I struggle with forgiveness....Forgiving others and forgiving myself. I have a hard time with this in my journey and I know I am not the only one.
To refuse to entrust our past into God’s wholly capable care is what I believe the most dangerous obstacle we face to being able to finish strong.
During the five years of owning my restaurant in Bellingham I was given many “opportunities” to learn to forgive. When I decided to invest into the franchise I counted upon promises by the founder that didn’t come to pass. Even before the build out of the restaurant in Bellingham, I began to notice the differences from what the franchiser had promised to me and what he actually performed on. Eventually he left and I just needed to move ahead and forgive…
As the restaurant developed I was given many more of these same “opportunities” (yes that was sarcasm you detected) to forgive former employees, rude customers and those lovely “Yelp reviewers” (Gotta love those guys!) Then, if that wasn’t enough, at the very end of the life of the restaurant, I was faced with my greatest challenge of forgiveness yet regarding one of my former employees. I was ripped off. I didn’t have the resources left at that point to legally contest. I just had to swallow my pride, pay up and…forgive.
In the midst of this I haven’t didn’t just struggled with forgiveness towards others but even more than that, I have had to learn to forgive MYSELF! “How could I have been so naïve and trusting to those who hadn’t earned my trust? How could I not seen back THEN what I clearly see NOW ? ” The restaurant closing amidst Covid19 set me and my wife back financially. It is hard to forgive myself when I see what we could have had in our bank account if I hadn’t gone down that financially depleting road.
What has helped me to forgive others and myself and not go down the path of bitterness and depressing regret is to wholly depend upon God.
Of the two, forgiving others or myself, the unforgiveness of others is the easiest, so let’s start there. Simply said, when we understand how much we have been forgiven by God through His Son Jesus Christ, how can we hold infinitely lesser offenses against others?
I believe God lovingly allows us to be in situations where we are actually forced to learn invaluable forgiveness lessons. A very powerful parable given by Jesus found in Matthew 18 speaks of one servant forgiven a multi-billion dollar debt from his master and then turning around to not forgive a $100 debt from a fellow servant. The ingratitude for his own forgiveness is demonstrated by his inability to forgive another.
Also, when Christ taught His disciples how to pray, forgiving others was THE essential prerequisite given in order to be forgiven by our heavenly Father. (Matthew 6:9-15) The Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesian church saying it this way, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, FORGIVING each other just as in Christ God FORGAVE you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32 emphasis added) You can see that ALL of those ugly things come out of the poisoned well of unforgiveness.
Then the writer of Hebrews warns us also about the bitter fruit that will grow up in us if we do not forgive. “See to that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) Unforgiveness of others will not only embitter and infect us but it will expose many others to the same deadly spiritual virus! Simply said, by being grateful for His forgiveness of us and having a healthy fear of disobeying Him and holding grudges towards others we CAN, through His strength, forgive those who have hurt us. We have to. As we come to Him, asking for His strength to forgive, the emotions eventually follow our choices of our will and His peace begins to take ahold in our hearts.
So if we want a close relationship with God , unforgiveness of others is absolutely out of the question. We don’t try to even up the score with that person. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord..” (Romans 12:19) Als , praying for good for those who wrong us doesn’t require a buddy-buddy relationship with them. We just pray for God’s same mercy upon them that we have received from Him. One of my old pastors used to say, “to love some people it may be best not to spend too much time with them.”
The other part of forgiveness is to forgive (not excuse) ourselves for our sins we have committed. As hard as forgiving others is, in my opinion THIS is even harder. I have a simple theory, the closer the relationship the harder it is to forgive. For example, I mentioned those “Yelpers would often write what I felt unfair and mean-spirited reviews about my restaurant. Sure, I would be angry at first, but eventually it was easy to not hold a grudge them because I was not invested in a relationship with them. Now take this to the other extreme, what is the closest relationship we have? It is our relationship with our own selves! That’s why I have the hardest time forgiving ME!
These truths have helped me extend the same grace to myself as I have been able to extend to others because of my relationship with Jesus Christ. When looking back at our past we can say terrible things to ourselves that we would never say to our worst enemy! This is not helpful. We need to see ourselves through God’s eyes…blemishes and all. He is crazy about us and HE is able to amazingly take our biggest mistakes and failings and turn them into our GOOD and His GLORY. Here are just a few scriptures that will help us to forgive ourselves and not be haunted by our past.
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you…” (2 Corinthians 7:10-11) The Apostle Paul is speaking to a particular situation where the Corinthian believers needed his correction. They became sorry for their actions and repented (turning the opposite direction). This produced something in their characters that THEY DIDN’T HAVE BEFORE! They didn’t need to resent being “called out” for their wrongdoing because they turned from it and became more like Christ in the process!
Here’s another one, “For we know that in ALL THINGS God works for the GOOD of those who love Him, who have been called according to HIS purpose. For God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:28-29 emphasis added) I once stopped into a large touristy type store once on a road trip and saw a refrigerator magnet I just had to buy. It read, “God has already factored in my stupidity into my destiny”
As long as we aren’t just presuming on His grace, but doing the best we can at the time, we can rest our past fully into His hands. Fulfilling our destiny and finishing strong DOES NOT DEPEND upon us doing everything right! For example, just ask Peter or Paul or David. He uses our failings, our mistakes and yes, even our stubborn, willful sinful acts that we commit and must repent of, to work in unseen ways for OUR GOOD, for the maturing us into the people of God that He has predestined for us to become!
Here’s another one. “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but NOW I keep your word.” (Psalm 119:67 emphasis added). Our wise Shepherd will see things in us that are slowly taking us off course so He lovingly will correct, and “afflict” us, to help us become a more faithful follower of Him.
Forgive others who have HURT you. They can never HARM you unless you don’t forgive them. Forgive yourself. There is nothing noble about beating up on yourself and believing that God’s plan for you has somehow been derailed by you. It hasn’t. It never can be as long as you keep your dependence upon Him and not upon the one who will disappoint you every time… yourself.
“Let us throw off everything that hinders (disappointment in others and ourselves) and the sin that so easily entangles (unforgiveness). And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:1b, 2a) Amen!!!
Written by Jamie Bohnett. Contact the Author: firstname.lastname@example.org