No, this post isn’t about the curse word. And speaking of curse words, no, it isn’t about Chef Gordon Ramsay’s stunning, amazing, informative, and entertaining food show either. I’m talking about the F word hardest to swallow for many of us: Forgiveness. Forgiveness has confused and eluded me for much of my life. That magnitude of persistent confusion is a red flag that I’m making – or letting something make – life harder than it should be because I’m desperately trying to understand that which cannot or need not be understood. A spirit of confusion is definitely not God’s will for us. 1 Corinthians 14:33a: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” God’s will in our lives is often easy to seek and recognize (what is good, wise, right, in line with His Word and truth, and in line with the deepest desires and leadings of our souls) while often being difficult to do and complete (not always easy, fun, or fast). Forgiveness was no exception. God wants us to practice forgiveness as He knows that it is in our own best interest for health and abundant life…easy peasy lemon squeezy. Actually forgiving others and receiving peace about the situation/person once and for all…not so much.
So, in my journey to realize true forgiveness that frees, heals, and lasts, I had a few revelations. A lightbulb first went on when I realized forgiveness is a choice, a sacrifice, and a process. I’m not necessarily going to feel better, at least not right away. I must choose forgiveness despite my feelings. It’s a choice I’ll have to make repeatedly until I can finally and completely release the person who wronged me from owing me anything and leave the wrong buried in the past without digging it up again, sacrificing my need for answers and my sense of justice.
However, choosing and sacrificing proved not to be enough as my patience and frustration with the process wore thin. I thought I genuinely forgave, but the heaviness of the hurt continued to exist and intensify below the surface of my conscious awareness, weigh down each cell of my body, and intricately lace pain and sickness in the deepest, darkest places. My soul continued to steep in a boiling concoction of anger, hatred, bitterness, judgment, jealousy, and pride. My one-track mind raced to replay the offensive memories, fueling the monstrous waves of frenzied feelings in my heart and overcomplicating the situation with theories on every possible unknown variable for which I wanted answers. Over a period of about 20 years, many, many factors (all of which I plan to cover in future goingplaid posts so that you can hopefully avoid them or join me in overcoming them) came together in destroying my body with advanced disease. Still, as my outward appearance began to deteriorate in reflection of the increasing darkness inside, I could no longer ignore some of the most important factors of all: negative thoughts and emotions. I could no longer ignore the connection as well as disparity between my failing body, my controlling mind, my wounded heart, and my benevolent spirit. I then realized true forgiveness would only come from a clean, calm, and obedient heart. Lightbulb!
But…how to achieve such a state of the heart? I began by overcoming four obstacles that were blocking my path to forgiveness:
1. Degree of the Wrong. How easy would it be for you to forgive someone for calling you a name to your face? Ignoring you? Spreading rumors about you? Lying to you? Hurting your child or another loved one? Every wound hurts, but some definitely worse than others. The most severe wounds take the longest to heal. For example, when I was 7 years old, I was robbed of my innocence and laughter as I faced eyes of pure evil for the first time. I was sexually abused by my own grandfather, and felt a hatred inside that I still cannot fathom. Wounds like these may have us wishing that the technology existed to erase our memories like in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Still, God does not waste our pain; some good will come out of the worst sin, even if we cannot see it. Maybe your wound will enable you to comfort someone else experiencing a similar wound. Maybe it will prevent someone from experiencing it at all. Plus, all our experiences and relationships – good and bad – help to shape our lives, who we become, what we are passionate about, and what difference we will make in this world.
We hold on to the logical concepts that there are degrees of sin and that some are just unforgivable. We also justify the wrongs we do by comparing our sins to others that are much worse in the earthly hurt and havoc they cause. When the reality is that sin – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant – offends and separates us from a good, just, and perfect God. In fact, even if we don’t act on a sinful temptation, we are guilty just in having the thought since it reveals our true fleshly, self-centered, and prideful nature. Matthew 5:28 says, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Our very nature justly condemns us to eternal death. Yet, the only unforgivable sin is forever rejecting the God who created us, loves us, and made a way for us to enjoy eternal life with Him by being the ultimate sacrifice. The rest can, and should, be forgiven.
