Sunday, June 28, 2009

Finding Freedom: Part II - What Forgiveness Is… And Is Not

"This, then, is how you should pray:
'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' 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."

Matthew 6:9-15

Jesus, it seems, was pretty serious about our forgiving those who wrong us. He put some pretty strong conditions on forgiving, tying our own forgiveness to how we forgive.

We have established that God is not a tyrant, and as such will never ask us to do something that is not in our capacity to do. Unlike Pharaoh in the Old Testament, requiring more bricks, but providing less material, God will always provide for the task he calls us to. Through the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, we can offer forgiveness!

But forgiveness is hard! When we even think about forgiving "that person" the pain returns and the wound feels as though it were just inflicted. All of the emotion returns, and try as we might, we just cannot bring ourselves to release them.

It is important for us at this point to properly define what forgiveness is, and what it is not. We often withhold forgiveness, simply because we do not understand what it means to forgive.

Forgiveness is: releasing my right to be angry and/or bitter toward a person for the wrong they committed and releasing the outcome to God.

Forgiveness is not: treating the event like it never happened. Forgiveness does not mean that you were never hurt; it does not imply that the offense didn’t matter, or that it was insignificant. Forgiveness recognizes the depth of the wound, acknowledges the seriousness of the offense, and then chooses to relinquish the outcome to God.

Forgiveness is not: reconciliation. Though there may be a time when God nudges you to seek reconciliation; and though reconciliation may sometimes flow naturally out of forgiveness, they are not synonymous. In fact, there are certain circumstances where reconciliation is either impossible, or unhealthy. In circumstances where the person has died, or dropped off the map, it is not possible to reconcile, and in cases of abusive relationships, it would not be healthy to re-enter into those relationships. Forgiveness does not seek to reconcile, it only seeks to release our bitterness and control of the outcome.

Homework this week: Write or revisit a list of names of those whom you have not forgiven, and write their offense next to their name. Pray that God would give you the grace to forgive. Then, one by one, choose to forgive.

Below is a forgiveness template that I have found useful. Imagine that person in the room with you and address the offender out loud.

(Name), you hurt me very deeply when you X____. But (Name), by an act of my will, I choose to forgive you for X_____. God, would you forgive me for holding onto this offense for so long. Help me to walk in the freedom that true forgiveness offers me.