Nothing stirs up the crap the of our past like the H O L I D A Y S. #amiright? O to the M to the G. Fam, this can be “the most wonderful time of the year” and it can be the most stressful time of the year. Some of you will be forced into the same rooms of those who have hurt you and hurt you bad. Some of you will be sharing children. Some of you will be looking across the tables at empty seats. Nothing like “forced family time” to remind you of all you do and do not have.
So, Happy Holidays! haha (insert hand on head emoji here). Seriously though, I LOOOOOOVE this time of year. My Christmas decor is almost all up. But I wanted to take some time and share a few blogs I’ve written on forgiveness. I think some of us need to take a “Forgiveness Refresher Course” and remind ourselves what forgiveness is and isn’t as we enter into a season where we will inevitably rub shoulders with people we just don’t care for.
Ten years, we went to Georgia and met with a couple who does intensive counselling with married couples who have hit a dead end individually and relationally. You spend two or three days delving into your pain and learning about all that Jesus has done to redeem you and your pain. On the last day, we were given an assignment: We had to write down the name of every person we needed to forgive. Here’s what you need to understand: I was ANGRY. I took a personality test before arriving and I scored the highest you could score on anger. They had never seen anything like it. So needless to say, I was overwhelmed with the task at hand. Certain names came quickly…others surprised me. But I think the name I wrestled with the most was MINE.
This was the prep work for what was coming. Later that evening, we would sit each of the people on our list down in a red chair. We’d look them in the eyes (I mean, they weren’t really there…but as far as I was concerned, they were there) and read off our list of grievances and then say we chose to forgive them. It was a way to say what we needed to say and then to shred the evidence and be free.
Except I couldn’t be totally free…because I was always with me.
Here’s the key to forgiveness: If you don’t accept God’s forgiveness for yourself and if you haven’t forgiven you, you will never be able to forgive other people. Let me say it another way: If you do not bask in God’s grace daily for yourself, then you will not be able to offer God’s grace unconditionally to others.
If you were like me, then you probably don’t fully understand what forgiveness is and means. We hear all the time, “Forgive and forget”. We even teach people that the verse in Psalms that says God removes our sins as far as the East is from the West means that He forgets. But we forget that it’s impossible for God to forget. No, what that verse really means is that He removes the shame and guilt and identity of those sins from us as far as the East is from the West. And that right there friends is what so many of us need to hear.
When I talk to people who are walking through dark seasons, almost to a person there is a sense of complete failure. They feel as though they have failed the people closest to them, they feel like they have failed God, and they have failed themselves. They cannot get past the guilt and pain of unfulfilled expectations. This was not supposed to be. They are surprised by themselves and cannot get past the haunting questions of will they ever be the same again? Will people still be able to love them? Is God disappointed?
We are fully aware of how bad we are. But we are also so good at masking it and when our defenses go down and our depravity rears its ugly head, we are humiliated and treat ourselves the way we believe we should be treated: As utter disappointments. We punish ourselves by never allowing ourselves to move out from under the labels we have given ourselves. And so we imprison ourselves and keep ourselves from living the abundant life Jesus promises in the Scriptures.
See, forgiveness is being completely honest about whatever was stolen from you: A season, a friend, a parent, an identity, confidence, sexuality, whatever it is. And then it’s realizing that whatever was stolen from you cannot ever be given back. So making the person pay for whatever was stolen is futile. It’s only hurting you. It’s keeping you shackled to the pain when you have a whole life of promise to be living! When it comes to forgiving ourselves, we have to be honest and realize that we cannot change the past or right the wrongs. But what we can do is change our futures. So you need to ask yourself, “What did I steal from myself?” Or, “What do I owe me?” If we stay where we are and just live in the pity party, we will forever make the same mistakes and stay stuck. But if we choose to forgive ourselves, accept God’s forgiveness and seek healing, then we can change our futures and actually live the lives Jesus planned for us. But it’s up to you. You will choose what you will do.
Refusing to forgive leaves us, our presents, and our futures in bondage. Jesus explained this in Matthew 18, you know, the famous parable about the servants?
“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’ Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven. The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market. The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt. The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’ The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”
The first servant owed way more than he was ever going to be able to repay. So, the King “erased the debt”. I love that. The debt no longer existed. When the King saw the servant, he didn’t see the debt anymore. It was gone. The servant couldn’t pay it back anyways. However, the servant didn’t truly believe the King had erased the debt. Instead, he thought the King was just buying him time to pay it back. Why else would he attack his friend (“fellow servant”) who only owed $10? The first servant knew in his heart of hearts he owed the King what was rightly due him. He felt compelled to pay him back due to his pride and embarrassment that his debt had gotten so out of control. In an effort to save face, he attacks his co-worker. The first servant is taking out his anger for himself at falling short on his friend. Well, he did it in front of a crowd and the King was quickly informed. Angry that the servant did not appreciate his forgiveness, he threw him in prison. Other translations say the servant was tormented there. Let me explain something that often gets mistranslated. God is not going to refuse forgiveness to you if you do not offer it to others. He can’t. That’s contradictory to His character. However, you will live inwardly tormented and in bondage until you release the other person from the debt he/she owes you. You will never truly know peace and experience God’s forgiveness of you if you cannot extend that same forgiveness to someone else. Chuck Swindoll explains it this way, Jesus “is saying the one who refuses to forgive, the Christian who harbors grudges, bitter feelings toward another, will be turned over to torturous thoughts, feelings of misery, and agonizing unrest within. It is one of the horrible consequences of not forgiving those who offend us…Believe me; it is not worth the misery. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven! Release the poison of all that bitterness…let it gush out before God, and declare the sincere desire to be free.”
This is especially true when we refuse to forgive ourselves. We live tormenting ourselves and then that anger gets taken out on those closest to us. You know the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.”
So here’s what I want to leave you with today: Jesus is not surprised by your mess. Not even in the least. Why do you think He died on the cross for you? Because you deserved it? Oh sweet friend, He knows we don’t deserve it. Romans says there is “none righteous” and explains that when we were in the middle of our biggest failure, our worst regret, that is when Christ died for us. We have to accept His forgiveness for us and then we have to extend that forgiveness to ourselves. We can’t go back and make the past better or make sense. We can only live in this moment. So can you, right here, right now, accept Christ’s forgiveness for yourself and can you begin to see you as God sees you? He doesn’t see your messes. Your brokenness. He sees Jesus and all of His perfection. Practice “Momentary Forgiveness”: Giving yourself forgiveness in this moment and then extending that forgiveness to the next moment and the next.
More on forgiveness to come…