Forgiveness in Proverbs #2
What is forgiveness? Here are three ways to think about it. (As suggested by John Ortberg in Everybody’s Normal Until You Get to Know Them, 158-60).
Forgiving is what you have to do when you can’t excuse or forget someone’s behavior. It is what you also have to do sometimes even when you can’t reconcile with someone because they are not willing. Think of forgiveness as a process of change that takes place in three steps or stages.
The first step of forgiveness is accepting that you won’t try to get the other person back. You won’t retaliate or seek revenge. To forgive is to make the decision that “ I give up the right to hurt you back.”
The second step is to see the one who hurt as a person. That may sound strange, but think about it. When someone hurts us deeply, what do we see whenever we look at that person? We see the hurt, don’t we? We don’t see them as a person, we see them as an offender, or even as an enemy we must defend against or attack. Forgiveness means we let that go and see the other person as a person.
The third step in forgiveness is to wish the other person well. In this, the highest progression of forgiveness, you have moved from a desire for retaliation to letting that feeling go, to seeing the offender as a person, and to actually wishing him or her well. At this stage you know the clutter of animosity and resentment has been swept clean.
Recently I read an online article on forgiveness, and the author confessed to having a difficult time forgiving someone. Someone commented that forgiveness is a process that takes place overtime. For the deeper, more painful offenses, that process can take years.
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Someone else commented with the bold assertion that since God commands forgiveness, it is something that we must do completely and immediately. There should be no lingering hard feelings or thoughts. To do so would be to sin.
I wonder if that person ever sat with a rape victim and listened to her story? I wonder if he ever sat in an emergency room with parents whose child was the victim of a hit and run? I wonder if he ever had to start over in midlife after a business partner drained the company finances? Some offenses can be forgiven immediately. Some take a long time. When you look in the mirror and see the scars of another’s offense, you remember.
But, over time, you can let go, you can see the offender as a person, and you can wish them well. And even if you never quite make it to step three, if you are traveling in that direction, you are on God’s path.
Briefly, how do you progress along this continuum of forgiveness. Here are three suggestions.
One, look for and acknowledge any role you may have played in the conflict and the offensive situation. You may not have had any role. But many times we do, and an honest introspection keeps us open to our own sins and our own need for forgiveness.
Two, pray the Lord’s prayer regularly. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Make seeking a forgiving heart a regular feature of your prayer to God. This one verse could even be prayer in itself. Repeat it over and over and over, as often as it takes to calm your spirit.
Three, as you pray the forgiveness part of the Lord’s prayer, close your eyes and picture an image of the cross. Underneath it, place the face of your offender. It is hard to maintain an intensity of anger when you see this person in the shadow of the cross. Keep praying. God will grant you that spirit of forgiveness with his power in your life.
In what ways have you worked at granting forgiveness to another?