Cheap Forgiveness

IMG_3427I’ve always tried to quickly forgive those who wronged me. It’s in my own best interest and it’s what we do as Christians, right? But why do I sometimes not experience the freedom of forgiving — of letting go and letting God? Why does my resentment seep out and why do I still feel a need to explain it all at times?

I was taught that hanging on to grudges, anger and resentment only hurt me — not the one who did the wrong. And that unforgiveness is like a “cancer” that could grow inside me… who wants that? It all made sense, so I quickly forgave wrongs.  If I struggled with unforgiveness at all, I reminded myself of Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:’It’s mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

I more or less said, “I forgive ___ for all he/ she has done.” And told God.  I didn’t have to tell the person, if it didn’t seem appropriate. After all, the bad guys don’t always agree that they have wronged us, or worse, they don’t always care. Forgiveness is between God and me. I could just tell Him that I had forgiven someone, and move on, hopefully feeling lighter and free. But that wasn’t always the case.

IMG_3535I don’t think this was necessarily wrong or untrue.  I was more than willing to disregard offenses, but my understanding of forgiveness was very limited.  Now God is beginning to teach me that forgiveness is a process I can enter into WITH Him. I can forgive myself or others from my privileged relationship with the author of forgiveness, and that’s  when the power and blessings really flourish.

Just after my divorce was final, someone challenged my definition of forgiveness. He said quick forgiveness can be cheap forgiveness. That to truly forgive,  I still needed to balance the ledger — to count all the costs. I thought I had left behind examining all the past unpleasantness, and I was more than ready to move on! So I was sad and frustrated to admit the counselor was making sense to me. How could I have really forgiven that which I hadn’t fully acknowledged or even named?

rural South Georgia

I started the process anew… God’s goal in the life of believers is to conform us to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. There is nothing more basic to our relationship with Jesus than His forgiveness, and His wasn’t cheap. One way we can look like Christ is to practice forgiving others. It follows that as His children we will be given ample challenges on this earth to forgive. In our ups and downs, through our own mistakes,  trials and wrongs done to us, all of us are given a lifetime to walk with Jesus and do the hard work of forgiveness.

This process of forgiveness with God is not quick, and often not that easy, but from my fledgling attempts, I’ve found it to be so worth the effort! Perhaps you have something you’ve tried to get beyond, but it feels like your forgiveness isn’t complete? While there’s not a precise formula for forgiving prayer, I have found a few Biblical examples to add to the original basics I learned. Combined they help me to get real with myself, with God, and to truly trust Him with transgressions.

IMG_3568First, the basics from Sunday School:

It’s true, some offenses feel unforgivable. Forgiving might not make us “whole” again. But unforgiveness guarantees we won’t be okay. Forgiveness is for our own good, and not for the ones who hurt us. Beth Moore says it this way,” God is faithful. He will plead our case and take up our cause… but only when we make a deliberate decision to cease representing ourselves in the matter.” We forgive WITH God.

Forgiveness means to send away or let go from oneself. It is the continual act of agreeing with God in a matter, and offering others the same mercy He gave us. It’s active surrender of the situation, the repercussions, and the offender to Him. Sometimes we need to recommit to forgiveness daily. We forgive TO God.

There are two important steps I’ve been missing: Pray ABOUT and FOR the person you need to forgive. The purpose of both prayers is to change our own hearts — to align them with His. To the point of my counselor many years ago, we need to pray about the person who hurt us before we can pray for them with sincerity and a pure heart — only then can we feel the full freedom of forgiveness.

IMG_3533Praying about a situation is basically tattling on them to God (instead of the toxic venting to numerous others our flesh seems to enjoy). Tell Him about all the things someone did to you, and all the ways you were hurt as a result.  Tell Him how upset you are and how unfairly you have been treated. Psalm 62:8 says “Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is your refuge.”

David, a man after God’s own heart, told God about those who had offended him in emotional verses such as these:

  • Psalm 5:9 “Not a word from their mouths can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction”
  • Psalm 17:10-11.13 “They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance. They have tracked me down and now throw me to the ground… Rise up, O Lord, confront them, bring them down, rescue me.”

David vents his anger and you can almost hear whining as he voices his requests to God in prayer. He is real and doesn’t hold back. We are encouraged to do the same — to bring our authentic complaints and feelings to God. We need to pour out the confusion, anger, hurt, despair, bitterness, doubt and all the foulness we feel about the situation to God, so He can in turn fill us with Himself.

