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Tuesday, May 26, 2020
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The Challenge of Forgiveness


By Jene Hedden and Paula Moore Hurtt

     Relationships are tough. No marriage is perfect because no person is perfect. Families  struggle and experience conflict. Friends sometimes let us down. Inevitably, something happens that results in the necessity for repentance and forgiveness so that the relationship can move on. Perhaps it’s a broken promise, a lie, a secret that should not have been kept, an affair or an outburst of anger.  

     The ideal situation is that the offending party recognizes his or her mistake, apologizes and the relationship survives and may even grow stronger.  

     But, what if the offending party doesn’t apologize? What if he or she doesn’t recognize the offense? Or if the offense is recognized, what if they refuse to apologize out of anger, pride or a sense of entitlement?  

     This is when the real challenge of forgiveness manifests. It’s easy to forgive and forget when all is brought out into the open and the offender is apologetic. But, when he’s not, that’s very tough. 

     There are some questions we should ask ourselves when we are having trouble forgiving.   

1.      Do I really have a choice?  

     Yes, we all have that choice, but to choose not to forgive is to choose to be slowly poisoned by our pain and resentment. To choose not to forgive is to choose to live in a constant state of bitterness. To choose not to forgive is to choose to be under the control of the other person…possibly for the rest of your life. To choose not to forgive is to allow our bitterness to affect our relationships with others and our ability to trust and love them. To choose not to forgive is to make it difficult to move on to new, more healthy relationships. That’s no way to live.   

2.      I’m a Christian. Doesn’t that mean I’m required to forgive because He forgave me?  

     Yes. God expects us to forgive. But, His forgiveness of us differs from our forgiveness of others. God requires us to repent and ask for forgiveness, then he forgives us through His grace. But, he expects us to forgive regardless of whether the other person repents or not.   As Christians, we know that eventually all wrongs will be righted and that it is not up to us to make that happen. Our only job is to forgive, forget and move on so that we can be an example of His grace. This is one of the most difficult responsibilities we have as Christians. But, it is a matter of faith, and faith will always carry us through. 

3.      I’ve said the words, “I forgive you.” But, I don’t feel any better. What now?

Forgiveness may only be the first step. Chances are what has happened is part of a pattern of anger and pain. Now is the time to explore the root of the problem. If you feel the need to communicate your pain to the person who hurt you, it’s important to let them know how their words or actions affected you. Rather than using accusatory phrases like “you did this” or “you did that”, use phrasing like “I felt hurt by these words” or “I was let down by that action”. Then stop and listen to his or her response and repeat to him or her what you thought you heard. A lot of times, we aren’t really hearing what the other person is saying. We’re hearing what we want or expect to hear instead. If the anger and resentment keep bubbling up to the surface, it’s time to engage the help of a third party. A pastor, family counselor or marriage counselor will know how to help you communicate without getting stuck in the anger/resentment cycle over and over again.

4.      This isn’t fair. Why should I have to forgive while the other person gets to go on as if nothing happened?

     Here’s a bulletin: Life isn’t always fair! It may be time to take a good hard look at your expectations. God didn’t promise us a life without conflict. He promised He would help us through it if we followed his guiding principles. We may have grown up with unrealistic expectations about what the ideal family, marriage and other relationships should be. Oftentimes reality steps in and dashes our expectations against the rocks. If we think we’re going to get through life and its passages without the people we love occasionally letting us down, we’re not living in the real world. Sometimes forgiveness means laying our expectations aside and dealing with the challenge God has given us…even when it means forgiving the unforgivable. 

     In conclusion: We are all familiar with that old saying, “Time heals all wounds.” It’s partly true. Time does tend to soften the blow of humiliation, anger or hurt we feel when someone we love lets us down.    But, if you want to make time stand still, just hold a grudge, hang on to your anger or refuse to forgive. Time will only heal when we let go of our hurts and let God deal with the person who hurt us. We just have to remember to give our hurt, anger and resentment over to Him and let Him deal with the person who hurt us in His time…not ours.