Two little sisters, ages three and five, sat in the orphanage waiting area where their mother had just abruptly left them. She had her own tormented thoughts. That happened 70 years ago, and the younger of the two has been my dear friend for 44 years. How does one even begin to forgive such an act of betrayal from a mother who is supposed to nourish and cherish herchildren?
Thankfully most of us have not been left in an orphanage. But as we reflect on such a sadness, we may think of a wide range of ways we havebeen hurt or abused, betrayed, or suffered a great loss or whatever is ourown version of having been mistreated, whether extensively or not so extensively. Are there things that we may need to address in order to be free from the pain of unforgiveness?
Perhaps we need to forgive God or perhaps we need to forgive ourselves. With our own set of circumstances, what can we glean from others so that we can learn how to forgive and move forward?
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis suggests that we will learn how to forgive by starting with something small and easy, like forgiving your husband for something he said last week (Lewis, 1952, p. 104). It is often difficult to forgive huge wrongs quickly, but one thing we can know: If there is a guilty person involved, forgiving does not mean that the guilty person's actions have become okay or justified. Lewis confirms this: "Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them . . . But it does want us to hate them in the same wayin which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again" (Lewis,1952, p. 106). And for us, forgiving does lift our burden and free us to move forward with our lives.
Perhaps in your situation these two quotes from Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend might bring some insight: "To forgive means to write it off. Let it go. Tear up the account . . . . To forgive means we will never get from that person what was owed us . . . . Forgiveness . . .unhooks me from the hurtful person, and then I can act responsibly, wisely"(Cloud & Townsend, 2002, p. 263). Also, not forgiving often causes us to feel guilt. "Guilt distorts reality, gets us away from the truth, and away fromdoing what is best for the other person . . . . Guilt will keep you from doing what is right and will keep you stuck" (Cloud & Townsend, 2002, p. 265).
In Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God, Brennan Manning makes a very strong statement regarding the effect of guilt on personal growth: "If we avoid any confrontation with authentic guilt, we stifle personal growth.If we continue to blame others for our weaknesses and failures, we refuse accountability for the present direction of our life . . . . We can only 'pretend' that we are sinners, and thus only 'pretend' that we are forgiven . .. . To knife through . . . requires enormous courage and ruthless trust in the merciful love of the redeeming God. Put simply, sin must be acknowledged and confessed before there can be forgiveness and real transformation" (Manning, 2009).
In his book The Gift of Forgiveness, Charles Stanley writes: "Unforgiveness, by its very nature, prevents individuals from followingthrough on many of the specifics of the Christian life . . . . such as the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, 25 . . . and practically necessitates they walk by the flesh rather than by the Spirit . . . . When that happens, they (and I) are losers every time. By withholding patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control and the rest, the individual is held hostage by the flesh and this is the ultimate loser" (Stanley, pp. 19-20).
In this same vein, according to Chuck Swindoll in Growing Strong inthe Seasons of Life, "A Christian is a candidate for confinement and unspeakable suffering until he or she fully and completely forgive other seven when the others are in the wrong" (Swindoll, 1994, p. 249).
Timothy Keller gives some practical advice on how to begin to forgive in his bestseller The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism: "As a pastor I have counseled many people about forgiveness, and I have found that if they do this - if they simply refuse to take vengeance on the wrongdoer in action and even in their inner fantasies - the anger slowlybegins to subside. You are not giving it any fuel and so the resentmentburns lower and lower" (Keller, 2009, p. 196).
Let us consider some other practical advice that might also be helpful: Keep "short accounts" - the 'Do not let the sun go down while you are stillangry' mentality (Eph. 4:26). You can even agree to disagree. "When two people are free to disagree, they are free to love," say Cloud and Townsend in Boundaries in Marriage - "When they are not free, they live in fear, andlove dies" (Cloud & Townsend, 2002, p. 9).
Dear Souls, we know so well that Jesus died so that by His grace we would be forgiven. Grace and Forgiveness are paramount in God's economy, and He wants those qualities to be strong in our own relationships so much so that He wants us to forgive for our own sake as much as for thesake of the wrongdoer. The Apostle Paul spends a great deal of time in the epistles teaching us how to get along well with each other in ways that honor God, and that will give us personal peace. Colossians 3:13 says,".....forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Ephesians 4:32 says: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Godf orgave you." When we do not try to heed Scriptures like these, everyone loses.
This life changing concept of forgiveness starts with God and runs throughout Scripture. In the interesting book Fool-Proofing Your Life: Howto Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life, Jan Silvious makes note of an incredible passage in Isa. 43:24 where God says, "Thouhast wearied Me with thine many iniquities" - "No space between verse 24 and 25, which says, 'I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for Mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins.'
