Generosity of Forgiveness
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” -Matthew 6:12
My brother is three years younger than I am and growing up I was not a very nice older sister to him. I ignored him or complained about him tagging along. I nagged him about his grades or the sloppy way he had cleaned the living room. About eight years ago I started to understand how hurtful my actions towards him must have been, and I started feeling guilty about it. One evening I called him up: I apologized for having been a mean older sister, I expressed sorrow for how I had hurt him, and I told him I was thankful he was my brother. He forgave me immediately. What a load off my burdened conscience! What a restoration of our relationship, and (I hope) of his spirit! Most importantly, what a reflection of God’s grace, love, and mercy.
As Christians we are called to forgive. Everyone. Everything. Every time. It isn’t optional for us. Truly, it isn’t even generous. Forgiveness is simply our logical response to the grace God pours out upon us. It is the manifestation of our living more fully into the beautiful image-bearers God created us to be. It is a distinguishing mark of our being Children of God.
Jesus teaches repeatedly (Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:23-25, Luke 11:4) that God’s forgiveness of our sins is intimately tied up with our forgiveness of the sins of others. When we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts we damage our relationship with others and with God. The Spirit of Jesus, who dwells in our hearts, longs to forgive our wrong-doers through us. When we withhold forgiveness however we shut down the flow of the Spirit through our hearts. We reflect not our Loving Creator and Redeemer, but instead the brokenness of the world. We know that Jesus forgave his unrepentant murders as he hung from the cross, and we are called to be conformed into the image of that kind of forgiveness!
Forgiveness is often not easy of course. It does not come naturally, and it can even feel wrong. It is important for us to remember however that when we forgive someone it does not mean that we are excusing their behavior. When someone forgives an abusive parent that person is not saying “It’s fine that you hit me.”, she is instead saying “I forgive you for the pain you caused me. I no longer hold it against you. I love you. I desire goodness for you.”. Difficult as forgiveness is it is always a choice, always possible. The Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts every moment of every day, transforming them into vessels of Grace. We need only to not block the work of the Spirit in our hearts.
Practically speaking then, how can we work with the Spirit of Jesus to become forgiving people?
There is a wonderful little Presbyterian booklet called “What Every Christian Should Know About Forgiveness”. It breaks the process of forgiving down into five steps: 1) Reflect on the times you have been forgiven by others and by God. Seek forgiveness from God. Read stories of forgiveness in the Bible. 2) Identify the people you need to forgive. As you pray think back over your life and ask God to help you name them. 3) Acknowledge the pain and anger that these memories hold. Share them with a close friend, write them in a journal. Imagine the person standing before you and tell her how you feel. 4) Seek perspective, ask “How did that person feel at the time? What else was going on in her life? How might I have contributed to the conflict?” 5) Decide to forgive. If forgiveness is still hard commit to praying for the person who hurt you, just pray for the best for that person, and pray that you will be given the desire to forgive.
It has often been said that forgiveness is a a journey. This is very true. Forgiveness usually doesn’t come overnight, and it often must be done repeatedly as hurt and anger well back up in our hearts over wrongs we have already offered forgiveness for. If we seek His help however God will never leave our hearts in a state of resentment and anger. He will always help us to forgive. Thanks be to God!
Now God and Do: Who do you need to forgive? Begin the process of forgiveness for that person.
Love, Your Generosity Project Team (Adrienne Danielson, Deb Hess, Shari Fuhr and Marlys Mathiowetz)