So, here’s a little known fact about me:
Forgiveness is a challenge for me.
I remember holding grudges against people that hurt me as a teenager. Since dealing with offense wasn’t much of a conversation growing up, I kind of learned to deal with it in my own way, without much guidance. Now that I’m an adult, and more importantly, one who has become a disciple of Jesus, I’ve realized that although I know I’m supposed to forgive, I still don’t sometimes. I think I know what I “need to do” and how I “should feel” toward the people I need to forgive, yet I have a hard time doing it.
To be honest, I didn’t think it was still a problem for me. I thought I was free from holding grudges (with my saved self) just because I knew some scripture about forgiveness. Luckily for me, I have people in my life that will tell me the truth. The other day, my friend Mat said to me, “You don’t forgive”, and I confidently responded, “Yes I do!”. But a day or so later, a person came to mind who I have yet to completely forgive, along with my actions and thoughts to prove that I haven’t forgiven them. What shocked me was that those actions were devices to protect me from the vulnerable work of forgiveness, causing me not to see the unforgiveness in my heart. Sometimes, you really have to snatch the cover back, so to speak, so that you can see and know the truth.
My version of forgiveness
has been to keep in mind that we’re all broken, in some way, trying to get fixed. I’ve been conceptualizing offense as a result of a “human handicap”, as if being human causes us to offend one another. But I still failed to separate the person from their action. So every time I saw someone who hurt me, I remembered what happened and my stomach dropped, I cringed, or I rolled my eyes (internally). I couldn’t stand to see their face. And if I could help it, I avoided them altogether.
What I thought I knew about forgiveness
I thought that since I was the one who was mistreated, whatever I needed to do to feel better about it was warranted, as long as I didn’t retaliate or seek revenge. I knew it was my responsibility to approach the person who had an issue with me (according to Matthew 5:23), but I wasn’t ready or willing to have the necessary conversation that would facilitate reconciliation and forgiveness. So, I thought it was okay to leave the issue as is, in order to avoid conflict. I felt like I was doing everyone a favor.
The Truth about Knowledge
Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom]. 1 Corinthians 8:1bThe Amplified Bible
As it turns out, I lacked humility. (I know, this had me shook too!) I thought “Why would I need to be humble in a situation where I was the victim?” It’s not that I needed to go to my offender, with my tail between my legs as if I did wrong. The humility was needed for me to seek God about how to approach the situation with urgency instead of waiting until I felt ready, based on what I knew.
Just knowing about principles, such as forgiveness, isn’t helpful when you don’t have a revelation of how to apply them in a particular situation. God’s instruction is infused with wisdom when it is lived out by his leading. The plain words of scripture are not always tailor made for our circumstance. So when I rationalized that I would be misunderstood and that the person I needed to forgive was unapproachable, I decided the instructions just didn’t work for this situation. However, I needed to humble myself in that moment and seek God about how to approach my offender so that I could forgive them quickly.
Then there’s love…
Love causes you to think beyond yourself. As much as you may want an apology from the person who hurt you, love may cause you to pray for their healing and growth that would prevent them from repeating the offense to you and others.
Sometimes we demonstrate that our knowledge is only effective for giving advice, rather than demonstrating our ability to resolve our own conflicts. I guess you really can be “too smart for your own good”! These days, I try not to have more answers for others than I have for myself. I also try not to judge how people handle their situations, because I know sometimes I struggle to do it the “Christian way,” too. Knowledge in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s just that knowledge by itself can lead to self-righteousness, which can lead to a false sense of faultlessness. Humility allows us to see our flaws and remember that we need God to overcome them. Ultimately, love causes you to want the best for the people love you and the ones who hurt you as well. You may think you know best, but love will never lead you wrong.