As we approach Christmas I am reminded of the forgiveness that we have been shown by our wonderful God through the birth of our Messiah Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of his life for our sins and salvation. That act of love, kindness and forgiveness can many times seem like something that is unfathomable for our human minds to wrap around. But the truth is that it did happen and as believers in Jesus Christ we receive that forgiveness, even when we mess up, we need to ask for it and to repent from the sin we committed. But because of the forgiveness that we have received, we are also told that we need to forgive others that have sinned against us. Oh, that can be such a big struggle as it is so easy to spin the pain, anger, hurt that has happened or been caused by someone out of control. It can morph into an uncontrollable anger, or you fall into a pit of despair as you wallow in self-pity about the wrong that has been done to you. You many even go to the point that you share the offense, or offenses that have happened to you with others seeking their thoughts to build upon your justification for the reason why you should be hurt, angry, offended, etc. for what someone has done or said to you.
But as we look at what the scripture tells us we see that we are to find forgiveness in our hearts. Let’s look at the Lords Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. As you see it says to pray for forgiveness of our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us; it does not just say forgive us of our sins. In fact, as you continue into Matthew 6:14 it says “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. I don’t know about you but those are some sobering words to think about and to apply to your heart. In Mark 11:25 it tells us that when we pray, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too. It can seem like an impossible task to forgive someone that has hurt you or sinned against you in any way. But then think about the forgiveness we are given by our beloved Jesus, who was sacrificed so that we could be viewed as righteous.
I ask you what is forgiveness? Wikipedia says, intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense. Then I looked up the Greek word that is used in Matthew and it means to send away, omit lay aside, let go. My Vines bible dictionary says that it is a verb. It means to cancel debts. To me when a debt is cancelled you have a zero balance, so that means there is no offense, no sin, you just lay it down and give it to Jesus. It sounds easy enough, and that is what we are to do, but finding true forgiveness in our hearts can really be a struggle. Yes, some things are easier to forgive than others, but the scriptures say all sins against us, not just the ones that are easy to forgive and forget. As I read and pondered what forgiveness looks like it really made me start to look at my life and to allow Holy Spirit to guide me on a journey to uncover areas in my heart where unforgiveness was dwelling. I believe that forgiveness can be one of the hardest things to truly do. It can seem so easy to say, “I forgive you”, but how many times do we really mean it when those words come out of our mouth or are even a thought in our heads?
One of the things that I have come to realize on my journey with forgiveness is that it is really an intentional process. It is intentional because until you act nothing can be done. You must make the conscious decision that you are going to cleanse your heart of unforgiveness. Sometimes the unforgiveness can be so deeply rooted in our hearts that we don’t even realize it is there, because we have made justifications to feel the way we do, or to act a certain way toward someone because of things they have done or said. I have broken down the process I used on my journey, in the hope that it will help you. I had to work through 40 plus years of pain and hurt that had come from my mother and some other people in my life. As I walked this journey I found that every time something new happened, I had just added it to the list of things that they had done, I had a laundry list of hurt and pain that had happened over years of my life, from early childhood all the way into adulthood. This was a long process for me on some and short for others in my life. But the outcome has been wonderful. Trust me it is not always easy, and for me it did not happen overnight, but rather it was a 3-4-year struggle for one person in my life. I found that I had to keep going back and working through forgiveness, but it has changed me and made me a better person.
Discover who you have unforgiveness for.
Find that quiet place where you can spend time with God. Then ask Holy Spirit to show you who you need to forgive. Write down the names that you get and if there is anything specific that has happened. There might only be one thing or there could be many things. As I went through this process for some it was short and simple, but for others I had a laundry list after years and years of things that had happened. Remember that this is a continual process that we should apply to our daily life.
What has caused the unforgiveness? (Is it an action, something said, a combination of things)
It can take a while to figure out the what. For me I found that when I sat down and just started to write what was on my heart that had been pent up for years and years, I filled 6 pages. But then as I read those pages that I had written I was able to pick it apart and find the various ways that I needed to forgive and accept things as they were. Yes, as we forgive it does not necessarily change the other person, but it changes our heart. Forgiveness it really us voluntarily forgiving someone that does not necessarily deserve our forgiveness, just as Jesus has done for us.
Confess to God your sin of unforgiveness
I say to confess your sin because I have come to realize that when we hold unforgiveness in our hearts it really is a sin. As we go through the forgiveness process and we work on healing those places in our heart, we must ask for forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. The sins could be many such as unforgiveness, or judgement. Or maybe instead you have made agreements with lies such as shame and condemnation. Remember that the Lord does not condemn us, or bring shame upon us. This helps us to cleanse our hearts and move forward on this healing journey. What I found for myself is that I had to repeatedly go to God on this because I would forgive all things, but then the person I had forgiven would do something new and all the old pain would come crashing back in. For me it took 3-4 years to completely forgive my mother. But for others it may just be a one-time thing of talking to God about how and why you have felt the way you did for so long. The more you work on forgiveness and letting go of offenses the easier it becomes.
Go to that person if possible and forgive them, or ask them to forgive you
This can be the hardest part. Maybe that person is no longer alive, well by you going to God and confessing and talking to God about the problem and asking God to forgive you, this has taken care of the problem. But if the person is still alive it can be a good thing to reach out to them. For instance, I realized I had to ask my sister to forgive me for all the years that I had spoken poorly of her, judged her, etc. Sounds easy right? Well she is not a Christian and so when I asked her for forgiveness and I explained all the things I had felt over the years when various things had happened she said all is good. But 1 year later she threw it all back in my face saying that I hated her because of the things that I had confessed to her. When that happened, I did not get angry, but just explained that when I ask her to forgive me for the things I had thought, it did not mean that I hated her. My suggestion is to prepare your heart because whether they are a Christian or not; as well as their spiritual growth can make a difference on how they react to what you are telling them. I have found that for some things I just forgive people instantly and chose not to take offense to things they say or do. Not allowing offense to be a part of your life is part of forgiveness and it is also a part of showing grace.
As you walk in forgiveness you start to find freedom and you look at people differently. For me my heart has changed toward my Mother and so now I am able to care for her as she struggles with Alzheimer’s. But it has also helped me so that I choose not to take offense at things that are said and done. I take the time to think about not what they say or do, but what is there heart saying. We live in a broken and sinful world, but as we walk and grow spiritually it brings a new awareness to ourselves. From my perspective as I have learned to walk in forgiveness, I feel closer to God, and I have a peace in my heart instead of anger, and pain.