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What does forgiveness look like? [What you may not know]

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Forgiveness looks different to all of us when approached from a human perspective. Yet, what does forgiveness look like Biblically? How does Jesus say we ought to practice forgiveness? Because it is a practice, a journey if you will that does not always have a full cycle of reconciliation on both sides.

Forgiveness can look like forgetting something or excusing bad behavior. I’m going to show you how this isn’t true. 

For others, forgiving themselves for things is something they feel is impossible. This isn’t true either. God has a way for us.

Let’s look at the differences in forgiveness, what it does and doesn’t mean, and how we can apply scripture to forgive as Jesus would have us to.

Self-forgiveness vs others’ forgiveness

Oftentimes, forgiving ourselves seems much harder than forgiving others. Then again, there are times when someone has hurt you so deeply it does not feel possible, or fair that you have to forgive them.

When you cannot forgive, you open yourself to mental and physical health issues including anxiety, inability to make decisions, increased heart rate, and poor sleep. Forgiveness, therefore, is critical to your well-being and your growth in God.

what forgiveness can look like

Forgiveness looks like accepting Jesus’ sacrifice

God has already forgiven you of every sin you have ever committed; past, present, and future. When you think about it, what right do you have to hold yourself in contempt when God does not do that? You don’t.

In Isaiah 43:25 the Lord is speaking and says, “It is I who sweep away your transgressions for My own sake and remember your sins no more.” God doesn’t even remember the wrong you did! So, stop holding yourself hostage to the past and let go.

When we cannot forgive ourselves, we will find it much harder to forgive others. This is a damaging cycle that must be broken. Breaking the cycle allows you to live loved as God intends for you to. That is why He sent His son Jesus for you to be fully reconciled to Him.

Forgiveness is a step towards wholeness. Your ability to succeed in what God has called you to do can hinge on your ability to forgive. When you have anger, bitterness, or resentment in your heart you cannot be effective in kingdom work.

So, whether it is forgiving yourself or forgiving others, it is a practice we must all make peace with.

Forgiveness doesn’t look like excusing bad behavior

Forgiving someone doesn’t excuse their behavior, however, it frees you from bitterness, anger, and resentment that can keep you from thriving in your Jesus journey. And in life in general. 

Clearly, it can be difficult to forgive when the person who sinned against you isn’t repentant about their actions or words.

Oftentimes, those who cannot freely admit the wrong they have done will apologize in a manner that is not a true apology. They may say things like “I’m sorry if” or “I was only joking” or “I wouldn’t have said that if you hadn’t…”. This creates a barrier to forgiveness.

Yet, unforgiveness towards others leaves you exposed to further hurt. Many times, we will continue to rehash the event or events that hurt us because there has been no closure to the event. It leaves you stuck in a pit.

Forgiveness looks like setting boundaries

It is understandable that being hurt can leave you angry. It is not a sin to experience anger. It is how we handle that anger that is important. Use it to create healthy boundaries. To set limits on your own behavior as well as what you will and will not accept from others.

Forgiving them does not mean you still allow them access to your life. This is where the boundaries come in. Maybe you still talk with them. Maybe you see them in your circles at church or at work. However, you don’t have to have them over for dinner, gather hands and sing “Kumbaya” together. 

You do have to forgive them though so you can remain right with the Lord. The Word says we are to forgive as the Lord forgives. I don’t know about you, but this is HARD! Sometimes my human nature just flat doesn’t want to forgive. PERIOD. 

Yet, I know that as a Christian I am called to be different from the world, and this is an area I can practice God’s love. And I don’t want anything getting between me and my relationship with Jesus, so it is an essential muscle to exercise.

Again, you decide who has access to you and how much access they have. This isn’t being mean or un-Christian. It is setting healthy limitations in order to preserve your peace.

Forgiveness looks like owning our part

Part of forgiveness is also owning our part: our actions and our feelings. I realize the actions part may not always apply, particularly in situations where there has been abuse, manipulation or controlling behavior by a spouse or significant other. *Let’s take those situations off the table because that is not what we are talking about here.

I’m talking about that colleague that constantly makes digs about you. Is it possible you have been sarcastic or snotty in some way to them? Is your manager on your back about things because you missed a big deadline?

When you reflect on situations like these, it is important to note what you could or should have done differently. Owning the part that is ours helps us to see the other person in the proper light so we can forgive their part.

Taking control of our emotions and feelings can be a harder task. You will need to ask God to help you with this part. It is easy to allow our emotions to control our actions towards the person who hurt us. Yet when we blame or criticize or hold onto the anger and hurt, we are giving away our power.

Additionally, we are not God! It is His place alone to judge and He is good at His job. You can forgive and let go of that person knowing God will handle them in His way and His time.

God has given us the power to shift our thoughts and master our emotions so that we are not controlled by them. His word says we are to “take every thought captive” to make it obedient to Christ. In other words, we are to bring our thoughts in alignment with God’s word. If it isn’t of God, discard it!

This is something that takes practice. Something that has helped me is journaling about situations and people I need to forgive. This helps to process my emotions and take them to the Lord in prayer. It is only by His power we are able to extend forgiveness. We cannot do this on our own.

Another thing that has been helpful for me is an exercise we recently did at our women’s retreat. We each were given a rock and a marker. We had quiet time to pray and think about what in our current season needed to be uprooted and forgiven.

We then wrote words associated with that forgiveness on the rocks and threw them in a canal. Silly as it may sound, it was an incredibly freeing exercise! It was a picture of forgiving and throwing that hurt away so we could stand free.

Free to be all God created us to be without being weighed down by unforgiveness in our hearts.

Forgiveness looks like love

When we practice forgiveness, we are promoting love. This is an intentional choice we make. Again, not in our power but in His.

Though in our humanity we feel it isn’t deserved, when we extend love to the ones who offended us, we show the light of Jesus. Our act of forgiveness may be the thing that plants a seed to bring them to the Lord. 

Jesus had every right to be furious over His beating and death on the cross. He had every right to reprimand His disciples after His resurrection for their desertion. Yet he greets them with kindness, gentleness, and peace.

He exemplifies Proverbs 10:12, that “love covers all offenses”. To be more like him we forgive like Him.

Conclusion – Forgiveness looks like God’s design

While there is no definition for the word forgiveness in the Bible, the concept of forgiving is illustrated through God’s word. 

As stated in Matthew 18: 21-22, we are to forgive without end. Yes, I know it says, “seventy times seven”, however this implies that we are to forgive as often as one needs to be forgiven.

God never stops forgiving us. Think about that for a minute. On your absolute worst days, when you are doing everything displeasing to your Father, He still forgives you.

Forgiveness is God’s design for us. He knew we would need it and that we would need to practice it with one another. It is the tool that brings healing, even when an apology never comes. Maybe even more so then.

 

*If you are experiencing these types of situations, please reach out to a member of your church for help. If you do not have a church home, please contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.

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