Not long before she died in 1988, in a moment of surprising candor in television, Marghanita Laski, one of our best-known secular humanists and novelists, said, “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me.”
John Stott in The Contemporary Christian.
You’ve blown it and you know it. Rather than deny it, you suck up your pride and apologize. Being forgiven feels wonderful (see Can you Give Me Three Days?), but what happens when they choose not to forgive you? Do you fall apart, jump through impossible hoops, or do you just walk away?
It is impossible to make someone forgive me and I hate that. I like to think that I am basically a nice person and that most people like me. And yet, we all have people in our lives who cannot, for whatever reason, forgive even the slightest of hurts even after we’ve apologized and made ammends. Or perhaps, they say they’ve forgiven , but oh are they gonna make you pay.
While I know that forgiveness is not an entitlement or a right, I do believe that being willing to forgive comes with healthy relationships.
I live in the same fallen world as the rest of you and not all of my relationships are healthy. I have choices as how to respond in light of this. I can either:
1. become a neurotic insecure people-pleaser, crushed by failure in the face of unforgiveness. I know this world well.
2. I can accept who I am in Christ, know that God is in charge of everything, including my dysfunctional relationships and allow His Grace to carry me through.
I spend a lot of time in both camps. Learning how to stay in Camp 2, takes time, practice, patience, and lots of prayer.
Like it or not, there are people in this world who would rather set them selves on fire over my sins (real or imagined) and hope I die from smoke inhalation than forgive me. It doesn’t matter how many flaming hoops I jump through, or how deep the eggshells I walk on are, I can still feel the undercurrent.
I’m not a strong relational swimmer and under currents can pull me under more quickly than you can say…
It is difficult to show love in the face of being unforgiven; anger brews just beneath the surface, snarky remarks and lit arrows flow freely and there are not eggshells big enough to walk on to keep the tinderbox from igniting. Fortunately love is a verb and not a noun. It is not my responsibility to make sure the other person forgives me or receives loving actions well, it is only my responsibility to make amends carry them out.
Maybe you have people like that in your life, or maybe you are that unwilling to forgive person. Either way, unforgiveness is an invisible weight that bares down on the soul and suffocates hope. Unforgiven might make for a good Clint Eastwood movie, but it doesn’t cut it in real life.
Unforgiving people suffer from all kinds of spiritual maladies such as depression, anger, fear, insecurity, isolation, and loneliness to name a few. An unforgiving spirit almost feels entitled to punish those who’ve wounded them in the past by either withholding relationship, or by constantly reminding them of past mistakes. I know because for a long time, I was such a person. Unforgiveness is based in selfishness and pride.
Now I’m not talking about major screw ups here, although I’ve been guilty of those myself and yes, even those can be forgiven. Rather I’m referring to the lifetime of mis-steps, misunderstandings, and oversights that add up and take their toll when someone allows those events to take precedent in their mind.
It isn’t the little things that kill relationships, it’s the unwillingness to let them go.
An unforgiving person will ask me, “How do I know you won’t hurt me again?”
The unfortunate, yet honest, answer is, “You don’t and truthfully, I probably will. I’m not perfect.”
It really boils down to choices you know.
- We choose to love.
- We choose to be in relationship
- We choose to forgive.
So what do you do when you are in a relationship with someone who chooses not to forgive past hurts? Do you choose to love them anyway or move on? I think it depends on the relationship and it depends on you. –
Three things I like to remember:
1. It is not about me. - It is impossible to live up to the unrealistic expectations of others, and being imperfect people we will inevitably have a bad day and let each other down. Healthy relationships involve telling each other the truth, facing problems head on, confessing our shortcomings and forgiving each other without keeping score.
I have no idea what has happened to the other person to create such a lifetime of hurt. Only Christ can fill that void and heal that hurt.
2. Unforgiven does not equal unforgivable - I have a book I like to read and it states, “As God’s people we stand on our feet; we don’t crawl before anyone.” — I am God’s child and my past is in his hands and no one else’s. Jesus Christ came to die for my sins. I am cleansed by his blood and set free from the past through his sacrifice. When I place my self-worth on a human beings ability – or lack thereof to forgive me, I place them on a higher plane than God.
3. The bells tolls for them not me, it’s okay to drop the rope. - Corrie ten Boom told of not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn’t sleep. Finally Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. “His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor,” Corrie wrote, “to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.” “Up in the church tower,” he said, nodding out the window, “is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope. But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.” “And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force — which was my willingness in the matter — had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.” (source: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/f/forgiveness.htm)
Just because we have someone in our life who insists on pulling that rope and ringing our bell, it doesn’t mean we have to answer it, we can drop the rope. We can choose to detach with love, forgive them, and surrender them to Christ. Only then can we be free.
Being unforgiven by others does not mean I am unforgiven by God, nor does it mean that I can be unforgiving. Beth Moore has a great teaching on this very subject on Life Today. For more information on Living a Forgiving Life — You can see Beth Moore on Life Today at: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=JB99CMNU and Part 2 at: http://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=JBE0MJNU
This post written by Deana O’Hara for Redemption’s Heart. July 30, 2011. All rights reserved.