Set It Free – Forgiving When It’s Hard

“Forgiveness can do much for one; forgiveness can do very much indeed.”

Sometimes it’s hard to let go of legitimate hurt.  You have been let down, wounded deeply by a close friend, and you find yourself reeling from the betrayal.

We may be annoyed by a stranger or an acquaintance speaking against us or acting in a way that hurts, but the close friend knows our hearts and we have allowed them a place of intimate confidence.  Trying to trust again can be daunting because “…only a friend comes close enough to ever cause so much pain.” (Michael Card)

In the midst of that situation, I have found myself shaking my head, yelling into an empty room to “get it off my chest” but knowing the words spoken would not be helpful were I to speak them directly, especially in the same tone.  They would not “be useful for building (the other) up according to their needs.”  (Ephesians 4:29).  Rashly speaking my mind might feel good for the moment, but it is not God’s intent and can ultimately deepen the rift and impede the settling of my soul as well.  But simply maintaining silence can be equally as painful to both parties; there is a better way.

I have been humbled by the Lord’s gentleness, bringing me down from my rant and calling me to His heart; reminding me that holding on to hurt wounds me deeper and could hinder the healing process between me and my friend.  Bitterness is not the answer.  Jesus was betrayed; that was the focal point of the Michael Card song above and, while I did not betray Jesus as Judas did, I have betrayed Him with my own sin more times than I can count.  Yet, He died for me and forgives me every time I bring my ragged self before Him asking me to relinquish my sin more each time.  He has called me, to no less; and, if He calls, He equips.  If I choose not to forgive, no matter how large or small the infraction, then, as Amy Carmichael wrote, “I know nothing of Calvary love.”

But does that mean we simply ignore the injury that caused the pain, whether it be intentional or unintentional on their part? Is that amnesia helpful to the other or do we each need, at times, to give the loving accountability of one who wants the best for the person who offended but also for the relationship as a whole. Are we willing to receive the same?  Certainly, there are times the intent of another is laser focused and meant to injure; but far too often the other person has not denied self or has allowed self preservation to open a breach in wisdom.  The result?  A word spoken too quickly, a confidence given up, an action that defies reason when at the hands of one we have entrusted.

“Real love demands pursuit…The Bible never says ‘Make it easy for others to sin against you.’* (Lane and Tripp)  Rather, we are called to pursue peace through reconciliation.  As Mathew 18:15 says, “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him – work it out between the two of you.”  But we go prayerfully with the goal of bringing truth to light and unity back to the relationship.  We pursue humbly asking the Lord to show us if we have played any part in the conflict.

Certainly, in the case of old wounds, we may simply have to lay past hurt at the cross and walk away.  But, when the wound is fresh and we fail to honestly seek a better resolution, we run the risk of pressing it down without bringing complete healing and the danger is two-fold.  It can leave the one who offended us feeling as if they did nothing wrong which may not be healthy for them.  And it can create a bitterness we do not even realize exists until an incident later arises that causes the pain to resurface and our response to be even more pronounced.  God calls us to reconciliation with one another.  He calls us to bring conflict into the light where nothing is hidden and the darkness can be dispelled.

Proverbs 27:6 says that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”  Words that bring healing, painful as they may be are “truth spoken in love” but aptly so.  In this conversation, the words are intended to bring our sister or brother to understanding, to see behind their actions or their own words to the “why” so they can have eyes that comprehend and a humility that leads to repentance first to God and then to the one offended.

Certainly, we must ask the Lord to give us words that are healing, that are constructive; not with the intention to crush but rather to restore.  Words that bind up not tear down.  And in that time of asking God for our own heart to speak wisely, we cannot fail to ask that He be working in their heart as well so that they will receive it as intended.

What will it take to put aside our own pride for the good of our friend?  Is the healing of a relationship worth the effort?  How can we step out of our comfort zone to a place where conflict might result but restoration and reconciliation will likely follow?  We know that bitterness hurts our own relationship, first with Christ, and then not just with the other person but with all to whom we are close.  The ease with which we slide into placing that same mistrust on another is frighteningly simple; the way the enemy of our souls causes us to “see” with blind eyes and “hear” with deaf ears things that are not so is far too subtle and swift.  So, the question is not how can we put aside pride and the fear of conflict, but how can we not?

