UNFORGIVENESS & BITTERNESS GO HAND IN HAND (Part 2 of 4)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Scriptures: Matt. 18:21-22; Lk. 6:36-37; 23:34; Rom. 6:10; 14:10; Eph. 4:32; Heb. 12:15; Gen. 50:19-21
NOT WILLING TO FORGIVE
You may still be thinking that your situation is so extreme that you will never be able to forgive the person that has hurt you. While this response can be expected the truth is you could forgive if you were willing to. If you do not eventually get to the point of forgiving, it could literally ruin your life and only you would be to blame. “If you are unwilling to forgive, you have one (or more) of several problems.” Possible hindrances regarding forgiveness follow this paragraph. And again, this list is inspired by, adapted, paraphrased, and at times quoted from Charles Stanley's book The Gift of Forgiveness.
1. Selfish – It could possibly be the result of selfishness. You were hurt, you did not get your way, something was unfair. So, you turned your thoughts inward and started caring only about yourself, rights and feelings. You have the ability to do something about it if you want to, so not doing anything is actually an act of selfishness and can lead to self-pity.
2. Pride - When pride is present forgiveness is virtually impossible. Pride whispers in your ear to get back at those who have hurt you. Allowing anger to take up residence in your heart makes you feel like you are getting some kind of revenge. The truth is the only one it hurts is you. The thing to remember here is God is the Judge. In God's timing those who have caused hurt to others will have to pay the penalty for their sins (Rom. 14:10, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God:”). Until then, we are supposed to forgive.
3. Low Self-esteem – This one may seem odd at first so let me explain. When one struggles with low self-esteem they feel insignificant. Many times, without even realizing it, they will attach their significance to “the wrong they suffered.” When this happens the person feels they cannot “afford to forgive.” To put it another way, if they dealt with the issue causing their pain it would be like taking away the thing most “essential" to their present identity. They would lose their excuse for procrastination and self-victimization. Sympathy they are receiving from others may cease.
All of us have this to varying degrees. Ask yourself this question, do you seem to bring up events in your past when you were hurt by being treated unfairly? In order to know for sure, ask those you confide in the most if you do this but be willing to allow for them to answer honestly. Forgiveness is the key to obtaining freedom from this.
4. You Think You Dealt With It – It is quite possible that you acknowledged you needed to forgive someone but never really did. You may have even prayed about it and meant it when you prayed. However, there is still evidence in your emotions and communication that you have something eating at you on the inside. If you still feel uncomfortable around those who have wronged you, or if being around places or things remind you of them or make you feel discomfort, then you may not have totally dealt with the issue.
5. Pain – It is painful because forgiving things from the past means bringing up the memories which can cause the original pain to resurface. This is especially true if the wrong done to you is so deeply buried that it has all but been forgotten. When this is the case even just the idea of digging up that old wound causes some to run and hide. Childhood traumas make up a large portion of this category.
6. Don't Know How - Maybe you have reached a point where you are ready but just do not know what to do. Well, this is a good place to be. In a moment we will help you understand and deal with forgiveness.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has also forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32).
LEARNING TO FORGIVE
Every one of us has had to deal with forgiveness at some level. What may take one person a shrug and a smile to work through could be a long process for another. To one, a handshake and the incident is over; to another, an intense process of prayer, time, and godly advice is needed. Either way, it is a process that cannot be ignored or bitterness and resentment will take root.
MISCONCEPTIONS & BARRIERS
1. “Is justifying, understanding, or explaining someone's behavior the same as forgiving them?” I'm asking this rhetorically because I know that it is not. Understanding motives or reasons for causing hurt does not equate to forgiveness. Understanding an individual's situation is only part of the process of forgiving.
2. Another mistake that has made its way through generations is that “time heals all wounds.” This cliché' is highly over-used and it is inaccurate. How can the mere passing of time lead to forgiveness? An adult survivor of child abuse can suffer the effects from not truly forgiving for decades after the harmful incident.
3. “Is forgiving others denying that we have been hurt or pretending that the hurt was no big deal?" Again, the answer is “no.” But, somehow the belief this is true has crept into our thinking. This type of denial works against the goal of forgiveness. Denying the hurt caused to us by others can cause real physical, mental, and emotional pain.
4. Another big misconception is that in order to forgive someone we must go to the individual personally and verbally confess our forgiveness to them. Doing this to someone who has not sought out our forgiveness can actually create deeper problems. A point to ponder here is that God forgave us way before we came to Him and asked for it.
Rarely do I advise one to go the individual who hurt them and ask for their forgiveness. I say “rarely” because there are a couple of exceptions: 1) we do need to confess our forgiveness if the guilty party asks for it; 2) if the Lord (and not our ego) wants us to confront another about a sinful pattern of behavior directly related to how we were hurt. This must be done graciously, cautiously, and best with the help of godly counsel.
Forgiving others takes more than just putting time between us and the painful event. Forgiving someone is more than just offering up a few words of prayer. Forgiveness is a “process that involves understanding our own forgiveness and how that applies to those who have hurt us.”
Forgiveness does not come naturally to most. In The Gift of Forgiveness by Charles Stanley, he lists five steps that are included in the process. Again, I am going to adapt, paraphrase, and expand on his work. The steps are:
1. We must recognize and remember that WE have been completely forgiven. Once we get a grip on how deep our sin is, how depraved we are, how much space our sin places between us and God, and how great a sacrifice it was for Him to forgive us and restore fellowship with us, we should be eager to begin the process of forgiving others. Rom. 6:10 states, “For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God” (Matt. 18:23-34 would also be appropriate to read at this point).
2. We need to free the person from the debt we think they owe us for whatever it is they did to offend us. This means taking all of our negative, resentful feelings and releasing them to Jesus. If the person has passed away, lives too far away, or approaching them is not appropriate, role play with a Christian therapist can help.
3. We need to accept people as they are. We need to free them from any responsibility we feel they might have to meet our needs. For some, certain individuals can make or ruin their day simply by the attention they give or fail to give. This is far more common in those who are not willing to forgive. I'm not saying we excuse unacceptable actions, that's a topic for a different time. However, when we deliberately make it a point to take action and forgive, we free others from any responsibility we think they may have to meet our needs. In doing this we also free ourselves.
4. We need to see those we have forgiven as tools of growth that God has placed in our path so we can better understand His grace. God's grace is too deep for us to truly understand, but if we can forgive those who have wronged us we can see but a glimpse of what God's forgiveness has done for us.
A great biblical example of this is Joseph. It is clear from what we know of Joseph's life in the Old Testament that he understood this aspect. His brothers did some unthinkable things to him, including leaving him for dead, but he was able to forgive them. He saw them as tools of God working out His purpose:
“Do not be afraid for am I in God's place? And as for you speaking of his brothers, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So, therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones” (Genesis 50:19-21).
5. We need to be sure and “make reconciliation with those whom we have estranged.” How this happens is going to vary from situation to situation. But one thing is universal, if there is family (near or far), past employees or employers, or perhaps a former friend we have avoided due to bitterness in our hearts, then we need to “reestablish contact.” We might even begin by apologizing ourselves regardless of how we feel. (Again, there are definitely exceptions. For instance, an adult woman who was molested by her own father when she was an infant and child and that father has NOT confessed or repented. Reestablishing contact, in this case, could prove detrimental. Forgiveness can still be achieved, but contact would be highly ill-advised).
As soon as the wall of unforgiveness is torn down, it allows former feelings of warmth, joy, and love to return. There is joy in the process of restoration.