Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The How-To's of Forgiving

Forgiveness is essential on our journey.  Christ teaches us to pray to the Father… “forgive us our sins and as we forgive those who sin against us”.   I’ve often prayed that prayer and just chose to ignore that sentence.  Why?  In my mind they don’t deserve my forgiveness.  But in reality, I did not and do not “deserve” the forgiveness that Christ gives me.  Once I own that truth, I am humbled and truly desire to seek to learn how to forgive.

I have the privilege of working in Rwanda.  In April of 1994 genocide occurred in which over a million people were murdered at the hands of their own neighbors and “friends”.  Actually, it was the culmination of decades of acts of genocide.   The affects of this devastation on the spirits of the people is indescribable. To this day, 2012, the country has been working on a process of forgiveness and will continue to need to do so for decades to come.
In the years before genocide episodes in that country, I wonder if people had actually practiced forgiving the much smaller offences, would such an atrocity been prevented?  A unkind word, a look of disgust, a forgotten promise…and the list can go on and on…

What about in my own life? What would my own relationships look like if I consistently practiced forgiveness?   If I would only follow through with what I knew how to do, would not my circle of relationships be healthier? 

Luke records for us (Chapter 17:3) Jesus teaching:  So watch yourselves! If another believer sins, rebuke that person; then if there is repentance, forgive.  Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.”

Here is how I start:

1.  OWN IT:  The moment one realizes that one has been hurt by another, what they have said, what they have not said, what they have done, what they have not done:talk about it to God.   Don’t try to deny the hurt.  Don’t try to “stuff it” and carry on.  Don’t try to rationalize it or say to yourself “They really didn’t mean to hurt me.” Although that might be true, at this point, their intention does not matter, you have a hurt.  Own it and deal with it. Tell God about it.  Ask him to heal your wound. 

2. ASK:   Ask for God’s wisdom.  Did you have a part in the offence?  If so, ask God to give you an awareness of your own part. Then ask God to give wisdom and guidance on how to move forward.  Does the person know that you were hurt or offended?

3.  GO:  In most instances, one should go to the offender and tell them their offence.  Tell them how it impacted you.    This is important.  If the offender is unaware, they most probably will continue in the same offence unless informed.  In some situations this may not be possible due to the possibilities of further harm. Yet it is because we often fail in this step that resentments build within us which cause relational damage.
4.  LET GO:  If the person repents – then forgive.  Even it they choose not to repent, I personally try to let go of the offence.  In my heart, I try to release any “debt” I believe that they owe me and ask God to deal with the matter in the other person.  (This is based on the direction in Romans 12:19. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.”)

Depending on the degree of the personal wound, the process of forgiveness has taken me from a matter of minutes to even months.  I rarely ever forget the event but I do learn from it.  A new “normal” emerges in the relationship.  In some we continue on the journey together and in other situations we’ve decided that it is better to carry on separate directions.  Admittedly, my personal wounds ranged from incidents as minor as a negative look to significant betrayals.  None have been as momentous as murder, rape or genocide. 
Perhaps this process is too simplistic to deal with many of the offences one might experience.   At the same time, I wonder if we practiced it daily, if there would be a significant likelihood that many relationships would remain intact.  Maybe if we learned how to proactively deal with taking care of small offences we would be able to circumvent more violent and traumatic events.

No comments: