“Without forgiveness, there's no future” –Desmond Tutu
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” –Jesus (Matthew 7:14-15).
“...but I say to you, love your enemies..." –Jesus (Matthew 5:44).
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you" –Lewis B. Smedes.
Although definitions of forgiveness vary, most will agree that forgiveness involves letting go of negative feelings toward an actual or perceived offender. Forgiveness is not ignoring that an offense has occurred. Instead, it is making an intentional choice to surrender your right to retribution.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Although forgiveness may sometimes bring healing and restoration to a relationship, it is not always the case. Forgiveness should happen even if restoration of the relationship is not possible.
Choosing to let go of anger, bitterness, or a host of other bad feelings that occur when someone hurts us is not the same as saying it was okay. Choosing forgiveness does not necessarily change the accountability of the person responsible.
The benefits of forgiveness and the costs of holding grudges have been widely researched. Here are some important benefits to consider:
1. Relational: If we choose to hold a grudge, we are choosing to remain negative toward someone – this creates additional barriers and throws off the balance of power/equality in any remaining relationship. Choosing to let go of the anger removes one barrier toward reconciling that relationship. Negativity also infects our mindset and our mood, which can cause us to behave irritably toward those who have done no wrong.
2. Emotional: Research has also shown that those who forgive have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who hold grudges. Picture someone you have not yet forgiven and think about the emotions you are experiencing. Enough said.
3. Health: Research has shown that forgiveness has tremendous health benefits, particularly with respect to your cardiovascular system. Do you struggle with high blood pressure, a high resting heart rate, or an overall strain on the heart? Forgiveness can help.
4. Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse: It makes sense when you think about it. Since many people drink and/or use substances to “feel better” or “forget,” letting go of negative emotions gives you fewer reasons to use them in the first place!
5. Greater spiritual well-being: We are made spiritually alive by accepting the forgiveness offered through Christ. An unwillingness to pass on that forgiveness separates us from God. Knowing we are forgiven gives us the boldness we sinful people need to reach up to a Holy God and live in relationship with him. Remind yourself of the forgiveness Christ offers you, accept it, and choose to pass it on. It will be the best gift you ever give yourself.
Those who understand the path of forgiveness have learned to appreciate the beauty and freedom inherent in letting go of their right to anger and negativity. They have also learned that there can be many barriers or stumbling blocks when trying to move in that direction. Understanding that forgiveness is important does not mean that it is suddenly easy to do. Here are some ideas for when you find the journey more difficult than you expected:
1. Ask God for help.
Philippians 4:13 says “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” In light of this, you'll find a scriptural reference at the end of each of the following suggestions for you to look up and meditate on for additional help.
2. Practice not focusing on what happened.
We often tell our stories of offense over and over again – sometimes to other people and sometimes just in our mind. The incident can become bigger and more painful every time you dwell on it, so after you decide to forgive, practice not talking or thinking about it. Remind yourself you are choosing to forgive, and move on to something else (Philippians 4:8).
3. Try another perspective.
4. Remember your own sins and the cost of God’s forgiveness.
When we acknowledge that we have sinned, wounded others, and been forgiven, our appreciation for the cost of our own forgiveness – the blood of Christ – can overflow to those around us (Romans 2:1-3; Romans 5:6-10).
5. Pray for the person you are choosing to forgive.
This isn’t about praying down the wrath of God against your enemy! If we are praying for God to bless someone who has hurt us, it’s truly difficult to simultaneously hold onto anger against them (James 3:9-10; Matthew 5:43-45).
6. Get help if you need it.
Sometimes barriers are just too high or strong to surmount them alone. If so, find a counselor who will challenge and help you to be your best – whoever God has called you to be (Proverbs 11:14). It might be the hardest thing you ever do, but it will be worth every ounce of effort!
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