In a recent sermon, Pastor Frank Wilson of New Dawn Christian Village in Los Angeles, CA, informed his flock that “unforgiveness is the poison you take hoping someone else will die.” That’s deep y’all. I have heard the same said of unforgiveness’ close cousin, bitterness.
If you possess even a cursory knowledge of scripture, then you know that unforgiveness is not an acceptable resting place for the believer. Yet most people struggle with it. What’s even sadder is that many of us don’t struggle at all. Some of us have not only pitched the proverbial tent and put stakes into the ground, but we have have laid a foundation, built a 2-story home as our base of operations, and invited folks to visit.
The latter may not be true of you, but you probably know someone of whom it is. You know a person is struggling with unforgiveness when (s)he:
- repeatedly tells of the betrayal that “justifies” his/her refusal to forgive
- takes every opportunity to insert his/her wounds into any conversation, sometimes making the most hair-brained connection in order to introduce his/her situation. A conversation with such a person might go something like this. “Did you see Lisa’s new car? It’s hot!” “Yeah. I was in a car when Donald broke up with me. Did you know he’s been dating an attorney? He told me he hated lawyers. See how men lie?”
- has allowed his/her painful situation to become his/her identity (i.e. Carol, the young woman who got fired two years ago or John, who’s suing his ex-wife for custody of the cat)
- sees everything through the prism of his/her unforgiveness, (i.e. the man who has pronounced all women gold diggers because he got “got” by one).
Unforgiveness takes many forms and can be difficult to detect. Personally, I can think of one time when I truly thought I had forgiven a person, until I saw him. My gut reaction to his presence (the rolling of the eyes, the curling of my lip, the deep guttural growl, and the desire to punch him squared in the face) confirmed that I still had work to do. Well meaning friends would like things like, “You know God is not hearing you until you work that out.” I knew this, because I had memorized and understood the model prayer since kindergarten. My favorite admonition was “Just forgive him, Sheeri.” To which I’d respond, “Yeah, well okay, sure. And in my free time, why don’t I just go ahead and construct that nuclear war head I’ve been meaning to get to. That’ll be fun.” Thus confirming that along with unforgiveness, I alos struggled with sarcasm. Oh yeah. I can be a hot mess. So I wavered back and forth, uncertain of what true forgiveness looked like and never quite sure if I had achieved it. A major breakthrough came, however, when I learned what forgiveness is not. A former bible study leader of mine shared with me the following.
Forgiveness is not:
- a feeling, but an act of your will – If you don’t want to forgive someone, as God to help you to want the desire to do so
- agreeing with what was done to you – this lie is a big stumbling block for a wounded person – you know that what was done was wrong – forgiving someone doesn’t change that
- deserved – forgiveness is truly a gift
- trust – forgiveness is given, trust is earned – you steal from me? I can forgive you, but I’m not leaving my purse where you can get to it
- reconciliation – reconciliation is proof that forgiveness has taken place
- followed by “but” – as in “I forgive you, but”
- understanding why what happened to you happened – you may never find out on this side of heaven…and you just need to be okay with that
Now that I’ve shared what forgiveness is not, let me give you the most accurate picture I have discovered of what forgiveness is. It comes from The Doctrine of Prayer, by T.W. Hunt (an amazing book by the way).
Think of your situation as a court case. You are the plaintiff and the prosecuting attorney. The person who wronged you is the defendant. You have done an phenominal job of compiling your briefs. For your day in court, you come “flied out,” in your Black Label Armani, toting a Prada briefcase, kicks courtesy of Guiseppe Zonotti, and so much legal documentation in tow that it must be brought in on not one – but three dollies. You are fierce and everybody, including you knows it. The judge enters, calls court into session, and instructs you to begin opening arguments. You take a deep breath, but to everyone’s utter amazement, you wheel all of your files, every scrap of evidence you’ve amassed, your entire brief, plop it on the judge’s bench, and sashay your well-dressed behind right out of the courtroom.
That is forgiveness. You take your entire case (and the Lord knows you do have one) against your offender and leave it before the Judge to rule on, trusting that because he knows ALL, is perfectly just, merciful, and benevolent, he will rule in the matter perfectly. You And because you have decided on the front end that you will accept whatever ruling is handed down, you are free to live your life.
My Brother, My Sister, if you are struggling with unforgiveness, I beg you, please decide today, this instant, to take all of your files, evidence, or prepared speeches, and leave them at the Jugde’s bench. He cannot act contrary to his own nature. So he will do right by you. As often as you find yourself retrieving a file, attempting to sneak a peek inside, in your mind, see yourself placing it back atop the Judge’s bench. As you turn to exit the courtroom – again, catch him out of the corner of your eye, nodding his approval with a huge grin on his face, proud of your determination to trust him.
Pray with me:
Father God, I am weighed down my the unforgiveness I have been carrying in my heart toward (name the person or persons here) over what happened between us. I am hurt and I feel betrayed. I want to be free though. I want there to be nothing standing between you and me, Lord.
I choose to see you as the Righteous Judge. You know all the details of this case, on both sides. You see all of it from beginning to end with perfect clarity. I know you love me and work in all things for my good. I place my trust in you.
I confess that I have made room for unforgiveness in my heart. Forgive me for(name all other tributary sins that have sprung from your unforgivness i.e. self-righteousness, revenge, gossip, malice,slander, etc). I want nothing to stand between us.
I extend blanket-forgiveness to anyone who has offended me especially (name person or persons here). I choose to leave all of my files on your bench.
I cannot change my own heart. I need you, Lord, to do it for me. Please help me to walk in my new posture of forgiveness and to stand ready to forgive any and every person who might offend me today and everyday.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Okay, Love, that’s it. Of course you may have to repeat this prayer or some version of it many, many times. And you may not “feel” the manifestation of forgiveness in your heart for some time. But trust me, if you prayed it and meant it, you are free. Now go and live your life.
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