2. Frequency of the Wrong. Most people have heard the saying, “forgive and forget.” Still, in addition to the vast majority of us not having the ability to forget hurtful memories, forgiveness is even more challenging when the wound keeps getting reopened and stung with salt. A severely wounded rag doll from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sally would sew herself back together again each time a part of her was ripped or torn off. In the same way, we scramble to put ourselves back together again after someone has hurt us, but if we don’t deal with and heal the wound completely, it will make us prone to falling apart again or leave us with a permanent and painful scar.
Different people could hurt us in the same way such as rejection from ended romantic relationships. Or, the same person may hurt us the same way despite our numerous and constant pleas to them. Yes, we are to forgive each time, regardless of how many times someone hurts us, just as we want to be forgiven for the wrongs we’ve done – intentionally or unintentionally – to others. Still, we are not to be doormats. Some people are in our lives briefly (perhaps one time) for a reason…others for a season of our lives…and still others for a lifetime. We should seek God’s wisdom to know when we should attempt to make peace, or when we should peacefully walk away.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times…Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold* was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go…But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins**. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened…Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. – Matthew 18:21-35
3. Attitude Behind the Wrong. Perhaps the greatest challenge in being able to forgive someone is the attitude of the person behind the hurt. It’s always easier to forgive if the person who hurt you realizes what they did was wrong, feels bad about it, apologizes, explains, etc. But many times, we don’t get those luxuries. Just as in Shakespeare’s Othello, so many people were caught and destroyed in Iago’s web of evil manipulation that stood without much reason or remorse.
So many horrific things go on in this world still today on a global and personal level. I try not to watch the news anymore because I get sick to my stomach. Governments and people in positions of authority will destroy, rape, blackmail, steal, or kill for their own purposes. A man will mercilessly kill dozens of people and have no remorse, but actually take pleasure in it. A woman will kill her own small children, and then kill herself. The list could go on and on. Why is this happening?? What many people are not discussing in these types of senseless crimes against humanity is the role of anti-depressants and other psychotropic and prescription drugs that degenerate people’s minds, throwing them into depression, making them lose their conscience and sanity, and leading to these kinds of suicides and homicides. Also, some say violence and horror in pop culture, especially visually in movies, cause people to become desensitized to violence and the suffering of our fellow man. Though I agree with that and personally will not watch anything that solely celebrates evil such as horror movies, I would argue this is not just a problem of the modern age as horrific violence has occurred throughout the world’s history. It does seem, however, that such senseless violence and mass desensitization is reaching epic proportions as more and more people live for themselves instead of God. And finally, some people are just evil. There is no good in them. They will take pleasure in evil, have no remorse for their evil, and die cursing God. Should we really forgive these kinds of people? Yes, and even pray for them. Maybe if prayer filled our hearts and this world, individual families, businesses, and countries would be brought low and changed to where people would be loving more, hurting less, and raising/encouraging more people to love good rather than evil.
On the other side of the spectrum, some people can be well-meaning, but they judge you and treat you poorly without knowing your full story or what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Sometimes people are just selfish, thoughtless, in a hurry, angry, vengeful, depressed, jealous, and the list goes on and on here too. Maybe they don’t care about you, or maybe they actually want to hurt or control you. Whatever the motive, wound, reasoning, circumstance, consequence, etc., we have to remember that it is God’s to avenge and He will repay. We forgive them because they know not what they do. More importantly, we know not what it’s like to be in their shoes having lived what they’ve had to live through.
Many times, we not only have trouble forgiving the attitude behind the wrong, but also feel the need to defend ourselves. Our defensive attitude causes us to be too worried with what others think of us, and gives people too much of an opportunity to hurt us. The below slandering of Dogberry as an “ass” from Scene IV of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is quite comical due to Dogberry’s response. Still, these types of “insignificant” wrongs multiplied are what give people such low self-esteem, which in turn cause a whole host of other issues and evils for those people and the world around them.
The Bible calls us to confess our sins to one another. But in a world where many seem to be callously judging and hurting instead of loving, encouraging, and supporting each other, I don’t even see people in the Christian churches opening up too often. You ask how someone is and get a generic response about the weather or “fine” with no questions asked in return. Consequently, relationships don’t deepen and people feel alone in their struggles.
