church · faith

when you can’t forgive

One of the very hardest things about life is learning to forgive someone who has not asked to be forgiven, and maybe hasn’t even ever admitted that he did anything wrong in the first place.

Let me be clear. There are some wounds that are so deep and intrusive that you need more help than I could ever give you in a blog post. I have to say that, because sometimes I think people do look at posts on the internet and actually expect them to just work. They can help, I pray this helps, but I also am not naive enough to think that reading my blog will be all that you need. Or anyone’s blog for that matter. Some wounds need professional counsel, time, and purposeful care. Don’t skip steps. Don’t think you can put off all your hurts for when you are old and grey. It’s like trying to soak up a raging river with a sponge.

That said, there are things you can do right now that will change the way you think about your hurts. My own heart is a deceitful place. I really need to start there, but it’s also one of the most difficult truths to face. Please do not read what I’m not writing. This is NOT not not not victim blaming/shaming. This is not about giving the culpable person pardon by incriminating the victim. It is taking an honest look at the root causes of a sinful action or situation or atmosphere that you have been in, and trying to clearly assess why your heart cannot forgive.

These questions have helped me make sense of my pain and struggle to forgive.

. Have I tried to understand? Do I know the whole story? Have I ever asked for an explanation?

. Am I refusing to forgive? Just outright refusing? Or do I refuse to think about it at all?

. Do I confuse forgive with forget? Do I think forgiving will erase what has happened or condone it in some way?

. How much have I been forgiven? Not just by God, though that is certainly convicting, but also by others?

. Does my unforgiveness affect my ability to lead a healthy life?

. What will change anything? What has to happen to change me?

Not forgiving another is like paying off a debt that’s already been paid. You keep making payments, and the balance doesn’t change. It is defeating and discouraging. Or frustrating and enraging, angering your soul and clouding it with anger and bitterness. Don’t live in that cloud, that fog by choice. Move. Begin to do what it takes to move out of the clouds and relocate to the free air. You do not have to wallow any longer. Be free.

 And maybe the point is that only a free person can grant freedom. Maybe our hardest task in forgiving others is knowing – knowing knowing knowing – WE are free. People often say you have to forgive yourself first. I think this is bad theology. I think that what it’s really getting at is that you can’t forgive when you haven’t been forgiven. And we try to take care of this ourselves. We try to free ourselves from sin and its effects, but we just keep coming up short. We fail. We fail at forgiving ourselves because it’s not to be done. We cannot free ourselves. Someone else has to. We have to believe that Jesus has set us free. Even when we did not deserve it or ask for it. Even when we shook our fists in his face and said We don’t need you. Even when we ran as far as we could from grace and wanted nothing to do with any of it. Even when we were enemies.

This is a glimpse of grace. God’s grace to you. It is the working out of the very fact that God loved and sought after you long, long, long before you ever loved or sought Him. It is the father of the prodigal waiting at the gate, looking out to the horizon, knowing very well that he may not see his son today. But he looks all the same. And when he sees, he runs. He doesn’t rehearse his lectures. He doesn’t create his lists of how it should be now. He doesn’t tally up the past accounts. He runs. This is forgiveness that we can never repay. This is forgiveness that is impossible for us to give. It’s impossible. I cannot do it. I hate it. I loathe it. And thanks be to God, I am given the gift to forgive, so that I can turn and use it for others. Forgive others as you have been forgiven. So key. Don’t miss this.

This is a glimpse of grace. God’s grace to you. It is the working out of the very fact that God loved and sought after you long, long, long before you ever loved or sought Him.

I know the pains of hurt and resentment. I know, also, the weight of sin released. I make myself recall the freedom I have felt when claiming Jesus’ grace on my behalf for all I’ve done. I feel the chains fall off. I know the peace it brings. I refuse to turn and put those chains on any other person. I let God be judge and juror. I remove myself from the equation of justice. I speak words of pardon to those who ask for it. I press no charges, no more than the law allows. I walk freely and confidently in the hope of one who knows her robes are white as snow by no less than a miracle. And in this freedom, I can look at the horizon and forgive the ones who have sinned against me, who have hurt and abused me, who have forsaken me, who have broken my heart. I look and forgive long before I ever see them on the path to my home. And I can run to them when I see them coming. That isn’t me. That’s Jesus in me.

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