“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13
At Sacred Story we describe our lives as a series of short stories that make up a God-authored novel. Some of the themes in our chapters pop up again and again as the Lord works to build character and make us more Christ-like.
Forgiveness seems to be one of those themes. Sometimes we feel like we’ve learned it only to encounter another opportunity to extend forgiveness once more.
When I was young and growing up in a family with three siblings, I had numerous opportunities to practice forgiveness. These opportunities came after we had fought with each either and my mom or dad interjected as a referee to resolve the situation. Usually what followed was a “remorseful” exchange (heartfelt or not) where we asked for and extended forgiveness. Reconciliation followed.
This practice shaped my idea of forgiveness as I grew into adulthood and I subconsciously formed expectations that others believed this was the way to resolve conflict. Both parties take responsibility and everyone moves on.
It was years before I understood that life is a lot messier and a lot less scripted. Perhaps it’s ideal when both parties take responsibility for their actions, acknowledge their sin and seek to reconcile, but the truth is, forgiveness itself is an act that requires nothing from the other party.
Forgiveness is often a one-way street. It is not, however, only between you and another person. True forgiveness is entirely dependent upon our reliance on the Lord to enable this supernatural act. Yes, we can will ourselves to forgive someone who has wronged us, but in order to experience real peace and a change of heart, we desperately need God’s help.
I remember a season many years ago when I had been hurt by a friend. I struggled to figure out how to make things right. I finally confided in an older, more mature friend. I remember laying out to her what I felt was owed me by my friend. “If only she would say _______ I would be able to forgive her.” My friend looked at me with her warm eyes and plainly said, “Courtney, she’s never going to say that.”
Her response saddened me. And then, by surprise, it set me free. I came to see that I could remain miserable with the demands I was placing on my friend or I could choose to forgive her. My forgiveness was not contingent upon what my friend would or would not say to me. Once I realized it was up to ME to forgive (regardless of what she did), my heart softened and I could see things more clearly. We ended up having a conversation that resulted in reconciliation but I have learned that I’m called to forgive whether or not it produces reconciliation.
Have you ever thought how one-sided the Cross was? It was wholly God’s initiative and plan to forgive us while we remained in our sinful state. Scripture tells us that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). He didn’t wait for us to say or do the right thing before forgiving us. Of course, His forgiveness demands a response and that is our responsibility; however, He fully forgave without requiring anything from us.
There is so much power in forgiveness. It’s life-giving and life-changing. We have been forgiven so much by our Savior and we are only called to forgive a minuscule amount compared to what we have been forgiven (see Luke 7:36-50).
So today if you are struggling to forgive someone, pray and ask the Lord to give you the grace to move towards forgiveness. It’s not easy! But if you choose to move forward in obedience, you will experience the peace you long for.