By Rachel-Claire Cockrell
I have a confession to make. I am the last person who should be preaching to anyone about forgiveness. I chose to write this and now I’m wondering if I was too “big for my britches” (forgive the idiom, I was born and raised in the South). I am the least qualified person to teach anyone how to forgive.
Forgiveness is one of my biggest weaknesses. I struggle to forgive myself and I struggle to forgive others. I know how stereotypical that sounds — a woman who holds grudges — and I apologize to those of my gender for carrying on the stereotype. I know you probably clicked on this post because of the title, because maybe you are struggling to forgive someone in your life and you thought this would help. All I know to do is to bare my soul and be as open as possible about my struggle and how I’m trying to overcome it.
I am struggling to forgive someone; a couple of someones, actually. It would probably be easier to do if this person asked for forgiveness, but they haven’t. And to be honest, I don’t think they will. They don’t seem to notice or care about the pain they have caused. That’s what gets me. I want them to be held accountable. I know that isn’t my job, and I firmly believe that God has the power to change hearts. My issue is with those who don’t seek out or want forgiveness, those who don’t see that there is anything to forgive, those who continue to live selfishly without any thought for the people around them. Jesus said in Matthew 18:22 that we are to forgive those who sin against us, “not seven times, but seventy times seven,” implying that there should never be a moment when our hearts are not ready to forgive. My heart is never ready to forgive. My heart has to be coaxed into even considering forgiveness and it is still so incredibly difficult.
Every time I’ve reached a point when I thought I had forgiven this person and moved past the bitterness, something else would happen and I would realize how ready I was to pick up the burden of unforgiveness again. I’ve asked God over and over to let me see this person through His eyes, because I know that “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15), but — and I know I’m stating the obvious here — it’s just so hard to do. Maybe that’s why I needed to write this. I need to force myself to focus on it — to think about it. I need to search God’s word and find everything I can about forgiveness, because there is nothing in the Bible that says I’m off the hook if they don’t ever feel sorry. That’s not how it works.
So, this is what I’m trying to do:
I need to remind myself that I need forgiveness, too. Sometimes, I have to imagine that everyone has a giant tattoo on their forehead that says, “Jesus died for me, too!” It helps remind me that I am not the only one person in the world worthy of his love and sacrifice. Maybe that’s the best thing I can do, shift the focus back to my own inadequacies. In Romans, Paul says, “For by the grace given me I say to everyone of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…” In other words, I am no better than those I struggle to forgive.The inability to forgive is nothing more than the feeling that I am somehow better than someone else. That’s simply not true, and I need to stop acting like it is. It’s hard to remain bitter when I remember that, like Paul, I am the “worst of all sinners.”
I have to force myself to realize when I’m getting too comfortable in my bitterness. There is nothing to be gained by holding on to bitterness. And yet I hold on to it. I clutch it the way a baby clutches a safety blanket. Except this safety blanket is on fire and I am the only one who gets burned. My bitterness is too comfortable and familiar. I need to quit using this person’s actions as an excuse. I need to stop pretending like I am justified in feeling this way. One day we will all have to answer for our lives and I will not be able to answer for anyone but me. I won’t be able to use someone else as my excuse then, so I have to stop doing it now. There is no excuse for bitterness in my heart. That is all on me.
When I don’t feel it (which is most of the time), I fake it. I know how I should feel, but the twelve inches between my head and my heart is a giant chasm that I can’t seem to surpass. So, for now, I just have to fake it. I will act the way I know I should. I will keep praying for a change of heart, I will keep my thoughts captive, and I will hope that one day I’ll no longer be acting. In those instances, my go-to passage is Romans 12:9-21. I read it when I’m feeling a bit bitter or self-righteous or in the mood to gossip and complain. It helps remind me that I am called to “live at peace with everyone,” and to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Thank goodness Jesus didn’t have to fake it. Thank goodness his love and forgiveness was genuine, or where would I be?
I have to remember, it isn’t about them. This is a ME issue. I am still a work in progress, like everyone else. I still hold on to my bitterness, but I am actively praying and trying to change my heart. I have to constantly remind myself that my attitude is no one’s problem but my own.
Obviously, there are some situations that require us to just step away. It is possible to forgive someone but not allow them to be a part of your life anymore. Sometimes, that’s healthy and necessary. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. Forgiveness is about me and my heart. I know I have truly forgiven someone when I can think about them without feeling angry or hurt. Even if I tell them, “I forgive you,” they may not care and it may not affect them at all. As long as my heart has changed towards them, that’s all I can do.
There are a lot of references to forgiveness in the bible (obviously). So, I’ll leave you with a short list of verses that are helpful in reminding me why forgiveness is such an important part of my walk with Christ. I can’t let my heart marinate in bitterness, and holding on to God’s word is the only way out of the brine.
Mark 11:25 “ And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that you father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Rachel-Claire Cockrell is a wife, a writer, and a high school English teacher. She is passionate about her students and does her best to exemplify the love of Christ to those kids who may not experience it anywhere else. She and her husband live in Arkansas. Follow her blog at http://rachelclaireunworthy.blogspot.com/ or on Facebook.