When we have wronged someone it is often a great challenge to humble ourselves, say, "I'm sorry" and ask for their forgiveness. But, more often than not, the greatest challenge for most people is to do the forgiving.
When a friend or family member who has caused harm comes to us with a broken heart and sincere sorrow, most decent people manage to muster up compassion and accept the apology. The real challenge arises when the deep wounds caused by another are not followed by remorse or an offer of restoration. These are literally the "times that try men's souls." And they are the exact circumstances in which our forgiveness is needed most.
It's perfectly normal after having been wronged to want to lash out in anger and seek revenge. But it really doesn't matter whether or not the anger is justified - if we seethe in that anger or practice vengeance we end up making our own lives miserable. It's pretty ridiculous when you stop and think about it - to let some mean or thoughtless person who has hurt you continue to rob you of your joy. Yet we do it all the time. When we live in resentment and anger we miss the beauty and opportunity of today. And we also often cause the damage done by the original act to escalate and spread to other innocent parties.
Do you really want to live that way?
Bitterness is an infection of the spirit that rots you from the inside out. It is always self-inflicted because the root cause is an unforgiving heart.
Many people have suffered deeply from the evil acts of another - among the worst are betrayal and sexual assault. Victims of such heinous acts often spend the rest of their lives replaying the trauma in their minds - and losing the precious opportunity to experience today's blessings and joy in the process.
If you have suffered a grave wrong, seek professional help from a counsellor or pastor. Remove yourself from the danger - and from prolonged anger. Make no mistake: Your anger is justified, and your desire for justice, God-given. But allowing the anger to turn into hatred will only destroy you. And wallowing in the self-pity or real sorrow day-after-day gives way too much power over your life to the offender.
The only way to get out of the dungeon of horror is to unlock the door and walk away. In order to escape, you must forgive.
What is the key to practicing forgiveness? Grace - a word you don't hear much these days. It means "unmerited favour" - "undeserved blessing", and in the context of this article, "undeserved forgiveness." The power in the act of "grace" is that it is a gift - not a payment. The recipient does absolutely nothing to earn it - but it is given to him anyway.
The legacy of grace is freedom for the victim, and often redemption for the one who has offended so deeply. People can change - but they need a supernatural intervention to do so. That supernatural act is grace.
I believe in the awesome power of forgiveness, grace and redemption because I have been the recipient of them. They are what make me a follower of Christ. His rich, unquestionable, total and continuous forgiveness is transformational. This forgiveness is what separates the Christian faith from all others. There is no condemnation in Christ for the believer. How utterly beautiful.
So how to forgive those who have ripped your heart out? Call on the Creator of the grace that He offers to you, and ask him to fill your heart with it so that you may freely give it to others. One of life's highest and most fulfilling callings is to be a gracious warrior for truth. As Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." It really is the only way you will ever be at peace within yourself.
Rebecca Hagelin is a public speaker on the family and culture and the author of the new best seller, 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family. Visit her website at www.HowToSaveYourFamily.com. where you can sign up to receive her free e-newsletter containing the Culture Challenge of the Week and how to fight back. Hagelin is also senior communications fellow for The Heritage Foundation.