Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author
“I’m sorry. I forgot.” These words were commonly heard when I lived in my parent’s home years ago. Between my chemical imbalance and my parents’ getting older, we got a lot of practice at forgiving. Someone forgetting to turn off a light or someone forgetting to switch the TV/VCR control back to television after watching a video was not unheard of when I lived with my parents. For example, on one occasion:
“Pam, you left the video in the VCR.” My father opened the bedroom door as I was writing my first book The ABC’s of Life for Children and Adults (Xulon Press, 2003).
“I did!?” I said surprised at his interruption. “I’m sorry.”
“Yes, I’ve been running around here trying to figure out why the television was playing so fuzzy. It was set on VCR.”
“I’m sorry. I got distracted and forgot.” I turned back to my work. My father closed the door. The matter was over.
Life today living with my husband faces similar challenges as living with my aging parents did years ago. We are often reminding each other of our forgetfulness. For example, just a few days ago my husband mentioned that I forgot and left the bathroom heater running with the door opened overnight.
“Pam, you’re your worst enemy. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Forgive yourself.” For years I heard these words said to me by more than one friend in reference to my wallowing in self-pity over past mistakes. I had a difficult time forgiving myself of mistakes, or failures. Perfectionists are that way! I thank God though that He has delivered me from perfectionism.
Whether we are offended at another person or disappointed at something in ourselves, forgiveness is not optional in a Christian’s life. Christ said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15, NKJV).
Suppose someone cuts you off in traffic. How do you respond? With anger. Is your anger righteous? Or are you swearing through your teeth? No one likes to be abused by another individual. However, we need to face the truth: abuse, injustices and mistakes happen everyday in everyone’s life. What is the Biblical approach to responding to such occurrences?
One way to respond to a shortcoming, whether another individual’s or our own, is to not make a big deal out of the matter. Who knows? Maybe that person who cut you off was transporting a critically ill person to the emergency room. Or maybe the driver was a doctor or a firefighter responding to an emergency page. Can you blame them for rushing? How would you have responded in the same situation?
“The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Proverbs 19:11, NKJV). Blowing off an incident where a stranger cuts me off in traffic is not a problem. After all, since the person does not know me, his action probably has nothing to do with me. That is simple enough! But what about that parent, spouse or co-worker we see stumble everyday? How often are we to forgive? Christ warned us:
Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him (Luke 17:3-4, NKJV).
What is God’s perspective on how we should treat our enemies? Christ answered that question.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven (Luke 6:35-37, NKJV).
“I don’t get mad, I get even”, a slogan I have read on T-shirts, bumper stickers and in books. Is this approach to responding to others’ offenses Biblical? Let’s look at Romans 12:19 (NKJV): “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Obviously, God will see that people reap what they sow.
Unforgiveness is a sin. Just as with lying, stealing, covetousness or any other sin, unforgiveness can leave a person in bondage. Not only a person, but entire families! For example, I have heard of family feuds lasting for years where family members did not even know what started the feud. Somewhere along the line, two individuals had a problem. One, or maybe both persons, got mad. The anger became unforgiveness; the unforgiveness became bitterness. Then through the family grapevines the entire family of both parties became riled. How pleased is God when this happens?
Have you ever rebuked someone for an offensive behavior to have him or her continue the behavior? I will share two alternatives to responding to this occurrence, through two personal examples. First, I recall a woman I used to be friends with about 20 years ago. This lady had a bad habit of calling me to whine about uncontrollable matters. She also oftentimes ended up gossiping before she hung up. The relationship disturbed me. How did I respond? Over time I backed off from the woman, ultimately ending the friendship. There is nothing wrong with removing yourself from a situation that is abusive or unhealthy.
A few years later at work one day, I confronted some women about their use of profanity at the workplace. Whenever they failed to comply with my request for them to clean up their conversations, what did I do? First, I forgave them because I realized their noncompliance might have been a matter of “old habits die hard”. Secondly, I prayed for God to remove me from that setting. He sure answered that prayer! Or I would not be sitting here writing today!
“You can’t control another person’s behavior; but what you can control is how you respond to the person’s behavior. You make the choice.” . . . A key point I recall several therapists saying to me.
Forgiveness is a choice. Is there anyone you need to forgive? You may say, “but you don’t know what he or she did to me.” You’re right. I don’t know. Regardless, what does the Bible say? Let’s take a closer look.
According to Scripture, when hurt or offended by anyone, regardless of how deep the pain, forgiveness is a must!! (Ephesians 4:31-32; Matthew 6:14-15; Colossians 3:13) “We need to forgive others in order to be free from our pasts and to prevent Satan from taking advantage of us.” (Anderson, Zuehlke, & Zuehlke, 2000, p. 396) Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 (NKJV), “10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one[a] for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” Henry (1997) reported, “Satan has many plans to deceive, and knows how to make a bad use of our mistakes.” (p. 1120)
Ephesians 4:26-27 (NKJV): 26 “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.
