I recently read an excellent article on forgiveness. It was full of good reminders and one thing jumped out that I wanted to ponder further. Forgiveness is often a long journey, not a quick one-time destination. Maybe little things are easy to forgive, maybe people who don’t struggle with bitterness can just put things behind them, forgive easily. But for those of us who find themselves stuck in unforgiveness, it often takes more time and effort to obey Jesus in this area. Obviously any journey should reach an end point or goal eventually, but in my experience the journey through forgiveness takes time, especially where deep wounds are concerned.
I think forgiveness has three steps. It is something we choose to do (in obedience to Christ), then we ask God to help us do it in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then we continue to do it over the ensuing months, weeks and years. The first step is often difficult because we don’t feel capable of such a thing. After all, the pain is sharp and the hurt is deep. The unfairness of the situation is overwhelming. We have been wronged, abused or neglected. And just getting to the starting point of deciding to do the thing is hard. Really hard.
So we must review how great a love we have received and how much mercy and forgiveness our loving Father has bestowed on us! How undeserved it is for wretched sinners like us. We must remember the pain and separation of the Cross. In the words of the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:
Were the whole realm of nature mine/That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so Divine/Demands my soul, my life, my all
And the second step is to realize we don’t have the power in and of ourselves to forgive anyone, especially the life-long wounds we have endured. We beg Jesus to give us power, love, forgiveness. And we are promised that He will answer and give us what we need. 2 Peter 1:3 says “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
The third step: persevere in making the choice, asking God for the power and working to transform our thinking. I carried decades of hurts and mounds of bitterness against my parents and it did not just vanish in a day. It took months and even years of continuing to ask God for help and making choices to forgive. This really hit home for me recently. We drove our daughter to college 15 hours away. I have been dreading this for months and the actual goodbye was tearful and difficult. But as we were traveling home I thought back to when my parents dropped me off as a college freshman. They helped me unload my things into my dorm room and then said a quick farewell and left. There were no tears, and no apparent sorrow on their part. And I spent a few moments feeling badly. No one missed me, no one cared that I was leaving home thirty years ago. I wallowed in some self-pity. I felt a bit of that old familiar anger. BUT I made a decision years ago that I was going to forgive my parents. I was going to try to understand them, honor them and choose to love them. And so that decision must continue today. I asked the Lord quickly to help me remember that and to increase my love and compassion for them. And He answered. I rehearse in my mind that I will love them in obedience to Christ, I will not hold the offenses of the past against them. I am loved and forgiven and God has done so much work in me and has even restored the relationship with my parents in many ways. How can I possibly hold onto that old hurt? I can’t and I won’t, by God’s grace.
If you had asked me a month ago if I have completely forgiven my parents I would have answered yes. But that doesn’t mean that the enemy doesn’t try to get in there and plant a thought in my mind. And sometimes I briefly entertain it. But I must quickly repent and turn from all such thoughts. Because I have been on difficult journey to forgive my parents (and others) and I have arrived at the destination.
And at this destination we find joy and freedom in Christ. I am healed from the old hurts, I am forgiven of my many sins of anger and bitterness and I am free!
All praise to our gracious and glorious God!