Continuing, the Lord addressing Israel in Isa. 44:22, He says, 'I have swept away your offenseslike a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me for I haveredeemed you.' The church was not yet formed at this time, but this is howGod wholeheartedly forgives us, like a benevolent Father a child who hasgone astray" (Silvious, 2009). Now in our day and in the church we have the strong words of Jesus regarding our enemies in Luke 6:27 and 28: "But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curseyou, pray for those who mistreat you." Thus this passage gives us specific insight into how we are to regard our enemies.
And then there is the command that we are to "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 19:19 and Mark 12:31). Also in Luke 10, Jesus illustrates the depth of this command with the Parable of the Good Samaritan. C. S. Lewis helps us getthis thought of not hating the enemy who has wronged us and of loving ourneighbor as we love ourselves into perspective in his short treatise on "Forgiveness" in Mere Christianity (Lewis, 1952, pp. 104-108). We all love ourselves on some level, but we do not like everything we do. Lewis writes: "In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a niceman, but I know I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things Ihave done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loatheand hate some of the things my enemies do . . . how could you hate what aman did and not hate the man? . . . there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life - namely myself. However much I might dislike myown cowardice, or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself . . . . Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man whodid those things" (Lewis, 1952, pp. 105-106).
We should be sorry for our sins and sorry for the sins we see in others. Lewis suggests that forgiveness often is not easy and may not come quickly. He writes: "I mean that every time it bops its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head . . . . we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves - to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good,not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not" (Lewis, 1952,p. 108).
Dear Soul, do not fret when you think of perhaps having to "bop" unforgiveness on the head day after day, year after year. A sweet byproduct of such earnest forgiving can bring a degree of humility and isn't humility one of the things we most yearn for? When you are forgiving and doing what God wants, you are not losing; you are in the process of being more Christ-like.
Also . . . . "Perhaps it makes it easier if we remember that that is how Heloves us. Not for any nice, attractive qualities we think we have, but just because we are the things called selves" (Lewis, 1952, p. 108); selves whom He created and whom He loves.
One great caution in our venture to forgive: if the one we are trying to forgive makes any positive step we should try to rejoice; if what is black is making an effort to become even just a little white, to make a baby step inthe right direction - then Praise God. Satan wallows in sin, and he wants us to continue to see the black in the guilty person and be bound to them in hatred. Thus he still has us in his grip. Prayerfully look to what unforgiveness brings if it continues. Look way ahead - say ten years - and ask yourself: Do I still want to have this feeling toward this person in ten years? With whatever baby steps we can, we should strive to be one whodoes ". . . not delight in evil but rejoices with truth" (I Cor. 13:6). And remember that as we "bop" the evil we are allying ourselves with the God ofthe universe Who will someday dry all tears (Rev. 7:17 and Rev. 21:4).
And what happened to the little three-year old --many years later after her mother was thankfully in Heaven, she, in the tranquility of her own room, by God's grace, bopped that unforgiveness and the sadness that had accompanied it for the last time; sweetly, lovingly, free at last.
As you and I know, this is not a totally conclusive article that answers all of your "why" questions and heals all of your pain. But my hope is that I have given you some ideas about where to start. Perhaps some quote orsomething in this article strikes a chord to help you in your own situation.
Sometimes it depends on the degree to which you have been wronged. Sometimes you can simply say, "There but by the grace of God, go I." Orsometimes you have to "bop" that unforgiving tendency over and over again,as C.S. Lewis writes.
You must continually remember that God cares about you and about what has happened or is still happening. Be careful to not let any unforgiveness become too large a part of who you are. You are first of all God's child. Recognize that wrong done - like to my friend when she was three years old- is not going to be right. As He often does, God may use it to help you be amore gracious and compassionate person; good comes but evil itself is never good. That is why we are cautioned throughout Scripture to avoid evil, and I so, strongly urge you to know Scripture so that you can avoid evil and teach your loved ones to not repeat any evil or cycle of sin that tries to take them captive.
I wish you well and encourage you to act in such a way that the evil that has been done does not define who you are; that instead you are defined by your desire to know God and to help others know Him. With that kind of purpose, we will have no regrets.
Let me leave you with a very positive quote from G. K. Chesterton, a quote that I think gives a glimpse of our Father's intent: "The more I found that while Christianity has established a rule of order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.
"May God loosen your pain, free you, and give your life a meaningful structure so that good things can run wild.
A helpful list of references for further insight: Affliction: A Compassionate Look at the Reality of Pain and Suffering by Edith Schaeffer