I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Allow life’s challenges to make you better, not bitter”.
That’s a lot easier said than done, however, most certainly possible! I have experienced my fair share of hurts, disappointments, and betrayals. We all have! But I promise you there is a way to use those experiences to make us better!
I know I’m not alone when I say that forgiveness is hard! It’s always in the wake of something awful. I confess that there was a time in my past where I had allowed unforgiveness to take a hold of my heart. It quite often made me irritable, rude, and easily offended. I’m sure you’ve heard that other saying, ”hurt people hurt people”. Well I had become that person. I justified my behavior because my heart had been deeply wounded and I honestly didn’t care about how my actions affected most people. I was especially graceless towards the person who had hurt me, however, it didn’t matter how ugly I was, it never made me feel better! Even though I believed my actions were justified, by withholding forgiveness, I was really just making my heart sick with bitterness. Unknowingly, I had been drinking the poison that I was intending to give. Thankfully God was able to get through to me! However, in order to begin the healing process of my broken and bitter heart, I had to choose to forgive. Here’s the kicker…I also had to take responsibility for the spiteful things I had done, even though they were in response to my own hurt, and ask for forgiveness too! By willingly choosing to forgive, I was not only participating in the healing of my own heart, but the healing of another person as well.
Forgiveness isn’t really encouraged by our culture. Justice…that’s what the world encourages! “Liberty and Justice for all”. We’ve heard it countless times! It’s one of our nation’s most fundamental values. We are raised to understand the importance of it. But perfect justice can only come from God! He takes account of all the hurt and suffering in our lives. Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.’” So why do we feel the need to take matters into our own hands if we know perfect justice is coming?
Jesus came to show us a better way! He is the perfect example of grace and forgiveness. As Christians we are forgiven and it is our calling to forgive others. Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” We have to be willing to forgive in order to experience God’s grace!
So what is forgiveness? Well, how about if we understand what it is not. It’s not excusing the offence. It’s not based on fairness or apologies. It’s not requiring an individual to become a doormat. It’s not a feeling.
Forgiveness is an act of faith. It’s a gift. But more importantly it’s mandatory for a healthy heart. It’s something that we have to decide to do, and quite often we have to remind ourselves day after day that we have chosen to forgive someone. Especially if they’ve never asked for it!
I remember a time when one of my girls learned about forgiveness. Gabrielle was about 3 years old and I was watching some other kids in our home. They were all playing in the front room when suddenly, our little friend Keaton began to cry as if he’d been hurt. I quickly responded to discover that Gabrielle had hit him on the head with a toy truck. She was typically super easy going and I was surprised that she, of all my kids, had hit him. However, I learned that Keaton had been antagonizing her, taking her toys, and she had simply had enough. I began to walk them through a resolution and asked them to apologize to one another. Keaton quickly said he was sorry, but Gabrielle refused. She was convinced that she was justified in hitting him and had no intention of accepting his apology or apologizing in return. For about a half an hour we went back and forth as I tried to help a 3 year old understand the importance of forgiving her friend. Finally she relented and said she was sorry. I don’t know if she really meant it. But just like I had experienced, that sweet little girl had to not only forgive her friend, but ask him to forgive her as well. It was amazing how quickly they were back to happily playing again. Unfortunately for most of us, that’s not typically the case. The healing process took only a moment for these two little kids, but for most of us it’s usually a much longer process. As adults we allow the injustice to fuel the bitterness that unforgiveness brings. But forgiveness is just the beginning of the healing process. Reconciliation and Restoration are the ultimate goals for us as Christians and completely possible if we can just learn to first forgive. Sometimes this lesson is one that we must relearn each time someone hurts us.
As we learn to forgive, we not only overcome bitterness, but God allows the difficulties, tragedies, and injustices that we’ve experienced to help make us stronger. It’s no surprise that as we experience healing in our hearts through forgiveness, we are able to help and encourage others who are facing similar hurts. We can walk beside each other as a reminder that we are not alone. So I encourage you to give your hurt to Jesus and allow Him to help you offer this incredible gift!