Verse to Remember: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.” — Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)
Question to Consider: If there’s someone you need to forgive, when are you doing to do it? If there is someone you’ve wronged, when are you going to ask for forgiveness?
[Read More] thoughts on Day 28 of Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Community, particularly on forgiveness vs. bitterness.
I thought about it for a while, and replied, “Actually, it is the other way around: as people become bitter, they grow old!”
I’m sure you know what I mean; we all know older people who seem young and full of life, just as we know younger people who’ve apparently grown old before their time. There’s something about forgiveness that allows one to release the past and move forward into life, just as bitterness seems to freeze us in the hurts of the past, a la Groundhog Day.
To be sure, forgiveness is not an automatic panacea, at least by itself. I appreciate Rick’s emphasis on the need for first venting our feelings to God, to make sure we’ve allowed ourselves to experience the depth of the hurt before releasing it; otherwise, my forgiveness can become superficial (even manipulative, I must admit). We need to acknowledge the reality of the evil done to us — or at least what we experienced — in order to appreciate the enormity of God’s sovereign grace. I’ve often discovered that if I don’t take the time to thoroughly forgive (or repent), I’ll need to do it over again. That is one reason that a prior experience of confession is (usually) essential.
On the flip side, sometimes people confuse forgiveness and reconciliation — which is understandable, since the two words are often used interchangeably. However, there’s two different concepts here, whatever names they go by. I usually use ‘forgiveness’ to describe the internal state-change of releasing anger, pain, and bitterness; and ‘reconciliation’ for the external state-change of restoring trust to a relationship. To be sure, forgiveness necessarily leads to desiring and seeking reconciliation; however, the latter typically requires confession and repentance on the part of the one who hurt us, but the former does not. We can’t use someone’s lack of repentance to justify our own unforgiveness, or we’ll merely destroy ourselves.
Enough theory. Practically speaking, for me the biggest forgiveness challenge is reconciling myself to God’s vision of reality. I much prefer to react out of fear, hurt, and self-protection in order to safeguard my own kingdom. In this context, forgiveness means filling in the moat I’ve used to keep God and others as a distance, in order to become vulnerable. As I like to say, “If I forgive, I may still need to protect myself against the one who hurt me. But if I don’t forgive, I wall myself away from everyone.” A key — perhaps the key — to spiritual growth is recognizing those areas of my heart, mind, and soul where I’ve refused to accept God’s grace, and inviting Him in to transform both my past and my future. Which usually begins and ends with forgiveness.
Prayer: O Father, it is so much easier to discuss forgiveness than to practice it. Grant me the wisdom to discern where I’ve harbored bitterness or resentment against you, my family, or others in my life. Help me to release that pain, receive your grace, and pursue reconciliation. Help me to look at others through your eyes, to see how I may have similarly hurt them, and need to ask forgiveness. Make me an instrument of your peace and healing. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.