As our year of restoration continues, I find my mind repeatedly thinking about all the opportunities we own to seek and find restoration. Pondering the beauty which comes from restoring a lifeless work of art back to its pristine form makes something as simple as cleaning the house feel less tedious. Let’s restore our home hits somewhere deeper and pleasant than Do I seriously have to clean this place again?!
Restoring brokenness has been on my mind a lot as I gear up for this year’s theme, but one word has also been standing out in my mind more than the rest: forgiveness.
If there is anything on earth worth restoring it is relationships; and relationships cannot be truly restored without forgiveness. We can fake it. We can slap on a smile and act like everything is good. We may even start to believe it, but if we do not deal with the underlying relational sludge, it will rise to the surface eventually – and rarely at a good time.
Who Do I Need to Forgive?
Some of us have a person (or a group of people) pop into our minds immediately upon hearing (or reading) that header question; whereas others must do soul-searching to discover buried bitterness. We are not suggesting you dig until you find some obscure memory (i.e., fabricate an offense), but prayerfully work through your memories, starting with the people you know best and then comb through the different seasons of your life.
The first seven years of my life, we lived on a block with several mean kids; they were simply unkind humans. Their unkindness toward me was one of the reasons my parents decided to move to a different neighborhood (something for which I will always be grateful). These Sunset Road children live in my earliest memories; and even though we were little, I need to search my heart and ask God to help me forgive them if I am holding on to any lingering anger or hurt.
Fast forward a few years to all the boyfriend problems – the one who cheated, the one who played relentless mind games, and the one whose mom dumped me from her son’s relationship with me (no, I’m not kidding). Though distant memories, they still hold a place in my heart and occasionally sting. Even if I think I have forgiven them all, I should probably still ask God to reveal anything I might be holding on to so I can fully forgive and let it go.
Then, marriage. Eric sits beside me as I type this and most of the time, I just want to give him bear hugs. He is cute and snuggly, but no marriage escapes the effects of sin. To put it nicely, Eric and I have given each other plenty of opportunities to forgive each other – we have been “sanctification buddies.” No marriage can thrive without the willingness and ability to forgive. If you struggle with forgiveness, work on that before getting engaged because the “perfect” person you are dating will turn out to be less than perfect. And, if you are dating someone who struggles to forgive, be careful moving forward. If he or she has a hard time forgiving those outside the intimacy circle, he or she will certainly struggle forgiving you throughout the years.
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. – Ruth Bell Graham
After my Dad passed away, Mom told me he had a forgiveness notebook filled with names of people he needed to forgive. When she found the book, he had drawn lines through names as God had given him the grace to forgive them. This touched my heart for a couple reasons. One, I am so thankful Dad was seeking to forgive others rather than holding on to old wounds, and two, I am so very much like my dad – and I knew it was something I needed to do also.
Why Should I Forgive? I Am Doing Fine.
- God’s Word clearly states we must forgive others to be forgiven by God. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV) This is serious business. Nothing is more priceless than God’s forgiveness. Without it our souls are condemned.
- Unforgiveness leaves us in chains. It blocks us from moving forward. It enslaves us to the past. It keeps us reviewing and reliving the hurt. We can fight for freedom in every other way, but we will never be fully liberated if we are hanging on to anger.
- Unforgiveness promises power but leaves us weak, angry, and often lonely. There is an inner hulk-like feeling which comes with anger. A rage which makes us feel bigger than the pain (and the person who caused it) and says, “You will never hurt me again.” In the short term, this powerful feeling gives us a sense of control over our emotions, but as time passes the rage turns sour and simply wears us down.
- Unforgiveness turns us into someone we do not like. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Unforgiveness makes you like the person you need to forgive?” It is so true. There was a young lady in my past who hated me. I cannot remember doing anything negative to her, but she despised me and pulled other people into her fold. Being so hurt by this random person, I found myself thinking about her a lot. My insides boiled when I envisioned her smirking, manipulative face. Then I realized I was becoming just like her. Does it hurt to have someone decide you are unworthy of love? Yes, it does. For some it hurts a lot more than it does for others. But, holding on to the hurt did nothing to her. It only hurt me which was most assuredly her goal.
- Unforgiveness affects your other relationships. Why should I forgive? They do not deserve my forgiveness. Whoever they are, they do not deserve your forgiveness, but that is not why we forgive. We forgive because we are told to by a holy God. We forgive because it is balm for our soul. We forgive because our grudges and grievances do not stay hidden. They affect the way we interact with people, our language, our attitude, and how we communicate. Forgiving your high school football coach is good for your girlfriend. Forgiving your college algebra professor is good for your future children.
- Nothing we can forgive in others is worse than what God has forgiven in us. God’s forgiveness of our own sin is what allows our relationship with Him to be restored, and that forgiveness is possible through Christ’s sacrifice. No matter what has been done to us, we will never have as much to forgive in others as God had to forgive in We have offended a holy God and because Christ paid the debt of our sin on the cross, we can be reconciled to God. When someone sins against us, it is one sinner offending another. If God extends us the grace we can never earn, how can we withhold grace from others?
Starting a Forgiveness Notebook
If you are so inclined, will you join me in filling out a forgiveness notebook? As you work through your book, the Holy Spirit may deal with your heart and nudge you towards contacting and seeking reconciliation with someone(s) on your list.
We recently spoke with a young couple who are dating for the second time. They originally dated in college and did not end their relationship on the greatest terms. Following their breakup, they both had encounters with Christ and began walking more closely with Him. In obedience to the Holy Spirit, she reached out to her ex-boyfriend to make peace between them, even though she was not excited to do so. After giving and receiving forgiveness, they began talking again as friends and after a year or so, they began dating again and are doing quite well. It is beautiful to see what God restores when we forgive and let go.
Starting a forgiveness notebook makes me a little nervous and a little excited. I am nervous to re-feel some pain I pushed down a long time ago, but I am more excited at the prospect of clearing my heart and being free. Forgiving – truly forgiving – is a beautiful and necessary first step to a year-long restoration journey. Will you join me?
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13, ESV)
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25, ESV)
Who do you still need to forgive and what steps can you take this week towards restoring those relationships?