By Rebekah Hargraves
Sometimes I think the hardest thing the Lord calls us to do is to forgive others. When we might feel like letting the other person have it, or entertain feelings of bitterness and anger, it feels counterintuitive to forgive them instead. The reality, though, is that as Christ-followers, we have been tasked with the responsibility of forgiving “our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
How do we do this, though? Especially when it feels impossible? How do we forgive when we have been abused at the hand of another person? Or when we have been abandoned? How do we forgive the bully who has spit venomous words at us that are hard to get out of our minds?
There are three helpful truths to remember when we are attempting to extend forgiveness, even in the hardest of situations.
1. Remember how much you have been forgiven.
Often the biggest stumbling block in our ability to forgive others is our pride. After all, we are the victim here, right? Why should we have to humble ourselves and forgive the other person? How can we do that if they alone are in the wrong?
Humbly remembering all our gracious God has forgiven us of is an incredible help here. Micah 7:18-19 says: “Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”
Our holy, righteous God loves us so much that He was able to forgive the sins of you and me. Every time I’ve been the one to issue the harsh word—all washed away. Every time I’ve been the one to hurt another person—all washed away. Every time I’ve sinned against someone else—all washed away. With God’s amazing grace and forgiveness in mind, we can extend forgiveness to others even when it isn’t easy.
2. Remember forgiveness is not about excusing the behavior; it’s about freeing yourself.
Another roadblock on the path to forgiveness, is feeling that in order to forgive someone who sinned against us- is to excuse the behavior entirely. I once believed this when someone very close to me betrayed my trust and had done something very hurtful in secret. But forgiveness is not about excusing sinful behavior.
Forgiveness is about loving the other person and exemplifying Christ to them. It’s also about freeing you from the bitterness, anger and hurt that come from harboring unforgiveness in your heart. It has been said that forgiveness is more about our well-being than it is the well-being of the person who hurt us. The reason for this is that the person who wronged us is often living their life free as a bird, either not even realizing they hurt us or realizing it and not caring a thing about it. Meanwhile, we are left stewing over what was done to us.
When we choose to let the pain, hurt, anger and bitterness go, however, we are the ones who are freed. This is how even abuse victims are able to forgive their attackers. Because it isn’t that the behavior is excused; it’s that the victim is freed from the anger and hurt it caused. Remembering this can make it a lot easier to extend forgiveness to others.
3. Remember you can’t do it in your own strength—walk by the Spirit and pray for a soft heart.
As much as we may try to muster up within ourselves the ability to forgive someone, the truth is that we really can’t do it all on our own. Especially when the hurt and anger run deep! On my own, I often want to rail against the offender and what they did to me. This is why we have to walk by the Spirit, leaning on Him, acting out of His strength and praying for a softened heart toward the person who wronged us. It is then and only then that we will be fully able to forgive, even when it isn’t easy to do so.