I want to talk about the “F” word. It’s a word that reviles many people in our world. It makes many people uncomfortable, but it needs our attention.
No, not that “F” word. Keep reading.
It’s “forgiveness”. Surprised? Don’t be; it’s an “F” word that troubles a lot of folks in our world, and may be a significant issue for dealing with conflict in our society.
Jesus, in giving his dangerous model for prayer, enjoins us to “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11.4a, NLT). That’s easy to say, and not easy to do. What do we do when someone sins against us and does not apologize? Can we be expected to forgive someone who does not ask forgiveness? In a word, yes.
Someone wise once said that holding a grudge allows another person to take up space in your brain without paying rent – or words to that effect. And it’s true: irrespective of whether the transgressor seeks forgiveness, we have the responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to forgive. If we fail to do so, we are the losers.
Yet our pride often gets in the way, doesn’t it? In our fallen state, we sometimes think we are punishing the person who sins against us by not forgiving. Chances are, though, that the transgressor does not think much about whether or not we have forgiven him or her. No, it rests with us to forgive.
Ideally, this happens in concert with an apology. But because we can’t take responsibility for other people’s feelings or actions, our act of forgiveness may have to take place without any overture from the other party.
Forgiveness is an act of the will that benefits both the transgressor and the transgressed. We all win when forgiveness is offered. Are there areas in your life where you are letting someone else take up real estate in your head without paying rent? Are there broken relationships over which you continue to obsess? Make a decision to forgive. Try, if possible, to offer that forgiveness to the person directly, whether she or he is repentant or not. If it’s not possible to forgive the individual personally, give it to God in prayer.
How can we forgive another person in prayer? Here’s an example. Feel free to adapt it if it’s helpful: Lord, you know the situation between N and me is not great. You know what s/he did to me, and it hurt. But in your holy presence, I forgive N. Please soften her/his heart, and restore our relationship. Free me from the ill will I have held toward N. Forgive me when I have hurt others, and when I have sinned against you. Put a new and right spirit within me, so that I can follow you faithfully and freely, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Again, this might be easier to read than to say and do. It might be that the person you need to forgive is not even alive. It could be that the harm done to you by that person has caused serious mental, physical or spiritual damage to you. God can heal your wounds; God wants to heal your wounds. Give them to him, and give the situation over to him. Invite the Lord to be present with you in your pain.
You might need time to work through your situation with the Lord. Set aside the time. If necessary, work with a pastor, a spiritual director, or a trusted friend to help you process your pain. Whatever it takes, determine to evict the unwanted tenant of unforgiveness from your mind and spirit. God will be with you.
“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11.24-25, NIV).