Can you imagine the likelihood of such a scene? A host of angst-ridden engagements between three young boys. Accusations yelled out, grabbing and taking implemented, and even the wild facial taunts and bodily aggression.
Imagine those times when children, and adults (ahem), acted in ways which about drove you crazy and you really wanted to shout out, “Would y’all just stop!”
Insert "you" or "you all" if not southern.
It's not too hard to imagine this scene in the current climate, is it? It kind of makes you lose your mind when strife escalates.
For me, in an effort to fix life and make it appear as if my children’s hearts were actually full of compassion instead of the same kind of self-centeredness which affects every one of us, I told the kids how to respond in these moments. I expected them to act a certain way because I demanded it. I also expected it then and now because, for the love…it needed to end.
The offender was told to say, “I’m sorry.” The receiver was told to say, “I forgive you.” Perhaps this was good in practice, and better than tongue-lashings, but it lacked something vitally important.
Responding because it’s been dictated by another is not the same as responding because it’s directed by the Holy Spirit.
Saying you’re sorry when you get caught isn’t the same thing as feeling sorrowful for hurting another.
Forced forgiveness on a forced apology is dismissive of real hurt and real injustice. It neglects the work of transformation and redemption. It's impotent in the face of restoration and healing.
Finding Genuine Forgiveness
Later, when I become a foster mom and all my parenting paradigms went out the window, I realized that just telling my children what to do and how to do it wasn’t enough to impact lasting change. If they were truly going to feel sorry, and know the impact of repentance and forgiveness, they would need the work of the Holy Spirit nudging their hearts in conviction.
Isn’t that the way for all of us? We need to repent and we need to forgive, but sometimes it’s only done as a rote response to a mandated expectation. What we really need is the Holy Spirit working in our lives individually.
If we want to find genuine forgiveness, we need to find the genuine power of Christ within us.
Maybe we remember scripture where Jesus says to forgive seventy times seven and we think forgiveness is reduced to an act of the will. But, if we make an apology or offer forgiveness to another and it hasn’t touched our heart in some way, we will live void of the life-giving transformation which comes from real forgiveness. No matter how many times we try to manufacture it.
Our apology may fall flat when there is no action tied to the words behind it. Our forgiveness may be comprised of words, without releasing the expectation of payment due. By reducing injustice to mere words, we’re not really apologizing or forgiving at all.
Kind of like my kids. They were learning words, but too often the meaning of real sorrow followed by the power of real forgiveness was missed.
The Power of Real Forgiveness
Thankfully, God doesn’t work this way with us. He offers unbelievable levels of forgiveness for even the most atrocious sins. It's available to us if we desire to receive it.
God also knows the motivations of our hearts and there is little that can be received if we haven’t really allowed sorrow to penetrate, or chosen to activate our faith.
When we experience sorrow for the way we've done wrong and/or hurt another, our sorrow is met by a God who is never coerced into stating forgiveness.
God's forgiveness cost the Father heartache in seeing the Son suffer. It cost the Son immense pain emotionally and physically. Even the deep pain of rejection and abandonment. He still chose to give it. His forgiveness is full, complete, and the result of the ultimate sacrifice.
What if, we learned to listen to the voice of correction and conviction which comes from the Holy Spirit?
What if we responded to this voice, and humbly followed in obedience? This voice which does not beat us down, but leads us into the way of blessings as we turn away from sin.
What if, we apologized and forgave because we knew it was God’s best for us? Because it brought about greater peace, joy, and freedom in our lives?
What if, we knew that forgiveness often isn’t a one and done act of words, but an ongoing process in the heart which releases the burden of payment to the one who already paid it all?
The Challenge of Forgiving
When it comes to the ways in which another person has harmed us the principle sounds better said then it feels to do.
Truly, outrageous sins perpetrated against us can cause us to react in vitriolic defense. Like young children, we spout off, “It’s not fair!” “I can’t forgive them for what they did!” “I didn’t do anything wrong, so I shouldn’t have to say sorry for anything.” “It’s all their fault.”
These feelings are natural based on the pain we feel in gross injustice. Yet, these feelings must also be worked through if we want to live well in the freedom God offers us.
Please know, choosing forgiveness is not the same as choosing to deny sin, or acting as if wrong didn’t happen. It is not an acceptance of the sin, nor is it the same as a restored relationship with another person. There may be many cases where we can choose to forgive, by releasing the burden we hold in our hearts for the injustice received, but the relationship may not be reconciled. **(for more on this, see below)**
I needed, and still need, to know true forgiveness. For the wrongs I’ve done and the wrongs done against me. In some cases, it’s taken many times of coming to God and saying, “Lord, I give this to you.” I tend to want to take it back, so I need to do this again and again.
Jesus took all the wrongs upon him at the cross, so it is right and freeing to to give our offenses over to Him. Over and over again. May we not carry what is no longer ours to carry.
Real forgiveness is heart felt and heart shaping, impacted by the heart of God. It's a way of living which truly sets us free to be all God has called us to be.
Choose forgiveness to stop living stuck and start living well.
NEED MORE ON THE TOPIC OF FORGIVENESS?
- What is Forgiveness? - Discussion on the Dove TV with Christian Counselor Patrick Doyle
- Learning to Forgive - with Patrick Doyle
- How Reconciliation Works - more with Patrick Doyle