In the previous post I wrote about why it is imperative to let go of hurts and offenses and to live your life walking in forgiveness. As Christians we do not have the luxury of remaining bitter, vengeful, unforgiving and holding grudges. I laid out the scriptural commands that instruct us on forgiveness and showed the gravity of the situation when we do not forgive others. Knowing that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others is a pretty sobering thought and should be all the motivation we need. Yet we often have difficulty with forgiving those who have transgressed against us and hurt us. I think we don’t really understand what it means to forgive someone.
Many times people have trouble forgiving because they believe that it’s tied to emotions or memory and they think they have to stop feeling or stop remembering in order to forgive. Not true. I teach every weekend at my marriage seminar and write about it in my book Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage. Here is an excerpt:
The first thing you have to understand about forgiveness is that is has nothing to do with your emotions. You may feel the emotional pain of what that other person did to you till the day you die—it has nothing to do with forgiveness.
Second, forgiveness has nothing to do with erasing your memory. You may remember what that person did to you till the day you die. Forgiveness is simply this: a decision to let it go. The Greek word that translates to “forgiveness” is aphieeme,” literally “to send off,” “to release,” or “to let go.” This means forgiveness is the act of sending away incidents that cause offense to brew in us. It means we can’t keep focusing on the wrong done to us. Forgiveness is an act. This is an example of forgiveness: ‘I forgive you. I will never use it against you in the future. I will never speak of it again to you or to anyone else.”
When you forgive, you decide to release the person from his or her guilt, period. You may remember the offense repeatedly at first. That’s okay. The commitment to forgive a person is a commitment to “send away” the incident every time it reappears in your mind.
Once the apostle Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” That’s 490 times.
Luke, in his Gospel, adds the phrase “a day.’ Imagine forgiving the same person 490 times a day! Truth is, it is pretty easy to get consumed by someone’s offense. When a person does something that really hurts you, you will naturally think about it over and over again. Practicing the principle of forgiving someone 490 times a day means every time you think about what that person did to you, you prayerfully give it to God. The choice to forgive means we keep forgiving. Over time you will find the incident losing strength.
You must also remember that forgiveness has more to do with your tongue than your head or your heart. If you’re still talking about what that person did to you, you haven’t forgiven him or her. You need to hush. You need to let it go. The good news is, God will help you do this.
See, you don’t have to erase your feelings or memories. Forgiveness is not amnesia; it’s intentionally choosing to let the offense go. When God forgives us He never brings it up again. The Bible says he throws it in the sea of forgetfulness. But it’s not like he’s an old man who has Alzheimer’s. Do you really think that God can’t remember? It’s not as if God looks at you and goes, “There’s something that ticks me off about this guy, but I just can’t remember what it is!” You think God literally can’t remember? Of course He can, He just chooses not to. He never brings it up again. He never, ever, ever, will speak of it or use it against you in any way, shape, or form. And that’s what you need to do as a Christian. You need to quite talking about it…and that includes the running conversations you have with yourself in your head!
When an offense is new and you are first dealing with all the emotion and hurt, you need to talk through it and all. I get that and I’m not condemning that. But at some point you have to stop, let it go and you have to let go of the anger and hate in your heart. People complain that it’s hard to do. Yeah, that’s why you need to pray and ask God to help you. I’ve struggled with this. There have been times in my life that I’ve been so angry and I didn’t want to forgive. But I knew better. I knew this was not okay and I took it so seriously because I know what the Bible says. So in tears and crying out to God, I dealt with it and broke through. So I’m not condemning people who struggle with this—we all struggle. If you are a Christian you have to let it go. If you say you have forgiven the person, but are constantly in a state of pain day after day, into week after month after year, you have only re-titled the unforgiveness as “pain”. Be aware of the struggle and realize that it’s not a good place for you to be. It might take some work, but you need to get out of it.
Refusing to forgive another doesn’t make right the wrong, nor does it even the score or supply vengeance. It only hurts the one who refuses to forgive. Unforgiveness is like taking poison in hopes that the other guy will die. And it is literally like a toxic poison in your body. It will make you sick and destroy you, your life and your relationships. Jesus taught that without forgiveness, your very relationship to God is doomed. And I can assure you that without forgiveness, your marriage is doomed.
*Also see the related post “I Said I Was Sorry”.