Both women had experienced inexplicable pain in life. Margaret was angry and bitter over yet another divorce and had accepted that her only recourse was to toughen up and protect herself. She became demanding, paranoid, and quite lonely, not to mention, an extraordinarily difficult co-worker. Most could guess that her caustic personality was the result of many hurts and betrayals she had suffered in relationships both professional and personal.
Grace was sexually abused by her father for over a decade despite her reporting this abuse to the one person she could trust, but who had ultimately failed to protect her— her own mother.
Since then, she has faced rifts with her siblings and detachment from her mother for most of her adult life. Yet she and her husband raised two children together, have faced serious illness, financial struggles, and spent more than a decade in therapy. Now they are retired and enjoy their grandchildren and being active in their local church. Most would never guess that Grace had been severely abused as a child.
Both women had cause for grief and bitterness. Both women’s lives were forever altered by the betrayal of someone(s) trusted in their life. Margaret took control and determined that she would never allow anyone to ever take advantage of her ever again. Grace seemed to lose control and bounced around from therapist to therapist desperate to get past the anger and resentment that was tearing her apart inside.
Both women struggled to come to grips with their reality and faced a fork in the road. Both women had to decide if they could forgive.
And both are living out very different outcomes from that decision.
The Power of Forgiveness
Dr. Karen Schwartz, a Johns Hopkins Psychiatrist explains here the healing power of forgiveness and its impact on our physical and mental health. She discusses the difference between “seeing things as forgivable and having it be the consuming factor in your life.”
This is the difference between someone who has learned to let go and extend forgiveness to their offender instead of holding on to the pain and feelings of betrayal to the point of complete fixation. Of course, this is not absolution- releasing them from guilt or necessary punishment, especially as with cases of abuse or criminal wrongdoing. But this is choosing to no longer hold on to the need for personal recompense or amends in order to move forward with your life.
Because of the impact un-forgiveness has on our bodies, minds, and spirits, forgiveness is more about what we do for ourselves and less about what we do for others.
The Necessity of Forgiveness
Matt 6:14-15 tells us that we must forgive others as God has forgiven us and if we do not forgive others, God will not forgive us.
Tough words on the necessity to forgive others, especially those we do not feel deserve our forgiveness or even desire it nonetheless. Yet, if we are Christ followers, how can we not freely share with others, what has freely been given to us?
Colossians 3:13 instructs Christians especially, to forgive whatever grievances we may have against one another because we are called to clothe ourselves in Christ and to be bound together in love and unity. There is no place for harboring bitterness or grudges.
But you might say, what about justice? Do we not desire justice for those who offend? Do we not deserve it?
In God’s wisdom, He set a natural order for life, relationships, and the consequences of our actions. One consequence we read about is this:
“The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.” Prov 5:22
The evil that is done in this world, actually becomes cords that hold and imprison the one who acts with evil intent. Most unbelievers think sin equals freedom, when in fact, sin produces bondage. In fact, the Apostle Paul said that the “whole world is a prisoner of sin” (Galatians 3:22 ). This understanding helps us gain perspective on the true condition of our offenders, even possibly compassion on them for their utter captivity to sin.
As for justice, we can trust Him to right the wrongs as:
“The Righteous One takes note of the house of the wicked and brings the wicked to ruin.” Prov 21:12
We may not always see this come during our lifetimes here on earth, it may be worse— as it is repaid in eternity if there has been no repentance before God.
God has told us that vengeance is His, that He will repay all wrongdoing ( Romans 12:19 ).
So if we trust that God in his wisdom allows the wicked to be ensnared by their sins and that he gives the final judgment, how do we as the victims, avoid being ensnared or trapped by our own desires for justice from our offenders?
Again, it’s forgiveness.
Many of us today struggle with health issues, feelings of helplessness and despair, depression or anxiety, and have no idea how we got here. The adage that “hurt people, hurt people” is often proved right when we look at society today and see growing health, mental health, and substance abuse crises in our culture.
When we hurt, we often hurt others or ourselves in return. It’s what we do when we experience great loss or a perceived loss of control.
How about you?
Are you struggling with your health? Do you have depression or generally have trouble with personal relationships? Do you rely on alcohol, medication, or other substances to help you get through the day?
Is it possible that you have been hurt or betrayed and never really dealt with it in a positive or productive way?
Is it time to finally forgive?
Maybe you cannot forgive yourself. Maybe you made choices or became involved with someone and are wearing the weight of painful consequences. Are you taking out your anger and frustration on yourself?
If God can forgive you as he states in I John 1:9 then why can’t you forgive yourself? Have you exalted your own standards of righteousness and forgiveness above His?
Imagine what life could look like in a month or year from now if we decided to forgive those who have hurt us! Imagine the freedom of letting go of something that has held us prisoner for so long! Imagine if we, in feeling powerless, exercised our power to change our minds. How would that affect our hearts, souls, and bodies?
We have a choice, just like Margaret and Grace. We can choose anger and bitterness of spirit that eats away at our health and relationships like a cancer, robbing us of life. Or we can choose forgiveness and acceptance, trusting in God to repay all injustices, while experiencing peace, healing, and life more abundantly.
We have the choice, the power, to forgive. But will we do it?
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