We must learn to live our lives for an Audience of One (God), and know that the only thing that matters is how special and loved we are in His eyes regardless of what we’ve done. We must also take the risk of opening up to each other and potentially being hurt; worst case scenario, you move on. Even the best of relationships will have hurt in them, but they will also have love, forgiveness, and a multitude of blessings. The alternative is to become a hermit in the mountains, and personally I’m not a forage-off-the-land, shoot-your-own-dinner, go-to-the-bathroom-in-a-hole-in-the-ground, fight-with-big-bugs-and-dangerous-animals, wilderness kind of girl. But, I digress.
4. Perspective of the Wrong. In the animated movie Cars, a phrase in Latin appears above the courtroom doors: “The road to justice is paved with truth.” Truth is everything. We so frequently demand justice, but leave ourselves and our rationalized past out of the equation. Truthfully reviewing my life, I’ve been wounded severely. The hatred I felt after being sexually abused as a child was resurrected whenever I heard of children being abused or killed. I condemned the abusers and killers that they should die an incredibly painful death repeatedly for eternity! Then again, in doing so, I condemned myself for allowing…no, truthfully…asking…a doctor to stop the heart and mutilate the body of the baby and miracle of life that was growing inside me as a result of a choice I made to have sex 12 years after I first felt that hatred. Only God can judge our hearts and motives as He alone truly understands our pain in the complexity of the world and ourselves. No one better understands the mechanics and needs of a car than the manufacturer. As much as we’ve been wounded, we’ve also inflicted wounds. Whoever has been forgiven much, loves much. And whoever loves much, can then forgive much.
We must first receive and embrace God’s forgiveness in order to give forgiveness freely to others and ourselves. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our own – so is His love and forgiveness. His strength, power, and ability to turn evil into good are made perfect in our weaknesses, mistakes, and deliberate sins. He died for us while we were yet His enemies. While our darkness nailed Him to a cross, He pleaded and bled that we be forgiven since we know not what we do. He keeps our tears in a bottle. He carries us through life’s trials and prepares a place for us to enjoy after we leave the earth…a place untouched by evil or darkness. He rejoices over us with singing. Once we’ve repented of our sin, He casts them as far as the East is from the West, and remembers them no longer. With my human limitations, I’m not expected to forget the wrong, but rather let it go.
Imagine entering a Bermuda Triangle of sorts…God is at the top, you are at the bottom left, and the person/people who hurt you are at the bottom right. What happens as the two bottom points slide up towards the top point? As you get closer to God, you are also closer to the people who inflicted your wounds…you see them more clearly and compassionately as also being wounded. You offer those people to God to judge. You offer yourself and your blood-stained hands up to God to judge. And you offer up your wounds for God to heal, all your darkness for God to drain and fill with His light. It may take time and repetitive offerings, the hurt and memories may not go away until we get to heaven, but God will honor our desire to be healed and fully forgive others and ourselves. We will enter this triangle where we receive God’s selfless love, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that clean and calm our dirty and volatile hearts, filling them with humility, thankfulness, and a desire to obey and serve God in goodness and light regardless of how many times we might fail in that quest. After entering this triangle, the weight begins to lighten, the anger begins to subside, and eventually all darkness disappears.
Sometimes forgiving ourselves is even more challenging than forgiving others. Even though we’ve received God’s forgiveness and He erases that sin completely, we still remember it…are haunted by it…and cannot bring ourselves to let it go. We then have to face the skeletons in our closets to forgive ourselves even as God has forgiven us so we can truly be free and at peace. How we do that is as unique as our being and circumstance. My sins are as numerous as the grains of sand on the shore, yet one haunts me above all the rest…one I cannot seem to forgive myself for even though I know God’s forgiven. Next week in Part 2, I hope to finally find and receive that forgiveness from myself and the one I hurt.
‘Forgiving and being forgiven are two names for the same thing. The important thing is that a discord has been resolved.’ – C.S. Lewis
* Greek ten thousand talents; a talent was worth about 20 years of a day laborer’s wages
** Greek a hundred denarii; a denarius was the usual daily wage of a day laborer