How in the world did you forgive the people who raped you?
How in the world did you forgive your father for killing your mother?
How did you forgive your husband for the hurt he caused you through his addiction and stay married?
How did you forgive your best friend for marrying your ex-husband?
How did you forgive that friend in church for keeping a record of every wrong you ever committed and every idle word you spoke and going to the pastor to discredit you?
I’ve had every one of these questions asked of me. All these things happened to me – and more. I’m tough. It’s true. But just because I’m not easily offended doesn’t mean that I don’t get hurt by the negativity spoken about me and the way I lead others. As a pastor’s wife and the executive director of a national ministry, I have been betrayed repeatedly. I have needed intensive care, comfort, and consolation. So often, I just wanted the hurt to go away. But that doesn’t happen without healing.
Caring for myself through forgiveness
Forgiveness is a concept that is widely misunderstood. It’s been my experience that people who have been hurt or harmed by someone believe that if they forgive, then they are excusing, condoning, or dismissing the offense. But this isn’t true at all. The way someone has hurt you leaves a mark, and when that wound heals, it leaves a scar.
My understanding of forgiveness is filtered through what I have learned on my own healing path. Take it or leave it, I believe it can benefit anyone to gain this understanding. You can get this nugget that took me years of therapy and time on my knees in prayer to mine out.
Forgiveness is possible without reconciliation
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. I can forgive you without reconciling.
When I choose to forgive you for an offense, I’m not saying that I trust you or that we are “good”. I am freeing myself from the chains of your sin, of the hurt you’ve caused me, of your deception, of your abuse. I am releasing you to the One who can judge you – Jesus Christ.
Here is the truth that we should understand:
- Forgiveness focuses on the offense (the hurt, the harm, the betrayal). Reconciliation focuses on the relationship.
- Forgiveness involves a change in thinking about the person who hurt you, betrayed you, harmed you. Reconciliation involves a change in behavior by the person who caused the harm.
- Forgiveness is extended, not earned. Reconciliation is not extended unless it is earned.
- I only pursue reconciliation if I see characteristics of repentance, recovery, and restoration for a significant time by the person who has offended me. And even then, I may choose not to reconcile. It’s my choice.
Don’t live with bitterness
It’s difficult to just “let things go” sometimes, but it’s worse to live with bitterness built up in your heart through which everything is filtered. As I let go of each consecutive offense, I intentionally heal. It takes effort on my part. I won’t tell you that it is easy. I also won’t tell you that people will understand.
We often hear that we should “let them off the hook” for whatever they did. So imagine that you have a large rope with a hook on it around your neck. Visualize that thing. Now, what exactly is on the hook? Picture yourself carrying that large hook with all of that “stuff” hanging on it around your neck. That is unforgiveness. Now, try to visualize yourself taking each “thing” off the hook and letting that weight be removed from your neck. You’re letting them off the hook.
Protect yourself. Will this hurt you?
I choose not to make life altering decisions based on the thoughtless remarks and actions of other people. “Hold your peace” has kind of become the standard operating procedure in guarding my heart. I see it this way: my response is my responsibility.
I have had several instances where my peace policy is tried. There have been several people in my life who have tried to incite a riot within my heart. I call these people “sandpaper”. They may rub me the wrong way and irritate me but, in the end, they are refining me. Their goal may not be to smooth out my edges, but I have control over my response, and I choose to be refined through the frustration.
We need to care about what offends God
I see many people offended over the slightest thing but not really offended over what hurts God’s heart. We have so much injustice in this world, yet we are too busy crying over how Susie didn’t tag me in her post on Facebook or how Rachel did not invite me to her birthday bash to even care.
The enemy has us distracted and detained and we continue to buy more and more distraction. I heard a definition of entertainment once that stuck with me. He said, “entertainment is being detained while something enters you.” That is what the distractions of the world have gotten us. Roots of bitterness based on comparisons and competition.
Comfort or Consolation?
Loneliness comes when we are left alone but it also appears when our struggle, battle, calling, or decisions set us apart and leave us feeling alone. Luke 5:16 is proof that Jesus didn’t just know the lonely places but that He willingly chose to go to the lonely places. It was in the lonely places that He sought intimacy with the Father instead of the empathy of others.
We may look for comfort from the friends around us, but God offers consolation through His Spirit within us. He will give us hope that no one else can offer.
My prayer for you:
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13