Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lessons on Forgiveness

As I've shared before, I am traveling on a journey in regards to my faith. Lately, I've been at a crossroads. I either do some things I don't want to do, or I maintain my status as "stalled" in this journey. In order to do the things I don't want to, I must start talking to God again. Oh, and forgive. That pesky idea of forgiveness just won't leave me alone, will it? So, to help me on this path, my friend Jan invited me into a Bible study she's facilitating. Guess what we're studying? Forgiveness. We are currently reading about Joseph and his relationship with God as well as his route to forgiveness with his brothers. During our study last week, Jan brought up Jonah and the whale, in relation to my situation. So, I've been studying Jonah, and the whole issue of forgiveness in general, this week and have learned quite a bit. Being the verbal processor that I am, I must share what I'm learning in order to truly feel like I'm understanding it. So I commence.

I've read all these different viewpoints of what forgiveness is and how to do it, and more importantly, why we should do it. The main points standing out to me right at this moment are:
  1. If we don't forgive, we eventually become bitter. I feel like I can't let go of that bitterness until my offender knows what they did wrong to me and apologizes, or even has to "pay" for it. But guess what? In most cases, our offenders don't give a damn. Or don't know, and if they did know, still wouldn't give a damn. So, who really is that bitterness hurting? That's right. Me. The one holding onto the bitterness.
  2. Bitterness causes many bad things to happen, not just to me but to those around me. As a result of my bitterness, I have become untrustful (that's also partly because people I trusted backstabbed me, and also because I felt like God didn't have my back either). I have also become negative, withdrawn, depressed more than usual, provoked to anger more easily, unloving toward my husband who I felt also didn't have my back. I have stopped enjoying church, and don't go if I don't have to. My kids no longer memorize scripture and we no longer resemble a Christian household for most purposes. We don't really talk about Christ and we don't pray like we used to. And I've been in situations where I've had to lie about my feelings, or else tell them truths that may turn them away from what I want them so badly to believe better than I do. We have all suffered from my hurt and from my unforgiveness. I don't trust other Christians. I also no longer take communion. All because I'm bitter at God and some of His people that hurt me deeper than I've ever been hurt before. And they don't even know or care. So I circle back to...who is this bitterness hurting, me or my offenders?
  3. Unforgiveness is a sin. We are commanded to forgive and to trust God to see to the justice part of our lives. Hard to do when I don't trust God. Hard to care about my sin when I don't see the people who hurt me paying for THEIR sin. Hard to do when I feel hatred toward those people (oh, and isn't that actually akin to murder?) Arrgh. This is where we circle back to...do I love Jesus? (Yes.) Do I want to let go of all this? (Sorta. Mostly. Okay, YES!) Do I want to have fellowship with God again? (Yes. But not the God I thought I knew. I want the real God. The one who preaches more Love than Judgement, more Grace than Law, more Forgiveness than Unforg...wait, what?? Oh....) Yes, that's right. I want what I won't give. Hmm...thinking on that one.
I have more I could discuss; however, my brain is hurting. But my decisions I feel I have upon me tonight are deep. Did I ever really love Jesus? Did I ever really know Him?If not, do I want to? And if I did or want to, am I willing to obey and let go of my bitterness and trust Him to use whatever my situation is or was to bring about His glory and His plan? And if so, and if I want to be forgiven for my own sin and my own unbelief and all that pish-posh, am I willing to start the forgiveness process in my own life? Because it really just starts with a decision to do it, right? Things can fall into place after that, and it's a daily process, but really, I just have to say,"Okay, let's do this." So...hmm. Thinking. For me, tonight, it comes down to trust. Whom do I trust for my freedom?

My final question, posed to you handful that actually read my musings, is this. For years, I have felt that my forgiveness can only truly be worked through if I let the other person know. In some cases, it's because I too feel like perhaps I should apologize for a few things as well as let the person know I was hurt. But in others, it's because the justice seeker in me feels that it is so unfair that some people go through life without knowing that they have offended another person. I think I know the answer to this one, but what say you, oh unbiased jury? Let them know or not?

I leave with this quote, as I go to ponder on my findings and make big decisions.

