“Forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. … For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12 NLT, 14, 15 NIV)
Total Forgiveness: When Everything in you Wants to Hold a Grudge, Point a Finger and Remember the Pain, God wants you To Lay it all Aside by R. T. Kendall
The sub-title of Total Forgiveness grabbed me. Hold a grudge? Point a Finger? Remember the pain? When it comes to my marriage, this is what I’ve done. Many times I’ve forgiven Tom—or at least I’ve meant to and said all the right words of forgiveness—but I’ve often wondered how much I have forgiven him. Lately I’ve been praying, asking God to take down the barriers I’ve built between the two of us because I don’t know how. Could the barriers be walls of unforgiveness?
I’ve pondered Tom’s amazing acceptance when I told him I struggle with same-sex attraction. I’ve wondered at his support of my book that, though chiefly about God’s work in my life, tells of my infidelity to him. I’ve hurt him grievously more than once in ways that would have sent most spouses not only running away but spewing venom but Tom has not. Can it be that he who has been following God for a much shorter time than me is more forgiving of me than I am of him?
What is forgiveness? What does it look like? How do I know when I’ve forgiven someone? How do I forgive? R. T. Kendall lists seven steps to forgiveness and says that when each of these are present regarding the offence and offender, we know we truly have forgiven (I’m listing only six below because two seem to be the same thing to me)..
Make the deliberate and irrevocable choice not to tell anyone what they did. Yikes! Right off the bat I hit a strike. Why do I tell about the wrongs done against me? I’ve been very free in telling others all the ways Tom has hurt me. What is the necessity? Kendall suggests that we do it in order to punish our offender. Is that forgiveness? No. Neither is telling to garner sympathy and/or praise: “What a wonderful person you are to have endured all that and not walked away!”
Be pleasant to them should you be around them. Here’s another strike against me. I do try to be pleasant but more often than not I let my annoyance show. Why? I don’t want him to think that his unacceptable behavior is okay. But do I want to be treated like that because of my offenses against him or others? No.
If conversation ensues, say that which would set them free from guilt. No way! I’ve put all my energy into convincing him of his guilt. How can I forgive someone who doesn’t believe what he did was wrong or realize the depth of pain he has caused? If only he would acknowledge his guilt I could forgive. But no. Look at Joseph when he encountered his brothers in Egypt: “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45:5) Can I be that magnanimous with those who hurt me? I haven’t been.
Let them feel good about themselves. No! Why should he feel good about himself when he’s made me hurt so much? He already feels too good about himself. He really needs to be brought down a notch or two instead. Strike four!
Keep it up today, tomorrow, this year and next. Sigh. I’m still raising the hurts of 37 years ago. That’s not forgiveness, is it? I need to keep renewing my commitment to forgive. Once is not enough.
Pray for them to be blessed. Strike six. I realize that my prayers for him have not been asking for good things to happen to him. Instead they’ve been, “Change him, Lord! “ which, of itself, is a good thing to pray but not good if it ends there. Far too often I’ve wanted him to experience the consequences of his hurtful behavior. Not very loving of me is it?
I need to change. I’ve been unfair, unloving and ungodly. Can I do this? Can I be so forgiving that I never talk about his wrongs to anyone, not even to my best friend? Can I keep my mouth closed when he’s done something again and not say a word? Can I go further by reassuring and encouraging him to not be angry at himself for what he’s done? Can I build him up and praise him instead of tearing him down and being critical? Can I do this to his face, behind his back and repeatedly in my mind? Can I do it every time the pain resurfaces? Am I willing to ask God to shower his blessings on him when my emotions cry out to curse him? Can I? Will I?
It’s a complete shift in my way of thinking and yet, as I was reading the book, the thought of those barriers tumbling down because I dare to forgive totally and forgive in every way is appealing. Is it that easy? It seems impossible. And yet Jesus says that the degree of forgiveness from God to me is dependent on the degree of forgiveness from me to others. I don’t have much choice, do I? I need God’s forgiveness. Without it I am dead. Tom needs my forgiveness. Without it our marriage is dead.
God, I want to be a forgiving person. I want no bitterness in my life. And I want the barriers I’ve built to come down. Help me, Lord! Help me to remember what forgiveness looks like so I can stay in that place of forgiveness. And when fear threatens to take over, give me the courage to do what I fear.