Most of us see New Years Day as a fresh start. We make steadfast resolutions of how we are going to do better next year. The reality is that January 1st is just another day. We could just as easily resolve on May 18th or August 3rd that we are going to change how we live. But there is something psychologically powerful about a New Year.
The most cited resolutions generally include things like exercising more, saving more money, getting out of debt, and reading the Bible all the way through without getting bogged down in Leviticus and skipping directly to the Psalms. The most popular resolution year after year is losing weight.
I thought I would be doing a real service if I gave you God’s Weight Loss Plan to take into 2016. This weight loss plan will make you healthier, reduce stress, give you more joy and cause you to grow in your relationship with the Lord. By following this no subscription, no monthly dues plan you can lose the weight of bitterness and anger caused from lack of forgiveness. If you are carrying around an unforgiving spirit it is weighing you down spiritually and emotionally.
This is from a chapter on forgiveness I wrote in “Bring’em Back Alive – A Healing Plan for those Wounded by the Church”.
- Forgiveness is not condoning or diminishing the offense. Forgiving a person who has wronged you does not mean they are “off the hook” for any consequences or judgment that may result from their actions. Forgiveness is a personal act of your will that releases the other person from your condemnation. At that point you have been obedient to what Jesus asks of you, the other person is responsible to God for their response as you trust God to see that justice is dispensed according to His Holy judgment and timing.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting. The old forgive and forget admonition was one of the biggest barriers I faced in my journey to learn how to forgive. You know the old mental challenge to not picture an elephant in the room. You can’t do it. Instantly the image pops into your mind. The more I tried to be spiritually mature and try to forgive and forget the more my offender became the “elephant in the room.” That person or event was all I could think of. Over time you will think less and less of the hurt and/or the one who administered same.Trying to achieve a state of instantaneous forgetfulness is setting yourself up for failure and frustration.
- Forgiveness does not require reconciliation. Certainly it is a worthy goal to have the gift of forgiveness lead to a restoration of a damaged relationship. But it takes two people to reconcile and you have no control over anyone’s response except your own. The other person may not respond graciously. They may not be ready to accept forgiveness or acknowledge their part or even desire to be reconciled. Reconciliation is not required to be obedient to the command of Jesus.
- Forgiveness is an act of the will and is not a response to feelings. We must choose to forgive and trust the Jesus who forgave us to eventually change our feelings. We may not “feel” like forgiveness has transpired. If you decide to wait until you “feel” like forgiving or that the other person must make the first move you will remain spiritually stuck. We have to make the choice and then wait for God to honor the choice. We make a choice to forgive and then we have faith that the Holy Spirit will reshape our feelings over the course of time.
- Forgiveness is not ignoring or excusing the offense. There is nothing to forgive if we have not been wronged. Jesus is not asking us to ignore reality. He is asking us to acknowledge how much we have been forgiven and to extend that gift of grace. It may well be undeserved. So was my forgiveness Jesus bought for me at the Cross. Forgiveness is acknowledging the offense without cover-up or excuse and still choosing to forgive.
- Forgiveness is not denial of the hurt. Pride will often cause us to “not allow the person who hurt us the satisfaction” of knowing we are wounded. That is absurd. Acknowledge the reality of the injury but make the choice to be healed.
- Forgiveness is eliminating revenge as an option. Lewis Smedes makes a brilliant point about revenge. No matter how much we try “we cannot get even; this is the inner fatality of revenge.” When you start trying to get even you have already lost. How many times must I gossip about you to get “even” for the hurt you caused me? When is the scale even? The truth proclaimed by Josh Billings is “there is no revenge so complete as forgiveness.”
- Forgiveness means understanding that hurt is part of the faith tour contract that we signed when we decided to follow Jesus. Author David Stoop notes that, “People choose the Path of Bitterness when they get caught up in trying to understand the reasons for the offense. They think, if only they could understand why the other person did what he or she did, they could get over it and let it go.” I have three words for that approach. Does not work.
The late author Lewis Smedes wrote that only forgiveness can “release us from the grip of our history.” We cannot change an abusive upbringing. We cannot alter dysfunctional theological training that denied grace. We cannot simply deny the hurts that have been visited upon us and be spiritually free. Only forgiveness can release us from the grip of these real and historical events.
Forgiveness is not the cop out of weak people. The reason you need to forgive is that our Designer knew that is the only way for you to be fully healed. You have a Savior who understands the pain of betrayal. That is why Jesus gave up His glory in Heaven to take on flesh.
Is forgiving easy? Of course not. I believe that forgiveness is the single hardest thing that Jesus asks us to do. But He knows how important forgiveness is for own growth. But why would you want to live in anger and carry the extra weight of an unforgiving spirit when Jesus has something better for you? The Apostle Paul’s wrote these words in Colossians.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Col 3, NIV)
That can lighten your load in the New Year.