As I write this, I am actually fighting against God’s invitation to forgive.
On a daily basis, we all forgive—and do not forgive—people, whether at home, school, or work. Every situation is unique and different, layered with complexities that make us feel more or less capable of forgiving.
Maybe someone accidentally interrupted you during a conversation. You were frustrated, but you forgave them after a few seconds.
Maybe someone cut you off in traffic this morning. You were ticked off for a couple minutes but then forgave that person and haven’t thought about it since.
Or maybe a coworker failed to show up at a meeting this morning. You felt disrespected, but after a couple hours, you were able to talk to that person, hear why they missed the meeting, and forgive them.
But there are situations in your life and mine where other people’s actions hurt us deeply. And the pain that we suffer as a result is so raw and present that we don’t see how we can possibly forgive that person. Especially when they don’t seem aware or seem to care that they’ve hurt you.
The Painful Work of Forgiveness
In those situations, forgiveness becomes painful work. Sometimes excruciatingly painful. And if you need to approach the person to address the pain they’ve caused you, you might experience the added pain of being so vulnerably honest. Or their response might be negative, causing you even more hurt.
I’ve had a few moments in my life where my unforgiveness became so deeply entrenched in my soul that God had to intervene in my life. Through dreams, retreats, his Word, and other Christians, he showed me how seriously he takes my unforgiveness and how it harms my relationship with him.
During one retreat in particular—a 48-hour silent retreat at a monastery in the middle of wheat fields in Schuyler, Nebraska—I sensed God say this to me (someone who has prided myself on “working” for God for the past eight years through InterVarsity):
The most important “work” that you’ll ever accomplish on this side of life is forgiveness.
Another time, God spoke to me through my friend Jacci, who taught me that unforgiveness is like a block in our relationship with God. It prevents God from actually doing the work that he wants to do in our hearts and souls, and it robs us of God himself.
Learning to Forgive
I’ve found that, practically speaking, there’s really only one way to learn how to forgive:
Spend more time with Jesus.
The more time I’ve spent with Jesus—the more I’ve read about his life in the Bible, read his teachings, and spent focused, uninterrupted time with him—the more I want to become like him.
He is the only one who has truly motivated me to forgive in my soul.
After all, forgiveness was Jesus’ mission; his whole purpose was to make forgiveness possible between us and God, to reconcile our relationship with our Creator.
Jesus also modeled forgiveness and called his people (several times) to live as people of grace. Here are a few examples:
Since Jesus set out to accomplish the impossible by making forgiveness possible between us and God—and he accomplished that mission—then it seems logical to assume that only he can help us accomplish the impossible in our lives: forgiving those who’ve hurt us.
Learning to forgive probably won’t happen overnight, because Jesus is good (and patient) and wants our journey toward forgiveness to be genuine and authentic. He doesn’t just want us to say we forgive someone or have it be something we check off our Christian to-do list.
He knows that we are all in very different situations. And he promises to walk alongside us through our circumstances and our pain. He promises to heal us. But forgiveness will always be the end goal he’s leading us toward.
Image by bschwehn.
You might also find these resources on forgiveness helpful: