A Year of Forgiveness

A Year of Forgiveness. Maybe this is what you need in 2015. Has someone hurt you deeply? Maybe the wrongs were truly wrong – really mean-spirited, or maybe someone unknowingly crushed your hope under the weight of his/her words or actions. The weight of your hurt, and your anger against the person, drags you down on a day to day basis. Forgiving a person who wronged you does not mean that you need to trust the person again. There is good reason NOT to trust them, at least for now, and you’ve learned that the hard way. Forgiveness means you emotionally, mentally, and “spiritually” release them from YOUR demand that they right the wrong, or get paid back for what they have done. Easier said than done, I know.

I’ve been enjoying the fruit of forgiveness in one part of my life story for some time now. Over the last couple of years I have found myself missing the very people who once hurt me deeply – and I mean really missing them, their smiles, their hugs, and their strong faith in the Lord. I had grown extra close to them as their pastor and friend. We shared genuine Christian love and fellowship. Countless hours together in church, in our homes, and over grand meals. Years of mission and family and laughter and joy! They held and kissed our babies, they opened their lives and their homes to me and my ministry, and we were all growing in Christ together as friends. Then, major differences came about regarding the direction of my leadership, some things were said and relationships were broken, and for a time it was best that we did not speak. The cost to my emotions and to the stability of the church was huge. For a time, just the thought of them was like a hot iron being pressed on my head. Somehow, as time passed and my wrestling in prayer towards forgiveness seemed to make progress, I realized how much I truly love them, still! Over the last couple of years I have longed for their presence, and my heart is warmed just at the thought of them. They are subjects of many wonderful stories and fond memories that we recall with our children. We celebrate the goodness of God in allowing us to have known them. One of them remains a hero to me!

And I try to remember that they have had to work at forgiving ME.

Roots over RocksI am wary of the sneaky growth of bitterness that results from unforgiveness, spreading through our inner being slowly enough that we don’t notice. Kinda like the roots over rocks in the picture (from a hike on Bald Mt. in the Adirondacks). Eventually, they overran the whole scene. Unforgiveness is like that.

“See to it.. that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” From Hebrews 12:15, in the Bible

Forgiveness is not easy for anyone really, except maybe little kids who had a Jolly Rancher stick stolen before lunch. When someone’s wrongdoing (perceived or actual) has cost you something big, like emotional wellness, or relational connections in family or work, or a big chunk of money, the kind of pain and hurt (and loss) that follows the wrong is no small thing. Some of your losses may take years to recover – some may never be recovered. But you can still forgive. My short blog here won’t give you power to do that, but I know someone who will. He gave me the power to forgive. I have also learned, through trial and error, some practices that have helped me move forward on the tough road of forgiving people. Here are four things I do when I feel hurt or wronged by someone:

  1. Prayers of blessing: When I feel hurt or wronged by a person I have learned that the most powerful thing I can do is to begin praying for that person, right away (the same day, and continuing for a few days). I take him/her before the Lord, asking God to pour out his love and mercy, to bless the person, to fill him/her with the Holy Spirit, to reveal himself in the person’s life, and to pour out blessings that cannot be contained. For real. I don’t know exactly what or why this happens – but almost every time I have done that, I have literally felt a change taking place in my own heart, and I feel as though the very things I pray for that person also end up coming to me! And if that weren’t enough, the weight of my hurt feelings lightens, and genuine love starts to fill in the holes. I believe that this is the most important step of them all.
  1. Seek wise counsel: I have found that my own hurt blurs my ability to make good decisions about how to respond to that person (or persons) regarding the situation. Should I tell them about my hurt? Should I confront the person? Should I refrain from saying anything? (I have done all three in different situations.) The counsel of wise leaders in my life has been a great help in finding the best response with a person who has brought a significant hurt in my life. My advice: Don’t act in a situation where you are really hurt until you have spoken with a trusted counselor or mentor in your life, like a pastor or relative who just seems to know what to do in tough situations. In some cases, perceived wrongs are just that – perceived (and not real), and the voice of another can help you see the situation more clearly.
  1. Control my tongue: I think this might be the hardest thing for some readers. When we get hurt, we are compelled to tell others. There is healing in the telling, and there is vengeance in naming the person that did it. One of the great disciplines of a person of integrity is the ability to refrain from blasting people who have brought hurts – and this includes seemingly innocuous naming in conversation with people who should not be privy to the situation. The important thing is to determine who should be informed of the person and situation, and who should not. Most likely, nearly all of the people you want to tell about it should not. But in some cases, there are reasons to go into confidential conversations to discuss the situation and people. Even in some of those meetings it isn’t always necessary to name the person or people. I have worked hard at this over the years and I am thankful for many occasions when I kept my mouth shut. I also regret a few when I blasted someone because of what they did to me. I later went to those I dumped on and asked for their forgiveness for my wrong.
  1. Space: It’s important to have space from someone that has brought hurt into your life. In extreme situations that space may need to be permanent. But in most, hours/days, or maybe a few weeks (or months?) will allow for a whole lot healing of the wounds that came to you, and one day you might find yourself wishing you were near again. Space can be virtual or real. Social media and phone connections may need to end for a while. And of course, it might need to be in-person connections that pause for a bit. You need time to calm down and think more clearly, and space is an important way to allow for that.

Forgiveness is not quick, and never easy. If you are carrying a load of hurt this New Year, I pray that in the reading of this post you have found something that gives you hope for healing. In Christ’s love, Nathan

P.S. Do you have any insights from a personal journey in forgiveness? Maybe you noticed a gap in my post that you feel is important to speak to? I would love to hear from you in the comment section below. You can also reach me through FacebookTwitter, or Google+.