Forgiveness (specifically, being able to extend it) is a topic repeatedly discussed in the Christian faith. Yet, we continue to have instances of discord, confusion and bitterness among us. I am certain that there are some of us out there who get it. But the vast majority of us seem to continue to struggle with Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” and to forgive our enemies "70 times seven". I gather this stems from many not truly understanding what forgiveness means for their health, their walk in salvation, or to God. Further, I suspect many of us don’t take the time to examine our hearts to determine why we’re unable (or unwilling) to forgive.
Forgiveness is releasing all anger and resentment toward one who has offended you or done you harm in any capacity. In other words, it is a powerful and freeing emotional action whereby you find yourself actually being able to see your offender or hear his/her name without feeling the need to, how do you say...go H.A.M! Forgiveness does not automatically or necessarily mean trust is regained; it does not promise that all relationships will be restored; and it does not imply that the offense has been excused in the eyes of God. It only means that you have made the bold decision to relinquish all negative emotions and desires for revenge toward your offender.
It took me quite a while to grasp this concept and, while I’ve come a long way, I continue to grow in this area. I’ve come to learn that exercising forgiveness is an ongoing activity and I have to be mindful of the mindsets that may threaten my continued development in this area.
As I’ve meditated on this concept and completed an honest check of my heart’s condition, I have identified four of the greatest hindrances to forgiveness that I’ve had to overcome throughout the years. I share them in the hopes that those who also struggle with extending forgiveness will begin to identify the attitudes that might not only threaten your maturation in the faith, but potentially cause you to sin and, ultimately, remove you from God’s grace. I pray you find these helpful.
MINDSET 1. YOU VIEW FORGIVENESS AS A WEAKNESS
If we’re honest, most times we withhold forgiveness in our warped attempt to show strength. We don’t want to be viewed as a pushover so we, even after the initial hurt feelings have waned, do whatever is necessary to conjure up justifications for our continued dislike of a person. If you’ve ever had to remind yourself that you were upset with someone, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
This behavior is best described as holding a grudge. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize a grudge as feigned anger based in pride. It results from the belief that if we forgive, we’re letting our offenders off the hook before they pay for their offense.
While genuine anger is understandable initially, holding a grudge just to prove a point has to be the most mentally unproductive and emotionally draining activity one can undertake. It does you no good, and it most certainly does not have an impact on your ‘enemy’ for long, if at all.
Think about it. How is holding a grudge beneficial to you?
I know people who are set on missing out on social activities, financial opportunities, and other pleasures of life simply because they’ve “got beef” with someone who has long forgotten all about them, or don’t even know there is a problem!
Don’t be that person!
Frankly speaking, this attitude toward forgiveness only makes sense to those who don’t have any. It’s petty and baseless and, usually, you’ll find the offenses were minor or occurred many years ago.
How to get over it: To overcome this mindset, the best thing you can do is simply LET IT GO! Don’t waste anymore time and energy being upset with someone about something you honestly don’t care about just to prove a point.
MINDSET 2. YOU WANT REVENGE
Let’s say the offense you experienced just recently occurred and you are truly hurt. Let’s say the matter is so grave you believe your offender deserves to be punished!
To that I say, I wholeheartedly understand and your feelings are 100% valid.
Nonetheless, the Bible teaches us that while we are allowed to be angry, we do not have the right to act on it (Ephesians 4:26). The Bible also teaches us not to return evil for evil but to, instead, turn the matter over to God (1 Peter 3:9; Romans 12:19). The world is tricky, though, because it justifies us in many instances and gives us permission to "pop off" and treat others as badly as we perceive they've treated us. But if we are to walk with God as He’s called us to, we've got to begin to see things from a higher vantage point. "Tit for tat" is, sadly, for the "basics" among us (see point one) because that's the easy way.
Yet, God calls us to take the high road at all times not because He doesn't think our anger is justified, but because He wants to have a clear path to render judgment. When you stoop to your enemy's level, you get in the way and become equally deserving of whatever judgement the Lord (in His just way) deemed fit to render your antagonizer. When you take matters into your own hands, it's an affront to God - as if to say you don't need His hands in your affairs. "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord, and I believe He says it for a reason. My mother always taught me that the Lord can deal with your enemy much better than you can. She even went on to say, “He'll get them back and will make sure you see it happen! You don’t even have to do nothin’!” (Certainly, my mom added a little oldskool Southern 'sugah' to the Word with that stance, but I have to admit that I’ve had several experiences that give her theory some merit. Just sayin'.)