IMG_3275Some people best pour their hearts out verbally while alone, others in counseling,  journal entries, or forgiveness worksheets. There are many ways to pour out your heart to God, and all are acceptable as long as you are honest and thorough.  God knows everything already. What He’s teaching me is to allow Him do His work in me during the process of my confessing feelings and thoughts. Sometimes He listens quietly, and other times He helps me to see where my perspective may be skewed on an issue. God wants us to be real from the depths of our hearts, regardless of where we are.

When I’m willing to empty my whole heart to God (whatever it contains), I am giving Him my pain and hurt, so that it doesn’t turn to bitterness. In pouring out my thoughts to God, I’m forced to examine myself, and give Him the opportunity to correct me where I’m wrong. He transforms and fills me as I allow. I’m certainly not a master of forgiveness to freedom… but I’ve tasted a little of it, and I know I want more.

IMG_0241Thankfully, the Bible is full of great role models. Job is another example of a man in the depths of bad circumstances and raw emotions, who empties himself before God. Like David, Job’s complaints were not watered down, but were acceptable to God because he loved God with honor and reverence. Moses and Abraham, also friends of God, felt they could trust God with their honest laments and questions, even when they were mad at God. They were humble and trusting as they honestly shared their pain.

Like these men in the Bible, I know I’ve been mad at God Himself. “God you could have saved a life — stopped the divorce — prevented financial pain… with a glance or a whisper my way. Why didn’t you?” While I never had the right to be mad at God, He understands, and He can handle my anger. He welcomes us to bring our reality to Him, so He can minister to our hearts and minds. If we don’t start where we REALLY are, how can God move us to a place of truth and forgiveness — to remembering God’s faithfulness, goodness and love for us?

Highlands, NC

If you are struggling, as I do,  in being so blatantly honest with God, search the Psalms for countless examples to encourage you. Then continue pouring out all you hurts, tattle tell on your offenders, show God your wounds and their repercussions. Don’t stop until you feel the bitterness waning and God’s love filling the emptiness you have created. Trust and gratitude will be our signs that we are ready for the next step.

Pray for the person you need to forgive. I have often tried praying for my enemies… but my prayers “for” the forgiven lacked sincerity of heart and quickly slipped into the “talk about the offender to God” stage that I had skipped!  In this new process, God is teaching me not to rush through forgiveness. With God’s help, I hope to more supernaturally shift to praying FOR my offenders. I believe when I have given God all responsibility for handling my pain and burdens, He will be faithful to transform my mind, and fill me with gratitude, love and mercy.

IMG_5927Peter 3:9 says “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called, so that you may inherit a blessing.” Why should we forgive and pray for our offenders? Because it’s God’s way. And the way of our natural flesh — the way that feels right to me when I’m mad or hurt — gains us nothing but trouble. God created our hearts. He is in control and knows what we need to heal and prosper. And through Jesus’ work on the cross, He provided the greatest act of forgiveness ever.  Matthew 6:14-15 says “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before… The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (Job 42:10,12) Whatever forms our blessings come in, God will do the same for us when we are willing to forgive His way.

There’s a current situation in my life where I feel my forgiveness has been too quick. Too cheap. Done with too much independence.  I’m committed to continuing to practice forgiveness with God and to God. To doing the hard things He desires. To thinking as He does. To learning to pray for my offender in a way that feels sincere — and trusting and believing that God will bless me in it all.

Mark 11:25    “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. ”

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9 thoughts on “Cheap Forgiveness

  1. I really like this one! After reading some papers on forgiveness for my class, I found that some criticize Christianity for making forgiveness obligatory… they say that it (in some cases) further victimizes the victim because there isn’t apparent retribution for the wrongdoer, but we MUST forgive them anyway. That’s a tough idea for a lot of people to accept. Reading this reminded me that their criticisms fail to recognize the other component of Christian forgiveness– that there are ultimately consequences to the wrongdoer that are just out of our own control and up to God instead. The idea of Christian forgiveness isn’t so much about fairness as it is returning our focus and trust to God because he will avenge. Thanks for writing this Louise! It really reminded me of that idea.

    1. Thank you for telling me, Sarah! Trusting God in forgiveness is even tough for Christians — so no surprise it’s a hard one for those who don’t believe. I’m so glad this was helpful. I love hearing you thoughts and the excitement in your words… you made my day! 🙂

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