For those persons who have deep-seated wounds from the past, they must let go of any anger and find forgiveness in their heart towards any perpetrators or offenders. Otherwise, the anger will turn to bitterness, which will eat a person up inside, resulting in stress that can be manifested in overeating, undereating, and physical symptoms.
Not only is forgiving others important; but, forgiving oneself for past mistakes and any damage done to our self in reaction to the abuse is crucial to finding freedom at the Cross. “To forgive yourself is to accept God’s cleansing and forgiveness.” (Anderson et al., 2000, p. 397)
Before one can offer forgiveness to self or others, one must understand what forgiveness is and is not. Here are a few main points to remember about forgiveness:
- “Forgiveness is not forgetting.” (Anderson et al., 2000, p. 397) Based on Hebrews 10:17 (NKJV), “17 then He adds,“Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”, some people think forgiveness is equated to forgetting. That’s not true. If that isn’t the truth, what is the truth?
God, being omniscient, cannot forget. To remember our sins ‘no more’ means that God will never use the past against us (See Psalm 103:12). Forgetting may be the result of forgiveness, but it is never the means of forgiveness. When we bring up the past against others, we are saying that we have not forgiven them. (Anderson, et al., p. 397)
- Forgiveness doesn’t automatically happen. It’s a decision, a choice we make and can only do through the power of the Holy Spirit living in us
- Some people think by forgiving they are letting the offender “off the hook”. In the flesh, they often want vengeance. But God tells us in Romans 12:19 (NKJV), “… “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay”….” By forgiving an offender, we are not saying that what the person did is okay but that we will not seek vengeance. God will take care of that: Galatians 6:7 (NKJV)—“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”
- You forgive others for your sake, not for the offender. “Your need to forgive is not an issue between you and the offender; it is between you and God.” (Anderson, et al., p. 398)
- Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Don’t procrastinate in forgiving “until you feel like forgiving; you will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made and Satan has lost his foothold (see Ephesians 4:26-27). Freedom is what will be gained, not a feeling.” (Anderson, et al., p. 398)
Now that we understand what encompasses forgiveness, we can offer forgiveness. Not yet! There’s something else one must do first—grieve the losses. I know from personal experience how vital forgiveness is in the life of any individual. However, many Christians, as was I, are encouraged to enter into a quick “forgive and forget” mode before working through their emotions and allowing healing of the heart. By acknowledging forgiveness, Allender (1990) noted that the actions of the offender are not condoned; but the complete work of Christ’s blood on the cross is acknowledged, for in light of the cross, there is no difference between the abused and the abuser (Romans 3:23). However, Allender pointed out that before a person can offer forgiveness, an injury and its pain must first be acknowledged.
Once the losses are grieved and one is ready to offer forgiveness, how is this done? Is confronting the offender necessary? No, one need not communicate with the offender directly to offer forgiveness. In some instances, that would be impossible, for example, if the offender is deceased or his or her whereabouts unknown. Forgiveness does not equate reconciliation. In some situations, a direct confrontation expecting reconciliation would only make matters worse leading to more pain in one or both parties. Thus, I want to suggest one way that I have been able to forgive past offenders. I wrote letters to the individuals, expressing how I felt offended and that I was choosing to forgive the wrongs against me. I do not recommend mailing such letters.
Anderson, et al. (2000) recommended another way. They recommend those offended pray the following prayer for each offender in one’s life:
- Lord,I forgive ________________ for (verbally share every hurt and pain the Lord brings to your mind, and how it made you feel).
After you have forgiven every person for every painful memory, finish this step by praying the following:
I release to you all these people and my right to seek revenge. I choose not to hold on to my bitterness and anger, and I ask you to heal my damaged emotions. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen. (p. 399)
Even after forgiving past perpetrators or offenders for past transgressions, like with any recovery process, expect relapses. Satan will throw triggers in your path to remind you of an offense someone committed against you. When that happens, give what happened back to God realizing that not only is forgiveness a choice but a process, a process that leads to freedom and healing in Jesus Christ.
Allender, D. (1990, 1995, 2008). The Wounded Heart: Hope for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Wounded-Heart-Victims-Childhood-Sexual/dp/1600063071
Anderson, N. T., Zuehlke, T. E., & Zuehlke J. S. (2000). Christ-Centered Therapy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Christ-Centered-Therapy-Neil-T-Anderson/dp/0310231132
Henry, M. (1997). Matthew Henry’s concise commentary on the whole Bible. Nashville, TN: Nelson. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Matthew-Henrys-Concise-Commentary-Whole/dp/0785250484
Owens (aka, Orgeron), P. K. (2003). The ABC’s of life for children and adults: Short stories, essays, and poems promoting Christian concepts. Maitland, FL: Xulon Press. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Pamela-K.-Orgeron/e/B01AAUI6AK