Last week’s blog titled Hearing Voices may have been a bit heavy for some people. I apologize if that was the case. For those who know me and care about me it may have been difficult to read about some of the things I’ve had to go through in my life (and I didn’t even mention the worst sexual assault at 15 years old, watched by several people, because I still have a hard time talking about that one).
For those who have been through something similar, it may have brought some feelings to the surface that had been carefully buried, stuffed down deep, and covered over with the mask of “getting on with life.” If that’s the case then maybe there’s still some fear or unforgiveness (apparently that’s not even a word, but it should be! 😉) that needs to be faced and dealt with before you can really enjoy the abundant life God has in store for you.
I think it may have been good for some people to read it, though, because hopefully it kindled (or rekindled) some empathy, and with that comes deeper understanding and greater appreciation for the transformation that can take place after accepting of the Lord’s gift of salvation.
Unfortunately, bad stuff happens. We are sinful people living among other sinful people in a fallen world. There’s very few who can claim they haven’t been hurt at some point in their lives by someone else’s actions.
What makes some people grow from the hardships of life whereas others get stuck in their pain and never seem to get over what happened? I wonder if it’s partly a matter of perspective.
I watched a couple of videos this past week, one detailing some of the abuse Joyce Meyer went through for the first 18 years of her life and the other about a guy called Nick, born with no arms or legs, and what he’s had to deal with his whole life. They made me realize maybe my life hasn’t been so bad after all.
When we’re going through some horrible, traumatic experience it’s easy to forget that someone else has probably had to endure something equally as bad, if not worse. I think about those women who’ve been kidnapped, beaten, drugged, and forced into sex slavery from a very young age. I can’t even imagine what that would be like and I thank God I didn’t have to go through something like that! Lord knows I’m not strong enough to survive an ordeal like that — not with my sanity intact anyway.
I’m not trying to discount what I went through or what you may have been through, because obviously our experiences deeply affected us and have helped shape us into the people we are today. That in turn affects the people around us (see my post on the Ripple Effect). I’ve heard Joyce Meyer say that hurting people hurt people and that’s probably true.
Those of us who’ve been hurt can choose to stop that cycle of hurt, though.
We can choose to grow and learn from what’s happened and allow our experiences to make us better — more empathetic, more caring, more resilient, stronger — or we can choose to be bitter, resentful, angry, and negative.
Some people continue to focus on the pain they’ve suffered, feeling slighted and ignored and indignant when others don’t do the same.
Some people believe they’re owed something — pity, or a handout — because of what they’ve been through. They at least want everyone else to make allowances for them, pamper them, and coddle them to make up for their sufferings.
Some people use their past hurts as a reason to not take responsibility for their present behavior. They use it as an excuse to be mean or selfish or irresponsible, as if they have no choice in the matter.
But, really, we do have a choice.
We can wallow in the swamp of disappointment at our own pity party long after all our friends have left and open the door to long-staying party-crashers like Blame, Vengeance, and Judgement, or we can kick those unwelcome intruders to the curb and instead hang out with characters like Mercy, Healing, Hope, and Thankfulness, taking the high road on a journey of recovery and wholeness which leads us out of the lowlands.
We can stagnate and fester in a mire of our own negativity and make those around us miserable too, or we can look beyond the fog of our own suffering to see others who are hurting and reach out a hand to help them out of the pit.
We can blame God for our circumstances, for causing our problems, for allowing us to suffer, and for not rescuing us from our predicament, or we can lean on God in faith and look to Him for strength, knowing that He loves us, has a good plan for us, and can cause all things — yes, even our pain and suffering — to work out for our good and for the good of those who love Him, if we’ll let Him work in us and through us¹.
Do you choose better or do you choose bitter? If you want to get better you’ve got to forgive.
When we don’t forgive, we just continue to hurt ourselves and those closest to us. We’re not hurting the people who caused us damage. They’ve probably gone on with their lives not knowing or not caring that they’ve hurt us, or unable to do anything about it because of where they’re at in life.
When we don’t forgive we remain trapped in a self-imposed prison, the four walls of which are offense, condemnation, bitterness, and negativity.
Remaining in that prison for very long is hazardous to our health. Not only do we risk becoming depressed, addicted, or physically sick, but those self-destructive emotions can’t help but spill out onto those around us. As a result of our own pain, anger, and poor choices, we end up hurting those closest to us. We have to choose to change that.
Our decision to not forgive is what locks us in our self-imposed prison. The key to unlocking it is love.
When we refuse to forgive, not only are we risking our own health and happiness, but we are going against the Word of God. The Bible tells us that we are to forgive “seventy times seven” those who sin against us² (hurt us, offend us, neglect us, abuse us, betray us, insert whatever that means to you) — and no, you’re not supposed to keep count and then, when somebody offends you or hurts you for the 491st time, you’re finally off the hook and don’t have to forgive anymore! If God kept score, we’d all be in trouble!
God also says if we don’t forgive others then He won’t forgive us of our sins³. That may seem harsh and unfair — after all, He’s God and everything’s easy for Him, but we’re only human. It’s one thing to know we need to forgive and to talk about forgiving others, but actually doing it is way more difficult. I know because I held onto hurt and unforgiveness towards an extended family member for several years after he scathingly belittled me for my Christian beliefs. Thankfully, with the Lord’s help, we can do what is impossible in our own strength. With Him, and through Him, everything is possible⁴.
The key to forgiving those who’ve hurt us is to change our perspective.
We have to see people through Christ’s eyes and love them the way Christ loves us. Think of that person (or people) as someone who, like you, has been hurt at some point in their lives by someone else (this is your chance to break that destructive cycle). Think of that person as someone who’s lost in the darkness, just as you once were, and needs to experience the light found in Christ’s love and forgiveness. Think of all the things you’ve done wrong in your life and how God loves you and forgives you, despite all that.
We are commanded to love each other⁵ and we’re told the reason we need to love each other is because he loved us first⁶, so how can we continue to hold on to bitterness, resentfulness, and anger towards another person if we’re really loving them the way we’re supposed to? It may require a daily (or hourly, or every minute) request for God’s help to love others in the same way He loves us, but be encouraged that, if our heart is sincere, He will give us the strength and help we need to do what he asks of us⁷.
Not only are we supposed to forgive our enemies, but we’re also supposed to pray for them to be blessed as it says in Romans 12:14 (NLT): Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. That’s easier said than done, too!
The human way is to seek revenge, to wish suffering on them the way they made us suffer, to want to see them get what’s coming to them for what they did, but God doesn’t want us to be that way. We’re told to do the opposite, as is says in Romans 12:19&20: Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”
So when we do things God’s way, out of the obedience that flows from our love for Him, we’re allowing ourselves to be shaped in a good way by our experiences. We’re being made more like Christ⁸, who also suffered at the hands of his enemies. We are showing the world what followers of Christ should really be like. Who knows, when we forgive our enemies and pray for them, we may be the reason they come to know Christ. That will be a nice little jewel in our crown once we reach heaven👸🏻.
Now you’ve read all the way through to here, think on this verse from James 4:17 (NLT): Remember, it is a sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.
Ouch! That stings, doesn’t it?
- Romans 8:28 (NLT): And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
- Matthew 18:21-22 (NLT): Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”
- Matthew 6:12,14-15 (CEB): Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.
- Matthew 19:26 (NLT): Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
- John 13:34 (NLT): So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. and John 15:12 (NLT): This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. and John 15:17 (NLT): This is my command: Love each other.
- 1 John 4:19 (NLT): We love each other because he loved us first.
- Philippians 4:13 (NLT): For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
- 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 (NLT): But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.