When I received the email reminding me that it was my turn to write the daily devotional, it was at an interesting time for sure. I had no knowledge of the subject matter ahead, but just a few hours before, I was having a conversation with our eight year old regarding an incident that had happened at school. Another child was aggressive out of anger and our child just happened to be the innocent bystander who became a victim. Forgiveness was a large part of this discussion. As I began to ponder the subject of Forgiveness, I could not help but think about life and the lessons it teaches us.
In the Sermon text this week, we heard the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Peter asked Jesus how many times his brother would sin against him and how many times should he forgive him. Peter assumed the answer would be seven times. Jesus surprised him with the answer of not seven but seventy-seven times. That must have been a blow to Peter, as I think we have all experienced the same thing that Peter had–that forgiveness does not come easy for most of us. Seven times probably sounded like a doable number. Seventy-seven was probably a bit more daunting.
When someone has wronged us, whether small or big, it can cut deep. Our emotions react to pain much like our body does. The pain can be overwhelming or even crippling for some of us. But for others, the pain is stuffed down deep, hidden from the world–maybe even buried so deep we don’t know we are hurt. It can build and build, like any untreated wound or condition. The pain grows and grows until something small can make the lid blow off the top with great force. It can cause us to look for ways to retaliate–to take an eye for an eye approach. The hurt replays in our minds over and over again until it takes on a life of its own. As long as we park there, in the world of unforgiveness, moving forward will never be an option.
Forgiveness is the cure for this often debilitating condition, but like any treatment for an ailment, it is much easier said than done. Time, dedication and patience all come into play. Forgiveness is often mistaken for acceptance of what someone has done. By definition, that is not what forgiveness is. It is not releasing another party from consequences or accepting bad behavior. But intentional forgiveness is instead releasing ourselves from the grip of pain that is weighing us down. There are good reasons to forgive–It is good for our mental and emotional health and restores our happiness and peace. It is, of course what God commands us to do, in the teachings of Jesus in this parable, and it pleases God when we follow His plan for our lives. But most importantly, for those of us who are in Christ, it is just doing what has already been done for us on the cross. There was no better example of how to forgive than when God sent his only Son to pay a debt he did not owe for you and for me.
But forgiveness is not just a genie bottle that we can rub and get our wish. It takes time, effort, self realization and most of all, it cannot happen without God’s help. Once we can admit to what is hurting us, we can bring it before the Lord and lay it down. We have to give ourselves the time, the space and even the necessary tools such as counseling to facilitate the healing. We have to trust that God is big enough to understand, to shoulder what we cannot, and to heal our hearts and minds. And then comes the hardest part–praying for the person who wronged you. You may never have your “say” with them, they may never even “pay” for what they did, but if you TRULY forgive the transgression, you have to forgive the person as well. By laying it all at the foot of the cross, you surrender them to the Lord. And then…it is time to let it go. Perhaps you continue your relationship with that person in a new light, or perhaps they are not in your life anymore–but the weight of the wrong is no longer on your shoulders, and the grace you were freely afforded on Calvary has now become yours to freely give to someone else. There is truly freedom in forgiveness.
Returning to my opening story about talking with our eight year old about forgiveness–it wasn’t easy for sure. I reminded him of all of the normal things–it was not ok for someone to treat him that way, BUT we did not know what was making the other child so angry. Maybe he was hungry or tired, maybe he was hurting inside, maybe he was jealous of something or someone. The list went on and on. We talked about how we all make mistakes and how good it feels to ask for and receive forgiveness when we make a mistake. He was recently baptized, so we talked about the forgiveness he earned that day and that he literally had to do nothing to receive it except say yes to Jesus as his Savior. I walked the fine line of encouraging him to forgive and let it go, but at the same time reminding him that he does not have put himself back in the same situation again. My hope was to empower him to take care of himself, as well as loving and forgiving others where they are, when the next situation arises for him.
Just because we forgive, we do not have to return to the darkness or hurt. By changing our patterns, routines or breaking our cycles, we can take care of ourselves while living in the light and freedom God afforded us through Grace…not just seven times, not just seventy-seven times, but as many times as we falter– He is faithful to forgive! Take some time this week to find your freedom through forgiveness!