How to get over it: Keep calm and sin not! Ask God to heal your heart and bring you peace. Go for a run. Have a Tré from Boyz in the Hood moment and throw a few upper cuts at the air. (That seemed to work for him.) Do whatever productive (God-approved) activity you can to let out some of your aggression. But DO NOT plot, scheme, "snap", “get someone back", hold a grudge or in any other way exact revenge physically or emotionally. That behavior just would not benefit you one bit on this walk. If you currently operate with this mindset, you are not operating out of a Godly spirit.
Oh! And know that if you repay someone for what they did to you, you give them (and/or their loved ones) license to repay you for your repayment! Yes, you will have launched a vicious, never-ending cycle of getting even. Nothing good can come of that, so don’t even get it started. (Side note: Have you ever noticed how folks are slow to repay you money they owe you, but if they believe you've done them wrong, they're quick to repay you for that?! Ha!)
Mindset 3. You Believe Your ‘Enemy’ is God’s Enemy
It may be hard for some to believe this, but just because you strongly dislike someone, it doesn’t mean God does as well. Yet, when I was a babe in the Faith, I walked around as if it were God and me against the world! If someone was my adversary, I was foolish enough to tell God to wipe them out! (Whatever that meant.) I would send up my prayer, wipe the sweat from my brow, then go on about my day knowing that I’d just laid it down! But then I’d go to work the next day and my ‘enemies’ were still walking, talking and (gasp!) enjoying their lives?! Some were even getting blessed right before my eyes! (What the...?)
Needless to say, I was ridiculously immature back then, and I praise God for His grace (and mercy) with me during that time of misguided understanding.
But immature/misguided Christians operate this way everyday. They are quick to pray against the lives of those with whom they are in conflict - going so far as to pray for illness, failed relationships, even the death of their enemies! Some may even refer to David's prayers in Psalms to justify praying against their enemies. But please know that David’s prayers were actually regarding God's enemies (Psalm 5:10; 17:5-14; 59:5, 11-13...the list goes on!) David prayed those prayers against those who voraciously attempted to stymie his efforts in doing the Lord's work. Further, his prayers were more against a system, an agenda and a relentless principality of wickedness that rose up to challenge the Lord's will.
How to get over it: Understand that, in Christ, we are called to pray for our enemies and to love them as we love ourselves, especially our brothers and sisters in the Faith. While God will render justice on those who do us harm in a manner He deems fit, we are required to pray for their salvation and that they one day get understanding. In other words, you must be certain to bless those who curse you (Matthew 5:44). Don’t withhold forgiveness from another person because you (wrongly) assume God hates them. That is not God's nature.
mindset 4. You First ReQUIRE an Apology
I can understand why so many of us get tripped up with this one. When someone apologizes, it gives you indication that they, at least somewhat, acknowledge their wrongdoing against you. It makes you feel vindicated and your hurt is validated. But the danger comes when we hinge the condition of forgiveness on first receiving someone’s apology.
There are many times when an apology never comes, or, if it does, it may not be the type of apology you want. Seriously, what if their “sorry” is a pitiful new school “my bad”?! (Speaking of, for any of my loved ones reading this, please know I am not a fan of the following types of apologies: I’m sorry IF I…; I apologize IF YOU FEEL…; IF I did anything to offend you.... Blah! Stahp it, please! Thanks! Love ya!)
When you wait for an apology, you begin building deep-rooted resentment each day they don’t say, “sorry”. That can become extremely unhealthy for your spirit, as well as your psychological and emotional state. You might also experience visceral reactions to the person – you can’t see them or hear their name without having an intense physical and emotional response!
Are a few words from another person truly worth your peace?
How to get over it: The best way to avoid this trap is to GET OVER YOURSELF! If you’ve read the previous three points, you know that it is possible for your ‘enemy’ to move on while you’re still brooding over the issue. Let go and let God touch their hearts and deal with them. Who knows - one day their newfound revelations may lead them to finally give you the apology you believe you're due. In the meantime, save yourself the emotional turmoil - forgive them for your own benefit and move on.
Anger is a natural human emotion and our feelings are valid even when we’re hurting. But we must be mature enough not to be guided by or act on our emotions, as they provide satan with nothing but space and opportunity to cause us to sin. As Christians, we are called to be the “bigger person” in all daily conflicts. If this area continues to be a struggle for you, I urge you test the notes above against the Word of God and begin to pray that He gives you a heart to quickly heal and truly forgive. Again, forgiveness does not necessarily restore trust or relationships, but my prayer is that it does for you in most, if not all, cases. Finally, we must understand that we have all been guilty of offending someone or doing someone else some form of injustice in their eyes - whether we know it or not. Neither of us is perfect. Just as much as you ask God to forgive you for your trespasses, you must also be willing, ready and able to forgive those who trespass against you. So let it go. Sin not. Understand that God loves us all and then...get over yourself!