Monday, February 11, 2013

Practicing Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a powerful thing.  If you have ever held a grudge or had something horrible happen to you and have then been able to forgive that person, you've experienced how true this is.  I had an experience like this several years ago.  After starting my first call, someone did something horrible to my husband and me.  It was months before I could stand to look at the person or be in the same room.  Thankfully, there weren't too many times when that happened, but just thinking about this person would make my blood boil.

One day I saw this person in the post office, and I was able to say "hi."  For me, that was a huge step.  But being able to do that got me thinking about how much space I had been letting that person occupy in my brain.  And at that point, I decided that I didn't want that person to have so much power over me anymore.  I didn't want to let her occupy so much space in my brain.  I decided I needed to forgive her, more for my sake than for hers.  By God's grace, I was able to do so.

This is a good time to explain what I believe forgiveness is and what I believe forgiveness is not.  To me, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.  Rather, forgiveness is about releasing the other person and not letting that person or what happened have power over you any longer.  It's about letting that person go so that you can be free yourself.  Though forgiveness can certainly lead to reconciliation, in my opinion,  reconciliation can only happen when the person who hurt you comes to acknowledge and apologize for what he or she did. 

Of course, as you and I both know, sometimes that just doesn't happen.  And you can't really control what the other person says or does, or how they deal with the consequences of their actions, anyway.  But what you can do is change how you think about something or someone.

This is why I didn't forgive the person who wronged me in person.  She has never acknowledged what she did, and probably never will.  What I did instead was forgive her in my heart, commend the situation to God, and release my right to be angry.  The thing that allowed me to do this is knowing the forgiveness I have received from God.  It was helpful to remind myself that by forgiving this person, I wasn't saying that what she did was okay or that it didn't matter.  But what I was saying was that I wasn't going to hold that thing against her anymore; I wasn't going to be stingy with the forgiveness God has given me.

As helpful and powerful as forgiveness can be, it can still be difficult to forgive someone.  So we have to practice.  In order to make forgiveness a natural part of our interactions with others, we have to learn how to say “I am sorry.  Can you forgive me?” when we have done or said something that has hurt another person.  And we have to learn the proper response, which is not “No problem,” but “I forgive you.”  

I was reminded of the need to practice saying these things the other day when I caught myself saying "No problem," when someone thanked me for something I'd done.  In fact, I caught myself doing this quite often.  And I thought of how we are teaching Esme to say, "please," "thank you," and "you're welcome."  How could I expect Esme to say these things regularly if I don't?  Of course, I can't.  Because kids learn more from what we do than from what we say.  So if I want Esme to say, "thank you," and "you're welcome," I have do model that and put it into practice.

Similarly, if I want Esme and Reid to grow up not only knowing about God's forgiveness but also being able to "forgive others as we have been forgiven," we have to model and we practice these skills often.  With this in  mind, here's how you might practice forgiveness in your life:
  • As a family, learn to say, “I am sorry.  Can you forgive me?” when you have done or said something that has hurt another person.  
  • Teach the response, which is not “Oh, no problem” or “It doesn’t matter”, but “I forgive you.”  
  • In worship, point out the confession of sins and absolution, in which we all confess to the wrong we have done and receive God’s forgiveness.

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this post. I had a similar experience. When I could forgive it freed me. I also needed to hear again to say "I forgive you" instead of "no problem". Thanks for the reminder! :)

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