Anyone who has been a Christian for any amount of time knows a thing or two about forgiveness. First, there’s the fact that we’ve been forgiven so much, a concept that still blows my mind when I think of some of the things I’ve done or worse yet, acknowledge the things my heart was capable of doing. Then at some point, we dig a little deeper and find the skeletons of long ago that still cause our hearts to grieve and/or our blood to boil to the point of seething and we slowly start letting go of them. We clean out the baggage that takes up much needed space in the closets of our hearts.
We find that forgiveness comes easy in some situations and much harder in others. I can vividly remember a particular situation that I went through where I found myself coming repeatedly to the Lord and crying out for help because I wanted to forgive and said I’d forgiven but I knew in my heart I wasn’t over it yet. Some wounds are deeper than others. I would leave my prayer closet thinking I had overcome only to find myself fuming and my stomach churning the next time someone mentioned the offender’s name.
The beauty of such a long hard battle is that when the victory comes, it somehow seems sweeter. My victory in this situation was actually subtle. After years of prayer and struggle, I ran into said person at a store one day. I say “ran into” but the truth is I walked by and noticed someone hiding behind a fruit display in the produce department. This person apparently spotted me first. That struck me as so funny that I figured I’d go be pleasant and eliminate the need of any future fruit cover up.
I was standing there in the produce department having a conversation with someone who hurt and abused me, someone who threatened the life of me and my daughter, someone who had held the weight of my wrath for so long, as if we were old friends catching up. I realized in that moment that it no longer hurt. I was no longer angry. I had obtained my freedom without really knowing it until confronted with it. There were no lightning bolts from heaven signifying the end of an era. I didn’t need to ‘hug it out’ or have any real sense of closure on the situation. It was simply done. Hidden and absorbed with the blood spilled to free me in an old cross, and purged by peace into life.
I’ve found myself being confronted with this passage of scripture several times recently,
“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you,leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
What people often overlook in these verses is that Jesus said if someone has something against you, not the other way around. Obviously, we know if we have something against someone else, we need to go make it right, but Jesus raises the standard. He doesn’t want us to allow strife at all. We are required to make an effort even when it’s someone else holding the offense against us. This, in my opinion, is a tough one.
I had a conversation the other day with someone who was adamantly refusing to make an effort to make peace with a person because they were convinced that was they said was right. My counsel to them was that it doesn’t matter if you are right, you don’t have to say you were wrong, but you are required to try to mend the relationship between you and your brother. God doesn’t tolerate strife, period.
We often allow our own pride and defensiveness drive our actions. I believe that though we never compromise on what we believe, we don’t always have to fight for ourselves. God will defend the righteous. That is His job. Our job, according to Micah 6:8 is this, “And what does the Lord require of you, But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”
There are times when we will extend the olive branch of peace to another person and that person is not willing to accept it. I believe in those situations all we can do is pray for them and continue to walk in love toward them. God knows our hearts and will not hold the actions and attitudes of another against us. Please don’t take the effort to mend a relationship to an unhealthy extreme. I have seen people who become almost obsessed with trying to make someone forgive them or like them. You are only responsible for what you do. If someone else refuses to forgive, let it go. It’s between them and God.
When we choose not to forgive someone else we are binding that person to our hearts. I refuse to allow those who have wronged me to continue to have any effect on my life. I am determined to free myself of them and any chain they have in me. So I forgive quickly. When it’s hard I pray for them even through clinched teeth when necessary, until the chain is broken.
Forgiveness is one of the most freeing things we as mortals are given the pleasure of experiencing. I am so thankful for the forgiveness and grace extended to me by my Savior, Jesus Christ. I am so thankful for the people who love and bear with me daily as I make my way through this earthly existence. I am so thankful that I am given the opportunity to release the chains that bind my heart when I hold an offense against another person. We are blessed.