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There are countless lessons that one learns in their lifetime. Some lessons happen in an instant and some are progressive, taking months or years to be learned, often increasing in difficulty and depth. But there are some that can never truly be mastered, at least not in our own strength, because they are not connected to our skill-sets or abilities, but to our hearts.
I believe the practice of forgiveness is one of these lifelong lessons, and for the Christ-follower, it’s the very crux of our faith. Our entire identity is shaped around the belief that we recognize ourselves to be natural-born sinners who could do absolutely nothing in our own strength or will to be sinless and worthy of God’s love and favor. Therefore, we needed forgiveness–enter Jesus, who, as the Son of God Himself, lived a sinless and blameless life yet took all the punishment of our sin upon His innocent shoulders, suffered, and died in our place, accepting all the blame and all the shame and all the pain that we should have endured. Three days later Jesus rose–proving that He really was and is God, that He has the power to forgive sins, and that His love is powerful enough to overcome all the heartbreak and pain and grief and ugliness that we might endure as humans.
And then, because of that, God offered forgiveness, free forgiveness, to those who would recognize Jesus as Lord. He asked us to trust in Him to sustain us, to give us the power to reflect some of His love and forgiveness in our own lives, both as we celebrate the beautiful moments in this world and as we struggle through the sludge of brokenness that still exists.
There are two reasons that this concept of forgiveness has been on my mind so much lately. First, I was hurt recently. Someone offended me and it seemed incredibly unfair. This wasn’t an accidental slight–this was an intentional attack. I felt judged and misunderstood, angry and wounded, and for all my talk of giving people grace and showing love, I failed miserably in my initial response. I lashed out, I struck back and returned an insult for an insult, and immediately felt ashamed.
The second reason that the practice of forgiveness has been at the forefront of my mind recently is because it’s the beginning of a new school year and my children are going to be thrust into new classes with new kids (one of them is transferring to an entirely different school). They’ll encounter new personalities and communication styles and social dynamics. They are bound to end up in a conflict that results in hurt feelings–either their own or someone else’s. In those moments, I tend to preach forgiveness. I try to help them see their part in the disagreement, where they need to ask forgiveness for their sins and make peace, or where they need to give grace and pray that God would soften hearts and restore their little friendships.
But I ask you, how can I as their mother, ask them to do something that is so difficult for me to do myself? How can I preach to them about God’s heart for forgiveness demonstrated in Christ Jesus, if it’s not my practice as well. So many of us are pros at blowing people off when they hurt us; or being passive aggressive and harboring resentment under the guise of keeping peace; or wagging our caustic tongues (whether in person or Facebook comment boxes) in retaliation, but we are woefully underdeveloped when it comes to flexing our forgiveness muscles. Indeed, it almost seems like a scandal to forgive someone when they’ve intentionally attacked you, but don’t we want it so badly when we’re the ones doing the attacking? Shouldn’t that inspire compassion in those of us who are Believers and Followers of Christ–when we are the recipient of slander or verbal attack, to recognize the bleeding heart underneath and say that words that will help mend the wound?
So back to my first reason for this article: what did I do after I was offended? In that instant, the Holy Spirit was so good to me. Almost as soon as I responded, I knew I’d sinned and needed to seek forgiveness. God was good to remind me of so many scriptures that speak to how true Believers are to handle these situations, in any setting. I was reminded of the call to Christians to not repay evil for evil (Romans 12:17), to be at peace with all people if possible (Romans 12:18), to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21), to not repay insult with insult but to give a blessing instead (1 Peter 3:8), and to not sin in my anger or allow the sun to set while still angry (Ephesians 4:26).
I think it’s important to note that in these verses, God communicates to us through Paul that He knows we are going to be hurt and become angry. He leaves room for that response and then presents us with the solution. He doesn’t expect us to be emotionless Christian androids, which is what so many of us are taught in church and grow up believing. The Lord never asks us to hide or extract our feelings. What He does call us to, is peace and resolution and obedience in the MIDST of our feelings. He calls us to recognize them and return to Him before they get out of control. He asks us to repent of any harmful or sinful behavior if our emotions do run wild and get the better of us. He calls us to the emotional maturity that only He can grow, which will train us to do the difficult work of forgiveness.
So, that’s what I did. Even though I knew this person would think I was crazy for doing it, would likely continue to be angry with me for my first reaction, and let’s not forget, was the first one to do the attacking–I asked for forgiveness. Not to save my pride, not to win a friend, not because I was okay with what she did–because my responsibility is to show the love of Jesus in ALL circumstances. I did it because my lapse in self-control was not indicative of a changed heart, a heart that cared about hers, or a correct representation of the Savior that I know she needs.
I know that I will most likely never receive an apology from this person, and I’ve decided that I’m okay with that. In the end, I know that the reward for this lifelong lesson of forgiveness will be a “well done” from my Lord, and although a restored friendship would be ideal, I’m okay with knowing that these lessons may also cause me some pain. After all, most lessons do.
Adrienne Gross is a writer based in North Carolina. She is a lover of travel, fitness, wine, good conversation and quality time with her friends and husband and three young children. You can find her blog at presentlysite.blog or on Twitter at @adrienne_gross.