I watched as Jude and Charlie got released from “time out.”
“What do you have to say to each other?” Heather asked.
“I’m sorry I hit you.” Jude said.
“I forgive you.” Charlie responded. “
“I’m sorry I screamed at you.” Charlie said to Jude.
“I forgive you.” Jude replied.
Then the five-year-old and three-year-old embraced, giggling as they ran off to play. We could learn a lot from kids. They haven’t learned as yet how to hold grudges.
We learn to hold grudges
Grudges are hard to hold; actually, they hold us. And yet, the alternative of forgiving our offender is uncomfortable. Sometimes it comes in steps. Handing out little scraps of paper I told my group what we would be doing that morning.
“Think of someone who has hurt you. Then write the following:
1) I’m angry at you because . . .
2) For me to forgive you would mean . . . ”
The room became quiet. A few picked up a nearby pen or pencil and began writing. Others stared at the paper before them, remembering past offenses and the ones who hurt them.
Hurts can hold us captive
When the writing stopped I asked if anyone wanted to share what they had written. Surprisingly, a couple of brave souls did share. It was evident that the exercise had touched them as I’d hoped.
“What do you want us to do with these?” they asked as we concluded.
“It’s your choice,” I responded. “You can throw them out, or you can give them to me. If you give them to me, I will pray for them.”
Writing anonymously proved to be a good idea. I felt privileged with each paper I was handed. These hurting people wanted to forgive—a couple of them were stuck. Without knowing it, I had given them a voice for their pain and some validation.
One person had written “forgiving you would mean I would disappear.” How often we get wrapped in our pain, letting it define us.
God wants us to forgive
We all know we’re supposed to forgive, countless articles and books have been written on the subject. We don’t mind the message of forgiveness when we’re the ones who need to be forgiven. We want that grace showered on us. But when we are required to forgive and extend grace, it’s a different story.
Our inability to forgive keeps us hostage to our hurts. Perhaps our idea of what it means to forgive is at fault. According to Tim Sledge, author of Making Peace with Your Past, we could think the following:
1) If we forgive, we’re saying what was done to us was okay.
2) If we forgive our offender, then he or she will have control over us.
3) We cannot forgive when the offenses are ongoing.
When we examine what we are thinking about our hurts and those who have hurt us, we may be able to start on our journey towards forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not condone the offense
Sometimes we try to control the situation by holding onto the hurt. The deeper the hurt, the longer we attempt to hold on. We are afraid we will send the wrong message if we extend forgiveness.
But forgiveness isn’t being blind to what was done. Rather, it’s facing it head on and embracing the pain. Then when you have worked through those emotions it’s deciding
you will not charge the offender any longer. You are the only person who can make this choice. Instead, we sometimes enlist others to validate us by seeing “our side.” This works against us because it prolongs our pain and refuels our anger. We relive the hurt, confirming that the offense is worthy of punishment. Refusing to forgive is our attempt to make the other person pay.
When Jesus died on the cross, in no way did his forgiveness minimize what we did. He saw our sins, every one of them, and still chose to be the sacrifice that satisfied God’s heart.
God hates sin. We can hate what was done to us but love the person anyway. Who they are matters more than what they did.
Forgiveness does not give the offender power
While we may think that forgiving someone gives them power, the opposite is really true. We become empowered when we decide to forgive someone who has hurt us. Our unwillingness or inability to forgive causes us to be stuck because of the resentment that seeps into us, making us hold them hostage. The problem is, we too are in that cell. While we try to convince ourselves they intended to hurt us, the truth may be they are not even aware of their actions and how it affected us. And even if they did intentionally hurt us, we can still forgive them.
Eventually we may realize our past hurts have caused us to self-protect. When we try to protect ourselves, we prevent ourselves from seeing God as the all-sufficient one. It’s God’s job to protect us; he is our shepherd, our leader, our guide. When I protect myself, I leave him out.
But what if the offender keeps hurting us?
Forgiveness is possible when the offense is continual
In Luke 6:29 Jesus says, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.” This is not possible without God giving us the ability to do it.
Maybe if we realized that God has something greater to show us in the situation we would not be so resistant. We might even see that forgiveness is possible when the pain
in continual. And how many times should we forgive? This question was asked in Matthew 18:22: Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
We’re afraid if we continue to forgive, we are giving them permission to hurt us again much like an inflatable punching toy that keeps bouncing back when hit. Repeat offenders complicate things. Sometimes they hurt us and lightly apologize, as if it’s no big deal. Their apologies become of little worth. Or the offender may act as if nothing has happened. If we store the offense, we convince ourselves they knew what they were doing.
Looking at why we hold grudges shows us something about what’s going on inside of us. Once when I was hurt, I told the Lord, “Someone needs to pay.”
And in the quiet of my soul I heard him respond, “I did.”
Jesus already paid for the offense
Forgiving someone means you no longer hold the offense against the person; their slate is wiped clean. No longer will you hold it to their account or keep talking about it.
Will you still hurt? You might, but you need to stop holding on to those grudges,