Have you been hurt so deeply that you feel trapped by the pain, yet there is something deep within you that refuses to forgive?
At times it seems there are two forces pulling at you, kinda like those cartoons we’ve seen of characters having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. That angel whispers the Scriptures into your ears – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13). “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6:27). “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44). “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you” (Proverbs 20:22).
That devil on the other shoulder is whispering, too. “Don’t forgive them; they don’t deserve it. Don’t you remember what they did to you?”
The angel whispers all the more…,”Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless…” (1 Peter 3:9). And the devil ramps up his whisperings, too…, “What you need to do is get even. If I were you, I’d get them back!”
Forgiveness is hard. It’s even harder when you don’t really want to forgive. Yes, you want to empty yourself of all that bitterness, and you want to enjoy a close relationship with God (because in case you didn’t realize it, bitterness and refusing to forgive separates you from God). But deep down within, you crave vengeance. You just want to even the score somehow, pay them back. After all, that’s what they deserve!
Confession. I have held bitterness toward a certain “them” and “they” in my heart for quite some time now. I said that I forgave, but I didn’t. I thought for a while that I had, but I haven’t. I was sure that I wanted to, but I don’t. I don’t want to forgive them. Oh, in my head I do; I know right from wrong. But the awful, cold, hard truth is that in my heart, I don’t want to forgive them.
I realized that today when I had an opportunity to celebrate “them.” To praise “them.” To congratulate “them.” I didn’t want to do any of those things. Rather, I wanted to remind “them” of their evil, their spite, their prejudices and their mean-spiritedness. But therein lies the rub. I couldn’t remind them of any of their shortcomings and faults without being reminded of my own. Dang.
And so today I realized, fully realized what I already knew in my head. Forgiveness is not really for “them.” It is for me.
You see, by refusing to forgive, I imprisoned myself. I shut myself away in a lonely, desolate and miserable place where I played and replayed the videos and recordings of all that they had done wrong. Meanwhile, they went about their lives – happy, laughing, enjoying. I am sure that they haven’t spent one minute thinking about what has robbed me of peace for more than a year now.
Today, I decided it’s time to be released from prison. I forgave. Once, for all and for always – with the help of the Holy Spirit!
As children of God we are commanded to forgive. It really is not an option, but God will not rush us. He’ll let us linger and languish in the prison of bitterness as long as we desire. When we come to our senses, we understand that He empowers us by His Spirit to forgive just as Jesus forgave when He looked down from the cross at His false accusers, the naysayers and the soldiers who had beaten and whipped Him and now cast lots for His clothing. Amidst all that, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Surely, I can forgive those who hurt me, and I did.
Here’s what we can be sure of – What God commands us to do, He empowers us to do by His Spirit. And that includes forgiving just as Jesus did!
THIS WEEK break free of any prison of unforgiveness that has you bound. “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13). Identify your shortcomings and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for those then, if possible, reconcile with your offender. If you cannot reconcile because your offender is not ready, know that you have done what the Lord has required of you, and go in peace (Romans 12:18).