“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Relationships can be painful. Living in a fallen world where we do not always love perfectly but wound instead is a reality that all of us face. My husband and I experienced wounds growing up. I grew up in an emotionally, verbally and physically abusive home. My husband experienced the wound of a father who abandoned his family for another woman. Our families never repented- admitted their wrongs and asked for forgiveness- over the wounds they inflicted. Rather, they responded with justification and manipulation that further deepened the wounds.
I never thought that I would experience peace without my parents repenting. However, today, by God’s grace we are experiencing peaceful relationships with our families. To get to this place of peace, we had to walk through the process of forgiveness which seemed daunting at times – especially when there is no repentance from the wounder. So what does forgiveness look like towards an unrepentant wounder?
1. Acknowledge the wound in your heart. Forgiveness does not ignore the sin that was committed against you. Psalmists were honest with God over the pain they experienced. (Ps. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10)
2. Give your anger over to God. God sees and knows the sin that was committed against you. God is a just God (2 Thess. 1:6). He will deal with the sinner. Resist taking vengeance into your own hands.
3. Pray for your enemies. I know. This is a hard one. But it is what is commanded of us and though our flesh may war against this, obedience to God will bring freedom. This also takes mega spirit-filled humility. Our ability to pray for our enemies comes from remembering that God has forgiven us of our sins. Therefore, we are “to forgive each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) It is through prayer that God will begin to soften your heart and you will begin to experience freedom.
4. Pursue reconciliation ‘so far as it depends on you’. This step can be difficult and requires discernment from the Spirit and godly counsel. Romans 12:18 states, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We are called to take every step possible to make matters right with our enemies and to be at peace with them. However, when a person who wronged us does not repent with contrition, confession and change, he cuts off the full work of forgiveness. We can desire good for them and we can hand over our anger to God but full reconciliation or intimacy may not be restored. In short, pursue reconciliation, but you may have to live with the pain if it does not succeed. In other words, you are not responsible to make reconciliation happen.
5. Be at peace with God. As my husband and I sought the Lord over our response to our family, we asked ourselves repeatedly, “What will bless the Lord? How can we respond in the light of the Gospel?” We felt convicted to pursue reconciliation with our family while letting go of any expectations of repentance. We do grieve over the compromised intimacy in our relationships with them due to their lack of repentance but we feel ‘as far as it depends on us’ we have pursued peace with them.
I understand that this can be a sensitive subject and your circumstance and response may be different from mine. God will enter into your deepest wound and bring peace in your heart if you let Him. Is there someone you would like to forgive?