in life than learning how to give grace to people who don’t deserve it. To forgive effectively as a lifestyle, we also need to receive forgiveness and grace from God regularly, and He offers pardon liberally.
Forgiving my father was my Mt. Everest. It was my perception that he did not guide or love me and was self-absorbed. If I were to forgive him, I knew that it made me personally responsible for my life, my unhappiness and my failed relationships. It seemed easier to put the blame and cause on his shoulders, rather than my own.
I once was encumbered with a list of 20+ people that I needed to forgive. These were people purposefully avoided, people to whom I had given power to change my mood if I heard their name or even saw them in passing; people who had disrespected me, betrayed me or hurt me with words or actions.
What I discovered is most people need help to forgive the big stuff. Courage, determination and humility are all required. Forgiveness is the freedom for which you must fight; the battle arduous and demanding. I believe the humility and courage involved in true forgiveness makes it the hardest mountain a human will ever ascend. If asked, God will come to the aid of those who are trying to forgive, first laying His foundation of grace, should one choose to receive it. For He has spoken through James that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Jesus is our example:
From the cross in Luke 23:24, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” This was not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Remember when I stated that courage, determination and humility are all required? Jesus offered forgiveness as a clear example of radical courage, determination and humility.
Forgiveness can be:
1. The best response to injustice.
2. Responding with good when confronted with evil.
3. Abandoning vengeance and resentment when you believe someone deserves it. Giving grace, mercy, generosity and love to those whom you do not think deserve them.
4. The gift we give to ourselves and others that promotes physical and relational healing.
Forgiveness Is Not:
- Time passing/ignoring the effects of the wrongdoing.
- “Nothing that bad happened.” “It was only this one time.” “It won’t happen again.”
- “The person did this because…it wasn’t really their responsibility.”
- “She/he deserves to know they have wronged me.”
- “Forgiving” with a sense of moral superiority.
- Seeking Justice or Compensation
- Demanding an apology or compensation first.
Physical Reasons to Forgive
Proverbs 17:22 (NIV) tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Bitterness is contrary to cheerfulness and is characterized by anger, hostility, antagonism, fear, anxiety, distress, with the list going on and on. It dries up our very bones. Our immune system is manufactured in the marrow of our bones. Research has proven unforgiveness as one cause for disease in our bodies. There are many reasons to forgive.
This is the process that moves us toward poor health; Starting with the offense, continuing on through the cycle from anger to chronic adrenaline.
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weakened immune system (inside your bones)
- Irritability, short temper, disposition to anger easily
- Heart and vascular disease
- Bone and joint disease
Jesus said that our judgment will come back on us and so will our forgiveness.
Matthew 7:1-2 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure it will be measured to you.”
a. We are made in the image of God. When we forgive, we do as He does, forgiving us, and others, demonstrating we trust His justice.
b. As we judge, we take on the position of God, outside of our design, making us anxious, fearful and joyless. Our pride and anger snatch our access to joy.
c. Focusing on the guilt of our offender blinds us to guilt we own and carry ourselves. (King David and Nathan – 2 Sam. 12:5-7).
d. Our desire is to be blessed and shown mercy. IN THE SAME WAY we should forgive and bless others.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sin” (Matt. 6:12-15).
It seems clear, or hopefully so, that unforgiveness is the toxic tonic we ourselves imbibe hoping that it waste away our offender. The more we consume, the more our bodies, soul, mind and spirit start wasting away. While some do intend to offend, for many it is a byproduct of their own bitterness, a symptom of their unforgiving heart. Failure to forgive leads to temptation and sin. We justify our actions when someone has treated us poorly. We fall to temptation and make a mess of our lives much more quickly when we have resentment and bitterness. We justify indiscretions, both small and large.
I propose a washing away, a cleansing of the bitterness festering in us. Not a feeling, not simply issuing good will, not a one-time act. For forgiveness requires diligence, grace, and a growing total change of heart. When I persisted at forgiving my father, (and I continue to do so although he’s been dead over a decade) I began seeing some of his good qualities. I started tearing down my Mt. Everest one boulder at a time and it no longer stands. As I determinably took on my list of 20+ to forgive, I found joy return to my heart. My bones ached less. My stomach stopped growling whenever I saw or thought of them. My mind became even clearer. I became more of what I was designed to be, a man made in the image of the God of love and grace. You can join me too on this path toward healing and health, if and only if, you choose to take on the challenge to forgive.
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