FORGIVE?! I Don’t Wanna!
Have you ever had a day that life gave you lemons but there was no way you could make lemonade? It may be easy to say, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But, if you have lived for any length of time, you know that there are days that life gives you lemons and all you can do is swallow them whole, with bitter pith and juicy pulp in one bite, and still have to honestly declare “Thank You, God, for lemons.”
Pithy sayings – those brief, forceful, meaningful expressions – are easy to roll off the tongue in the midst of life’s chaos. You know the ones I am talking about. “A smile is just a frown turned upside down.” Or, “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm.” Songs have even been made of these short,direct,memorable quotes. Remember “Don’t worry, be happy”? Quite honestly, however, pithy sayings can at times rub me wrong. Whoever said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me,” has never been on the receiving end of a sharp, critical tongue.
God also uses pithy sayings throughout His word that drive home truth, which, like the example above, can make us want to bristle with a rebuttal when dealing with life’s chaos, hurt, and disappointment. Take Colossians 3:13, for example. “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Forgiveness is a truth to be lived. But in the midst of hurt, our human, carnal being may raise her head and yell back, “Forgive? I don’t wanna!”
Recently, I had one of those “lemon eating” days. A Saturday morning phone call with unexpected news triggered emotions that I thought had long been laid at the altar of forgiveness. Instead, I was awash with anger, hurt, sadness, and disappointment. Going through that day, as I ate the day’s lemon whole (there was no lemonade making of this one), God kept reminding me that it was my choice how I would respond.
Many of us will minister to and counsel women who are truly struggling with forgiving hurts and wrongs done to them, both real and perceived. Since no one is immune to being hurt, attacked, and betrayed, you yourself may struggle with forgiveness. As Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes in Choosing Forgiveness, “Truly, we are a generation of wounded people. And wounded people tend to wound other people.”
As followers of Christ, we know that we are called to forgive. Jesus reinforces to His disciples that forgiveness is not to be limited (Matt 18:22). Forgiveness is included in the model prayer (Luke 11:4). And Jesus goes so far as to say that if there is something between you and another, don’t bring your offering to His altar but, “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:4)
Why is forgiveness so important? Because unforgiveness affects our relationship with others, our relationship with God, and, if we are not careful, allows wounds never to heal and subsequently define who we are and how we live.
Do you see that the focus is not on the one who offended, but on us, the one who was hurt? Forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook, approving of what she did, or even denying the effect it had on us. Rather, forgiveness enables us, the one who has been hurt, to have a full intimate relationship with the Father, to have open and honest relationships with one another, and to be able to fully embrace our identity in Christ.
While many of us know that we need to forgive one who has sinned against us, the struggle comes in knowing how to forgive, especially when we really don’t feel like it.
In her “Biblical Counseling Keys,” June Hunt offers four stages of forgiveness[i] that can help us walk ourselves or a hurting woman through the process of releasing the pain and resentment so that we can reflect the character of Christ.
- Face the offense – This is the point where we must honest about what really happened. It is not a time to embellish or make it sound worse (or better) than it really was. It is only through honestly facing the extent of the hurt that true healing can begin.
- Feel the offense – There is a time to be angry and a time to feel the full extent of any offense. Failing to do so can result in denying pain. David was good at this in many of his Psalms, being honest with God about his hurt, disappointment, fear, and anger towards those that sought to harm him.
- Forgive the offender – Forgiveness is a choice. We must choose to fully forgive the person who has hurt us. Even when we don’t want to, don’t feel like it, or don’t know how we can, God’s power within us gives us the ability. (2 Pet 1:3)
- Find Oneness, if appropriate – Depending on the situation, reconciliation in the relationship and restoration of oneness may be called for. This is not always possible in every case and is dependent on all parties being honest in their relationship. But wherever possible, God calls us to unity. (Phil 2:1-4)
Unforgiveness is at the root of many of the struggles and relationship issues we face today.
As you are involved in woman-to-woman ministry, there will come a day (if it hasn’t already) that a woman will be sitting in your office, your living room, or across the table having coffee, and begin to share her pain and difficulty with forgiveness. That is your opportunity to take her back to the truth of forgiveness that God provides and the subsequent freedom that comes with it. There will also come a day when you will be faced with your own choice to forgive. When that day comes, remember this: it is not what was done to you or said to you, but how you choose to respond to those things which have caused you pain, even those things that strike to your very core.
“It is only the power of forgiveness that can truly keep us in the flow of God’s will, at peace in the storm, carried along in the ever-advancing river of His eternal plans and purposes of our lives – going somewhere that means something.” (DeMoss)[ii]
Remember that tough Saturday I told you about? Despite how I kept saying, “Forgive?!? But God…I don’t wanna!” I knew I had a choice to make. I could either let the seeds of unforgiveness take root, which would eventually bear bitter fruit, or I could face it, feel it, and forgive. In the end . . . I chose forgiveness. So can you.
Terri Stovall serves as the Dean of Women’s Programs at Southwestern Seminary. She co-authored the book Women Leading Women. Terri and her husband Jay enjoy riding motorcycles and roller coasters. Connect with Terri on Facebook or Follow her on Twitter!
[i] June Hunt, Forgiveness: The Freedom to Let Go, Biblical Counseling Keys, Hope for the Heart
[ii] Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom, Moody Press, 2006.