Modeling Forgiveness: Some Lessons I Had to Learn First
- Tuesday, November 27, 2012
“But I don’t want to forgive her!” my daughter exploded.
Her face crumpled as the sobs she was trying to hold in escaped her lips.
“She doesn’t deserve my forgiveness! And if I forgive her, she will think that what she did to me is okay. And guess what, Mom? It’s not!”
God has given my heart no better mirror in my own struggles to obey Christ than by observing my children’s inward battles to obey. My heart ached with empathy at my daughter’s outburst of emotion. I, too, have felt a desire to withhold forgiveness as I have sat as both judge and jury over someone who has deeply hurt me.
Before our children were born, my husband and I made the decision that we were going to teach our children to live according to God’s Word. Obedience to the Lord in some of the commands He has given me to follow are easy to model in front of my children. Because of my attitude of self-righteous pride in those areas of victory, I have turned a blind eye toward an area in which I have struggled - the sin of unforgiveness toward others. Withholding forgiveness and mercy from others has revealed my own rebellious heart countless times. How could I teach my daughter about the blessing of obedience in forgiving her offender when my own heart wrestled with the same obstacles to forgiving others that she had just expressed?
I will not change unless I must. Before I became a mother, I did not often possess a noble enough reason to pursue healing because, I reasoned, I was the only one who was affected by my unwillingness to change. My lack of concern over my own spiritual health did not create incentive enough for me to ask hard questions of Scripture that might uncover answers I did not necessarily want to obey and put into practice. As I entered my parenting years, I came to the realization that I did not want my children to live with and pass on a legacy of unforgiveness. After years of the Holy Spirit convicting me of the sin of withholding forgiveness, I asked Him to show me in His Word what biblical forgiveness looks like.
His answer to my request has been life-transforming.
Scripture is a God-breathed literary masterpiece. I found the answers to what biblical forgiveness looks through one of the most fascinating stories of family dysfunction and redemption written on the pages of God’s Word. It was a story I remembered from my earliest days in Sunday School as a preschooler. Many of us are familiar with the story of Joseph and the actions of his ten jealous brothers who sold him as a slave to Egypt and fabricated a story about his death to their father. Over the following thirteen years, God raised Joseph from a slave to prime minister of all Egypt under Pharaoh. Joseph’s justifiable bitterness over his brothers’ cruelty to him could have destroyed him had Joseph not chosen to forgive his brothers for their treachery against him.
As I immersed myself in Joseph’s story, the Holy Spirit revealed five truths about forgiveness I had not grasped before. If the initial conversation with my daughter which propelled me to seek the answers were to occur today, this is what I what I would tell her:
1) Forgiveness is not an option for those who seek to follow Christ wholeheartedly.
If we choose not to forgive, we condemn ourselves to a tortured existence (Matthew 18:21-35). We can never forgive anyone more than Christ has forgiven us for our sin against Him. Neither my daughter nor I can withhold forgiveness and live in obedience to Christ. We forgive out of our desire to please Jesus, not ourselves.
2) Forgiveness does not condone the wrong that has been done to me.
God never condones our sin, but He will be faithful and just to forgive us our sin and purify us from its stain (1 John 1:9).
3) Forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling.
My daughter will still feel pain when she encounters the one who hurt her or remembers the incident. She and I are both learning to take those thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
4) Forgiveness has the power to change our family legacies for generations.
This is good news! Forgiveness affects more than the forgiver. Others take notice because to forgive is supernatural. My daughter’s decision to walk in forgiveness may give her an opportunity to share Christ with others.
5) Forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous.
My daughter’s obedience to forgive may demand healthy boundaries if this person continues to hurt her without repentance. Some relationships between believers in Christ may not be reconciled until heaven. Forgiveness can occur even if reconciliation does not.
Someone has wisely said, “You cannot give away what you do not possess.” I pray that as God continues to transform me in my practice of forgiving others, my children’s legacy to my grandchildren will be modeling a lifestyle of forgiveness toward others.
Shawn Lantz is a speaker and author whose most recent work is the popular women’s bible study, Encountering the Healing Power of Forgiveness (Living with Unmet Desires Series). Lantz is on the women’s ministry team of her home church in Nashville and has been involved in women’s ministry for nearly a decade. Her previous books include Exposing the Many Faces of Jealousy (Living with Unmet Desires Series) bible study as well as Congo Vignettes, a biography chronicling three generations of Lantz’ family as missionaries to the Democratic Republic of Congo. For more information, visit www.ShawnLantz.com.
Publication date: November 27, 2012
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