Choosing Forgiveness Every Single Time
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32 (NIV)
The uncomfortable silence was deafening. Had they really just said that? My hands were tightening into fists, arms crossed, unable to speak or control the heat creeping up my chest and neck (as it always does when I’m flustered, angry, or embarrassed…which only makes matters worse!). Were they right? Did this defensiveness I felt come straight from my own insecurities, or because their critical words were completely invalid and unjust?
In moments like this, when someone we trust has a critical spirit towards us, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. I knew in my soul that just because this person was disappointed in me — and never mind that their judgment was completely out of left field and made zero sense to me — it didn’t change the way God felt about me. I knew that this person’s hurt and anger towards me was coming from something else going on in their life, but instead of being understanding, my first instinct was to dwell on that hurt as I got in my car and let the tears pour out in rage. "How dare they?" I thought. Trust had been broken. I wasn’t ready to forgive. My identity as a competent, confident, and strong woman in Christ had instantly been replaced by a disappointing, weak, failure of a girl — and Satan was having a field day with those emotions! All because I was internalizing this person’s words.
In the book of Ephesians, apostle Paul specifically wrote to the church in Ephesus about being kind and compassionate toward each other as believers. A large part of compassion is being understanding — it’s discerning and carries a whole lot of wisdom. Honestly, when I feel threatened or when someone's opinion of me is less than desirable, I’m more willing to heap anger and silence into the relationship than I am to be understanding and forgiving. But this verse speaks volumes in our modern-day world of Facebook, Instagram, text messages and emails. Because when someone wrongs us, we would rather shout it from the social media rooftops or contact our best friend to have someone on our side instead of seeking God first for a heart of forgiveness and grace.
If Jesus acted the way we respond to hurts in our lives, He wouldn’t have gone to the cross to pay for our sins. He would have let us continue to stumble around in darkness and never have a chance to repent and believe. But instead, He chose to love us unconditionally — even though we turned our backs on Him. He chose to defeat those ugly things that we struggle with every day — rage, bitterness, hopelessness, failure, disappointment, heartbreak, envy, jealousy, pride, gossip and anything else that hardens our hearts and freezes our souls.
So, if we are forgiven unconditionally when we hurt God, what gives us the right to withhold forgiveness from those who wrong us?
Forgiveness isn’t easy. Forgiveness requires compassion and realizing that if our identity is in Christ Jesus, then nothing someone says or does can shake us. But for someone like me, who trusts words more than actions (The Five Love Languages, anyone?), words are powerful things that can wreak havoc on my self-esteem if the person speaking is someone I trust or care about.
But, contrary to popular belief, being a forgiving person doesn’t mean you’re a push-over, weak, or tolerant of unjust or abusive behavior. It simply means you know your worth in the eyes of God. It takes strength and courage to forgive; to move on from the hurt and injustice you feel. And sometimes, the relationship with the other person truly can’t or shouldn’t be restored, making it that much more difficult to forgive! But if you seek God for answers and help, He always gives it to you — either in the form of His spirit quietly whispering to your soul in your deep moments of prayer, through a spiritually mature friend or mentor, or through a circumstance that is undeniably Him.
We can choose to forgive or we can choose to harbor anger and bitterness. One way leads to freedom, gentle confidence and grace, and a return (even if it’s slow and steady) to trust. The other way leads to a spirit of resentment, anxiety, and insecurity.
Bottom line: God can’t use us if we can’t forgive. It’s as simple as that.
// image by Jennifer Enocksen