The Set Apart Girl Team Answers the Question
Unforgiveness and bitterness walk hand-in-hand. We often think that these two wily fellows can be kept contained in nice little pots, reserved to poison just one person, but that isn’t the case. They always spread to other parts of the garden of our heart and wreak havoc in our other relationships. Hebrews 12:15 describes bitterness as a root — like a weed that spreads rapidly through the soul.
I first saw this during a time when I was harboring unforgiveness towards a friend and I noticed myself getting nippy at my brother. My brother and I are great buds and have been for pretty much all our lives, and I had no reason to be frustrated with him! With a jolt of realization, I saw that by allowing unforgiveness to linger, it was spreading to other relationships. Over the next day or so, I took my hurts to the Lord, asking Him to forgive me, but also asking that He would give me His version of forgiveness towards the individual who had wronged me. I asked God that, rather than wanting to see this person belittled, I would truly desire that they would be made strong in Christ.
Though this variety of forgiveness wasn’t available in my own strength, praise the Lord that in Him it is possible! He pointed out that two key attitudes I had to repent of were my pride and the desire to nurse self-pity. Only by relinquishing these two emotions was I able to receive the cheerful disposition of a heart at peace with God and man. Whenever those two unsavory characters come a-knocking at my door, I need to instantly reject them and then pray that the Lord would bless the individual who has wronged me.
The chains of self-pity, unforgiveness, and bitterness are heavy burdens. Thankfully Christ promises if you relinquish these weights to Him, He will remove them and instead give a light and easy yoke. (See Matthew 11:28-30.) Praise Jesus for His wondrous works in our hearts!
I have learned that true forgiveness is not based on feelings, but on a choice. It is a choice to walk in forgiveness even when it is difficult to do so. Sometimes forgiveness comes more easily than at other times. If the person who committed the offense is genuinely sorry, it is much easier to fully forgive that person. But if the person is blind to what they did or continues to cause the same offense, it is much, much harder.
True forgiveness is denying yourself of the “satisfaction” of self-pity. It is a deliberate decision to not act according to the feelings of hurt you have experienced. It is not a denial of the fact that someone truly did wrong you, rather it is a resolve to treat that person the way that Jesus has treated us. Real forgiveness is not passive. It is a deliberate, often moment-by-moment decision to let go of offenses and go out of your way to love the person who wronged you.
The amazing thing is that when you choose to forgive without first feeling like it, you will inevitably begin to feel forgiveness for them. It may be right away, or it may come after consistently choosing time and time again to forgive. But when we submit ourselves to the Holy Spirit, He takes what could have been a tragedy, and turns it into a picture of His grace and love. And He uses us to do that! The joy you will experience from offering the same forgiveness that God has given to us through Jesus is indescribable.
Through my years at home, my dad had to remind me many times about what forgiveness requires of me. I had a habit as a kid of “forgiving” one of my siblings, but then bringing the situation up again at a later time as a tool to manipulate their feelings or to leverage their past offense to my advantage. Worldly forgiveness is like a Band-Aid that just temporarily covers over the offense. But Christ-like forgiveness is more like stitches …closing the wound up so it can heal — not just covering it up only to be uncovered at a later time.
I have found that truly forgiving someone requires the agreement of both my heart and my mind, and of course a good dose of help from the Lord to make it “stick” in the long run. Humans tend to have a long memory for the wrong-doings of others and we can easily dredge up past hurts. God says, “I will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12 ESV). He can do that same work within our hearts towards someone who has wronged us, stitching up even the deepest injury with His grace and mercy, and helping us to choose not to recall the offense to mind any longer.
Real forgiveness takes place when we obey the example of Christ — forgiving as He forgave us — letting Him direct both our emotions and our will, and intentionally surrendering up our hurts to heal in the capable hands of God.