Sometimes we want to feed our bitterness; to stand in our “right” when they are “wrong.”  But perhaps, before a word is even spoken, it would be more beneficial to choose something about the person for which to give God thanks even if it feels like a chore to do so and even if it is a small thing.  A minute by minute dose of gratefulness will do much to re-order our hearts and attitudes.  Our hearts are made more pliable by obeying His command to be thankful even as ask for healing.  “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  (Philippians 4:6)  It can transform bitterness into deeper forgiveness.  Small obediences can change our hearts.

In a conflict with a friend, the totality of “love” is put on the line and only God, who is perfect in love, can empower us to work through the wounds of one who has acted unlovingly and seek repair through a love rightly expressed by words and actions.

“Love does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  (I Corinthians 13:5-7)

The enemy desires to stoke flames of bitterness between believers because it hinders each person’s walk with the Lord and each person’s focus on the God of grace who has forgiven us so much and equipped us to walk securely.  Even as we hope for the other person to have a humble heart, to “take every thought (word and action) captive,” and to speak and hear truth for the purpose of reconciliation, we must be willing to do the same.

Friendships, relationships, can be messy; but they are also opportunities for seeing God’s grace firsthand and for extending it to another.  It is often costly; we may not receive the response for which we hope, but our call is to obedience and to reflect the Savior well regardless. God cancelled our debt on the cross through Jesus; we must be willing to do the same.

And, if they have humbly asked for forgiveness, can we do less than accept their offering? The enemy loves to push us to extend anger and let it develop into bitterness, doing further damage to our hearts and the relationship.  But God calls us to extend His grace to restore a cherished relationship.  We give and receive a gift when we forgive, no matter how big or small the offense.

In this situation and in others that will arise, I pray for eyes to see and a heart that increasingly seeks the best for whoever I find myself in conflict with; trusting that God can take what the enemy meant for evil and make it even more beautiful and redemptive in His time!

“Forgiveness is both a past event and an ongoing process into the future.  It is a past promise you keep in the future…When we choose to practice true forgiveness, the relationship is not just brought back to where it was before the offense; it actually moves further down the road to maturity.”  (*Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp, “Relationships: A Mess Worth Making”)

FORGIVENESS by Matthew West

It’s the hardest thing to give away

And the last thing on your mind today

It always goes to those that don’t deserve

It’s the opposite of how you feel

When the pain they caused is just too real

It takes everything you have just to say the word…

      Forgiveness

      Forgiveness

 It flies in the face of all your pride

It moves away the mad inside

It’s always anger’s own worst enemy

Even when the jury and the judge

Say you gotta right to hold a grudge

It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Show me how to love the unlovable

      Show me how to reach the unreachable

      Help me now to do the impossible

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

It’ll clear the bitterness away

It can even set a prisoner free

There is no end to what it’s power can do

So, let it go and be amazed

By what you see through eyes of grace

The prisoner that it really frees is you

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

      Forgiveness, Forgiveness

I want to finally set it free

So show me how to see what Your mercy sees

Help me now to give what You gave to me

Forgiveness, Forgiveness

Thoughts on Walking in Forgiveness

  • Stop. Pray.  Ask God for a heart to see own sin even as we go to another; pray for both hearts.
  • By keeping account of wrongs, we do not let it go. Share our hearts, open doors for restoration, and move on.
  • If we nurse bitterness, we are sinning against our brothers and sisters and we are sinning against God ultimately hurting ourselves. Choosing forgiveness over nursing wounds will bring healing.
  • When you walk away in anger from anyone who does not agree with you or assigning evil intent to that person, you are missing the grace of God that seeks truth.
  • When you grow angry with anyone who confronts you and either use your anger towards them or cut them out of your life, you are missing the grace of God.
  • Choose to “think on” and listen to music and other “inputs” that remind us to forgive as God forgave us.
  • Choose to cultivate thankfulness.

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