(This is the cherry on the previous 3 blogs. I suggest reading them first, then coming back to this one.)
I do not make light of the pain some of you have been caused. Some of those reading this have been abused, abandoned, betrayed, cheated, stepped on, and harmed in ways that I can't even imagine. I do not dismiss those offenses or trivialize them. Forgiving those people is even more important for you, not less. For your good, your future and those you love. You are my heroes when you put your full energy in forgiving.
As long as we view forgiveness as a feeling, we will be stuck. Forgiveness is a mental transaction. A choice in opposition to our feelings because we know it is the right and best thing to do. The truth is "forgiveness" can seem "touchy-feely." Nothing could be further from the truth – it is AN ACT OF THE WILL, a calculated decision often made in conflict to our strongest, raging feelings. It requires all the strength of character within and God's strength poured into us.
It takes a real man, a real woman to forgive when all within cries out to give into emotions of anger, hate, bitterness and revenge.
How do we do that? In previous blogs I described the first steps: realize forgiveness is best and receive God's forgiveness. Once we have done that, here are the rest of the practical steps to choosing to make the willful transaction.
FORGIVE MYSELF. The extent of our acceptance of God's forgiveness and forgiving ourselves determines the extent that we can forgive others. The transaction is the same, I choose to release myself from the guilt of my actions, I pardon myself and cancel the debt. We will always have regrets, but the guilt must be forgiven.
SEEK FORGIVENESS OF OTHERS. Do you know the definition of major surgery? Major surgery is my surgery; minor surgery is your surgery. We tend to amplify the offenses of others against us and minimize the offenses we have done against others. We excuse ourselves and hold others to a high standard. We need to reflect, identify anyone we have hurt, and ask for forgiveness.
GRIEVE THE PAIN. One of the reasons we don't like to think about forgiveness is that it brings the original pain back to us, often in vivid Technicolor. To truly forgive, we need to grieve the pain that was caused and the pain of what will never be. If we lose a leg because of someone's negligence, the leg is lost. Gone. Never to grow back. We need to grieve the pain involved just as we grieve the loss of a loved one until we can come to accept the circumstances as they are, not as we want them to be. (In another blog I talk about living in reality rather than fantasy.)
TRUST GOD WITH THE PAIN AND JUSTICE. Forgiveness does not mean the other person gets off the hook. Justice will be delivered, but we are not the ones to exact that justice. God will hold them accountable and justice will be given, in His time and His way.
Remember the Old Testament story of Joseph? His eleven brothers sold him into slavery out of jealousy, his master's wife accused him of attempted rape, he was thrown into prison and left there for over ten years. In God's time he was promoted to vice-president of the world (read it, it's in Genesis chapters 39-50), in charge of selling food to the famined world. His brothers come, don't recognize him, he tests them, finally reveals himself, tells them he forgives them, moves the entire family to Egypt and they prosper. Some years later their father dies, the brothers believe Joseph will now get even so they concoct a story to protect themselves, "Dad told us to tell you that you have to take care of us…" Joseph is dumbfounded at their fear. He forgave them long ago. (SIDENOTE: notice how unforgiveness and fear hurts those who hold on to it more than those who forgive? It had left Joseph's mind over a decade ago.) Joseph responds, as we all should as we trust God:
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:20 (NIV)
RELEASE THE OFFENDER. Choose to remove the chain of guilt and unforgiveness that binds you to the other person and place it into God's hands. With the chain gone, both of you are free. Even if they never ask. Even if you never see them again. Even if they are dead. How did Jesus forgive us? Completely and before we even knew we needed forgiveness.
"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13 (NIV)
MAKE FORGIVENESS A LIFESTYLE. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Don't be easily offended. When hurt, release it as quickly as possible. Get some perspective on what is important and let things go. Lighten up.
Most important, pray blessings on those who offend you. It is impossible to hold on to hurt and unforgiveness when you pray for blessings on that person. Jesus knew this.
"But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," Matthew 5:44 (NIV)
Forgiving others, no matter how hard it is or how deeply they have hurt us, is worth it.
Holding on to hurt and unforgiveness, no matter how it seems to satisfy, is not worth it. Ever.
(To listen to Herb via the internet go to http://www.newsongpittsburgh.org/sermons.htm )