"We attach our feelings to the moment when we were hurt, endowing it with immortality. And we let it assault us every time it comes to mind. It travels with us, sleeps with us, hovers over us while we make love, and broods over us while we die. Our hate does not even have the decency to die when those we hate die--for it is a parasite sucking OUR blood, not theirs. There is only one remedy for it. [forgiveness]

"All the years you have waited for them to "make it up to you" and all the energy you expended trying to make them change (or make them pay) kept the old wounds from healing and gave pain from the past free rein to shape and even damage your life. And still they may not have changed. Nothing you have done has made them change. Indeed, they may never change. Inner peace is found by changing yourself, not the people who hurt you. And you change yourself for yourself, for the joy, serenity, peace of mind, understanding, compassion, laughter, and bright future that you get."

Lewis B. Smedes - The Art of Forgiving: When You Need To Forgive And Don't Know How


Anonymous said...

Wow, a lot to ponder. As to your question, it depends on who it is you're dealing with on whether you should tell them or not they offended you. If you tell them they offended you, and they don't respond in the way you expect, or hope they do, will it make the situation even worse for you, or will you just feel better getting it off your chest no matter what their reaction is? You can either do it your way, or God's way. Pray about it. He will answer.

wakefield said...

Not sure if your saying you never told the people how they hurt you but if that's the case of course you should. I had a close family friend who at one point told me she had a list of things I'd done to her over the years that hurt her. She didn't want to tell me what they were. There is nothing worse than not being able to defend yourself or apologize if you need to.

Stephanie said...

Stacie, what you are going through, sounds SO much like what my husband went through for years. Just about two years ago, he decided to let go and give it all to God and forgive the people in the church (leadership even) that had hurt him so deeply and turned him off to church, Christians and even people in general. He wrote emails to everyone he had been hurt by (this was like a 4 month process) and said basically, "I have been holding some bitter feelings towards you for something that happened in the past and I want you to know that I have forgiven you and am praying for you now". Almost everyone emailed back and apologized for whatever they had done (most had no clue and simply said, I am so sorry if I did something wrong, I never meant to hurt you).

It has been SO amazing to see the turn around in his life. We are also at a new church (Camas Assembly) where John is just loved on and supported and it's amazing.

So ya... that is just what we have gone through personally.

shadowspring said...

I wandered over here from Darcy's blog, and I'm not so sure my experience/thoughts will prove very helpful to you, but for what it's worth:

I like to imagine myself wrapped up in God's great love, just enjoying being loved on. AS I share my heart with Him, I know He really cares. I know He understands and He loves me. I ask Him to heal the ugly places, the wounded infected places that hurt me inside. I know He loves me, and even though healing takes time, I trust that the process is begun and I praise Him.

Then I ask Him to please take care of the person who hurt me. I know anything Jesus does will be perfectly just and merciful at the same time. He can make people understand their need to change better than anyone can. And I know He'll do it in a way that won't just muck up the situation more, like I always seem to do.

Some times the Spirit will prompt me to go to my brother, and tell him his fault. But I think having prayed about it like I have before is helpful to me in finding the courage and the humility to do it without rancor. Most of the time this works out. Sometimes I still get reviled all over for bringing it up, but I have a strange peace anyway that comes from knowing I did all I could, if that makes sense.

Other times I just leave it with Jesus. Not every relationship can or should be restored. Some people won't get any better in this life, no matter how much you want them to grow. If I don't get a strong prompt from God to confront, I won't confront. I'll just leave it with Him.

Praying like this brings me a lot of peace.

It also helps to remind myself that Christ died for that sin and that sinner as well as for me, and that though the person may be a total stinker, I can't hold Jesus anymore accountable than He has already volunteered to be held. I mean, my very best friend admits it was sin, volunteered to take responsibility for it, suffered for it, and reaches out to me in love and asks me to forgive the stinker. How can I do less?

It helps also not to confuse forgiveness with justification or reconciliation. Forgiving someone does not make what they did okay, or justified. It remains a wrong done. Forgiving someone doesn't mean you can reconcile. Sometimes it does but not every time. You can't be in relationship with people who don't treat you with love and kindness. That still won't work.

Forgiveness for me means leaving it up to Jesus to work out in a just and merciful manner. I won't stew about it anymore, and if I start to go there again, I will go back to prayer about it.

Well, there's one older woman's ideas about how to make it all work. I hope any of it is helpful in some small way.