“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Colossians 3:12-14).
Forgiveness and love: Sometimes this is a hard pill to swallow. Forgiveness can be difficult, especially if you were severely hurt by someone else who did something wrong to you. Each one of us has had instances where we are faced with the choice to forgive or not forgive. Some of the small things are easy to forgive, but the big things are harder to forgive: victims of crimes or sexual abuse, loss of loved ones due to criminal acts, suicide, divorce, etc.
Sometimes it feels like if you don’t forgive you’re hurting the other person who did wrong to you, kind of a way to get back at them for the wrong they did to you. Most likely, they don’t care what you feel or don’t remember what wrong they did. It is upon us as individuals to forgive others for wrongs done to us.
Forgiveness is not forgetting what wrong was done to you. Forgiveness is being able to let the anger go, to release the anger and ill will you have to the offender who wronged you. This doesn’t mean you forget what happened, but you have let your anger and negative emotions go so you can move on.
Forgiveness can be difficult because the wrong that we are asked to forgive can be overwhelming, especially if it involved abuse or criminal acts towards someone. Regardless, we are charged by Jesus to forgive, as the Lord forgave us. I will use myself as an example.
My parents divorced when I was just a young boy and my mom got custody of me, and my sisters. Shortly after the divorce my mother got involved with, and eventually married my stepfather. When she met him and started dating, she got heavily involved in drugs and was physically abused by my stepfather. It was mostly emotional abuse toward me, and my sisters but we did watch my mother get beat up on a regular basis and heard the verbal abuse thrown her way and ours. Then when I was a teenager, I got into physical altercations with my stepfather.
I remember our most physical altercation very well. I was 17 and watching television. My mom and stepfather were arguing and the argument moved to the garage. I realized that they were not yelling anymore and I went to the garage to find my stepfather on top of my mom with his hands around her throat. I recall trying to pull him off of her but he was high on some drug, cocaine or something, and was very strong. I began punching him and he released her and threw me about 10 feet into the garage wall and he went back to choking my mom.
I ran back and got him off of her and then he put me in a headlock and began punching me. I was able to get loose when my mom started hitting him and I did a great left hook into his forehead causing him to bleed. The next thing I remember, I was running to a neighbor’s house to call the police (we didn’t have a phone) and they arrived and took him to jail for assaulting me, and my mother.
My mother refused to press charges and I went forward with pressing charges. My mom told me to drop the charges because with his history of arrests for violence and drugs, he would likely face an extended stay in jail. At first I refused and then my mom threatened to kick me out of the house among other threats if I didn’t drop the charges. I dropped the charges because I felt I needed to be in the home to protect my sister (other sister was in college) and my mom. It was very tense in the house afterward between my stepfather and me, but he knew I would stand my ground after that altercation.
There were other altercations but let me just say that from about 10 to 18 years of age, I was subjected to and witnessed abuse on almost a daily basis — as well as seeing drug abuse that was not hidden from us. This is a lot of trauma for a child to go through. I could have moved in with my father but I felt obligated to stay and protect my mom and I didn’t want to move away the last year of high school to another school. The day after I graduated high school I moved out of the house. Now back to forgiveness.
I had a lot of reasons to not forgiving my mother and stepfather. Looking back at the abuse and trauma I went through, I had a lot of anger of what I was subjected to, what I saw, and how I felt during those eight years. I held on to the anger for a long time.
I eventually realized that my anger, my unforgiveness, was holding me back. I realized that having all that anger took a lot of energy and was emotionally draining. It was too much to carry. I let it go. It was hard but I let the anger go and in my heart I forgave them both for those years of hell. I didn’t forget, and haven’t forgotten, what was done to me and or how I felt, but I hold no ill will towards my mom or step dad; I forgave them in my heart.
I never mended my relationship with my stepfather because he died a few years after I moved out but I still forgive him for what he did. As for my mother, I had held anger toward her for a long time for allowing her children to be subjected to the kind of environment that we grew up in: the abuse, the drugs, relying on me to protect her, etc. I did forgive her and eventually mended my relationship with her.
(As a note, and since my father is reading this too, he was always trying to get us out of the situation through the court system, but the courts in the county we lived in always favored the mother. His home was always open and welcome for us and was free of a negative environment. I chose to stay with my mother because I was relied on by her to intervene in the fights with my stepfather, and I believed if I was not there to protect her, she would have been killed by my stepfather. Thanks Dad, for being there for me.)
I know what it is like to forgive the hard wrongs done to people. Holding onto anger just takes too much energy and is not what Christ wants from us. We are to forgive and we are to love. It can be hard, but that’s what He commands. If Christ loved us so much to die for us, how can we not forgive the wrongs people have done to us?
Some of you will disagree with me, for you have been wronged in much worse ways than I was for all those years. I have seen worse situations when people were wronged─when I was a police officer years ago. I understand and more important, God knows your hurt. He can help you to heal and get to a place where you can forgive. He can help you change your heart and soften it so you can embrace forgiveness.
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
The letting go is the hardest part of forgiveness but is the key to freedom from the bond of anger that unforgiveness holds over us. Holding on to unforgiveness is a roadblock in our relationship with others and especially with our Lord Jesus. God is love and expects us to love others in return. How can we love if we hold a grudge against another? Jesus doesn’t want us to hold on to anger. He wants us to love. If we love Jesus, we must love everyone else, even if it means forgiving them for wrongs and letting anger go.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ” (Matthew 22:37-39).
My pastor says that how we love others is a reflection of how much we love Jesus and if we have no love for someone, then how can we love Jesus. If you love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, you must also love others in the same way. Does this mean we have to be touchy-feely with others and with those who have wronged us? No, but we must have an attitude of love and compassion for others. We are not to hold ill will toward others. Even if they deserve it, we are still to forgive and love.
Not forgiving also means not loving. How can we have a relationship with Jesus if we can’t forgive and love others? He did this for us. How can we be blessed if we hold a grudge towards others? If you are holding onto unforgiveness, now is the time to let it go. It may be hard and it may take time, but we are charged by the Lord to forgive and love.
If you find it too hard to forgive a wrong done to you, ask Jesus to help you. He is there to help us in times of need and He will be there for you in your quest to forgive and to turn that anger toward someone into love and compassion. I was able to do this and so can you.
There is a great freedom from the burden that will be lifted off your shoulders if you can forgive others for what they have done to you. Let Jesus take that burden for you. Let Him help you lift that anger out of your heart and fill it with love and compassion. If you always keep an attitude of love towards others, forgiveness is easier to practice when someone treats you badly.
“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
All Scripture is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.