“What if you did it anyway?”
This was a question I posed to my small group of girls during this past weekend’s youth retreat. All weekend we talked about community—what prevents it, what tears it down, what builds it up.
One night during our small group time, the discussion turned to the topic of forgiveness. We shared our hurts and how we feel about the people who have hurt us. It was good, honest conversation. And what these girls were discovering is just how hard forgiveness really is.
It’s not just teens that struggle with this. I don’t care how old you are—this topic is a tough one.
It’s easy to agree that forgiveness is a good thing and that it should be practiced.
But when you get down to the nitty-gritty. When you start talking about ACTUAL hurts, ACTUAL wounds, ACTUAL scars, ACTUAL pain and disappointment and anger—embracing forgiveness becomes much harder.
We know Jesus says to forgive.
We’ve heard stories about people who chose to forgive people for things that, in some cases, produced some pretty tragic or horrendous outcomes.
We’ve seen the beautiful outcomes and the possibilities that exist when people choose to go against the current of what they prefer and flow freely in the current of how God calls his children to live and treat others—and yet we struggle when it’s OUR hurt.
We read Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness and say, “Yeah, but what if…” or “Yeah, but this is what happened to me.”
When we respond to the command to forgive in these ways, are we actually saying that somehow OUR situation is the exception? That somehow Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness has limits? As if he said, “I mean, if it’s REALLY bad, then, of course, this doesn’t apply to you.”
If that were true, then none of us would apply forgiveness to our situations. We would excuse ourselves every time.
But that’s not what Jesus’ taught. He didn’t teach that forgiveness was optional or that it had limits. He actually taught that our forgiveness should be limitless—that it’s for every person and every situation.
You see, Jesus didn’t instruct us to forgive because it’s easy. He instructed us to forgive because it’s best.
It’s healthiest for you—mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
I told the girls this weekend that I’ve never seen any benefit come to the person who has chosen to harbor resentment or bitterness or anger towards someone else. I have, however, seen negative side-effects of choosing not to forgive.
One of my favorite quotes goes something like this, “Choosing not to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
It’s true. It’s never good for you, and it rarely, if ever, impacts the person you are harboring the resentment or bitterness against.
What if you did it anyway?
What if Jesus’ teaching goes against every, single emotional response inside of you—every single thought and justification of why you are right and they are wrong…or bad…or undeserving of grace and forgiveness from you —and yet, you did it anyway?
What if you choose to act like Jesus and extend grace to someone who, in your estimation, does not deserve it, instead of withholding it?
I’ve never heard of anyone that regretted showing “too much" of Christ’s grace and love and forgiveness.
I have, however, known people who regretted broken relationships and wasted years due to a refusal to forgive.
So, what if you did it anyway?
What freedom might you experience?
What opportunities for redemption, or peace, or release from anxiety and anger might you find?
Take a look at what Dr. Les Carter, a nationally known psychotherapist, says about what forgiveness is and is not. Perhaps this will help you find some new perspective on this very difficult teaching.
Forgiveness does NOT mean:
Denying the legitimate pain you have experienced.
Agreeing to act like best friends with the person who has done you wrong.
Allowing others to continue to disrespect your needs and boundaries.
Condoning behavior that is clearly inappropriate.
Telling the wrongdoer that what happened in the past is irrelevant and that it is okay to pretend as if nothing happened.
Ignoring the ill effects of past wrongs that continue to influence current events.
And, finally, forgiveness does NOT mean that you have gone soft about the problems that have left deep wounds.
Forgiveness DOES mean that you are willing to let go of harmful or ineffective forms of anger and are choosing to turn over the ultimate resolution of wrongdoings to God.
And where bitterness only produces lousy results, forgiveness comes with a whole host of positives! Dr. Carter goes on to say that forgiveness...
Frees you to focus on the priorities that are more important than anger and bitterness.
Prompts you to let go of obsessions about the one who has wronged you.
Compels you to stop making insulting and derogatory remarks about the one who has done wrong.
Causes you to be forward-looking about the course your life is taking.
Compels you to put acceptance and tolerance first.
Reminds you that you cannot control another person’s choices, only your own.
It’s not natural. So we need some supernatural help in making it a reality in our lives. Fortunately for us, Jesus has sent His sweet Holy Spirit to aid us in just such times.
And maybe you need to have it out with God over some of the hurt you’ve experienced. I say go ahead. God is the best place to take all of that.
Get it out.
Vomit all that toxicity out on Him.
Let Him take it.
Even if you don’t feel like it…do it anyway.
And may you experience the joy, peace, and freedom that Christ will give you.