Letting go of anger is easier said than done. I was reminded of this by some thoughtful readers last Friday, when they commented on the Zondervan Facebook page about an excerpt on letting go of anger. Their questions included, "What if the person doesn't think they did anything wrong?" "What if we've tried to forgive someone, but we just can't let go?"
I think we've all felt how hard it can be to forgive and forget, so I'd like to share three things I've learned about forgiving when it's hard. I didn't come up with these on my own, so wherever I'm drawing inspiration from an author, I try to point you to a resource where they say more, and say it better than I do. Okay, here we go...
3 Insights on Forgiving When It's Difficult
1. Forgiveness isn't a free pass.
Forgiveness isn't a "get out of consequences free" card. If trust has been breached then consequences are often healthy, and both parties will need to work together to rebuild trust.
Here's an illustration from a sermon I heard recently: Imagine a married man who has a specific after-work ritual. Every day he unwinds with his coworkers at a coffee shop for about an hour. But, his wife discovers, for the last few months he hasn't been going to the coffee shop — he's been seeing another woman. If he repents of this to his wife, and she forgives him, does that mean it's a good idea for him to go to the coffee shop every day again? Probably not. For a while, maybe the husband should come straight home after work. Or if he does stay out, he should call his wife at an agreed-upon time, touching base on where he is and who he's with.
The point is that forgiveness opens the door for rebuilding trust, but it doesn't rebuild trust in a day. Both parties will need to work at reconciliation.
2. Nobody deserves forgiveness. That's where grace comes in.
If you're like me, there are times when you've thought "So-and-so doesn't deserve my forgiveness." A simple idea from Scripture overhauled my thinking on this: nobody deserves forgiveness. Grace is always undeserved, or else it isn't grace.
I encountered this idea years ago when I heard a sermon from Chuck Swindoll. I remember he was preaching on grace from the Gospel of John, and I remember that near me was sitting, seemingly by coincidence, someone I considered to be my enemy. This person had refused to acknowledge how they'd hurt me, and I carried so much bitterness for so long, I was exhausted.
So as Swindoll talked about grace and the cross, I began to sense how amazing grace really is. Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, the only innocent person who ever lived, took the place of people like us? I mean, I had hurt people too. And Jesus still wanted to love and forgive people like me?
I wish I had a recording of that sermon, but I see that Chuck Swindoll's Insights on John covers a lot of the same ground. Powerful stuff.
3. When you can't forgive, pray.
Have you ever heard the old saying, "It's hard to hate someone when you're praying for them"? I swear by that. (I can't recall if Lewis Smedes says those exact words in Forgive and Forget, but it's one of many nuggets I gleaned from that book.)
I pray something like this when I feel especially unequipped to forgive:
God, I can't find it in my heart to forgive them for what they did. I'm so angry and hurt that I don't want to forgive them. Thank you for your patience and grace with me. Please help me to follow Jesus' example, help me extend some of your grace to them. I can't do this without you. Thank you, amen.
God has answered that prayer for me. It can take a long time (and more pain than I'd like) to forgive someone, but I believe God delights in our desire to become more like Christ, and the Spirit helps us in our pursuit.
Those are a few insights that have made a big difference in my journey. What about you? What insights into forgiveness have made a difference in your life?
(-Adam Forrest, Zondervan Internet Team. The opinions expressed in this post are the personal views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives.)