Sunday, May 26 2024 - 12:10 AM
two women, one asking forgiveness
Photo by Dreamstime

To Be Forgiving

The apostle Paul said, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

That’s an interesting text. How did God forgive us?

The Bible tells us that God had His forgiveness plan in place even before we needed it. The Book of Revelation talks about that plan, referring to“the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).

God had His forgiveness in place even before it was needed and so must we if we are ever going to become forgiving people. Then He came to our planet and became one of us to demonstrate how to forgive.

Which reminds us that forgiveness is not inexpensive. Forgiving us cost Him His life. But forgiveness also brings a sweet reward. Because when we get to the place where forgiveness is automatic with us, we no longer have anger, hate, bitterness, rancor, rage, and hostility roiling around in our chests. Instead, we have peace and contentment.

How We Can Become Forgiving

(1) I choose to become a forgiving person, asking God through His love to enable me.

(2) I ask God to come into my life and give me His forgiveness; for myself and for
those I need to forgive.

(3) Now when someone hurts me I say, “Lord, I choose to forgive him (or her).”

Then I say, “Lord, please make this decision a reality through Your indwelling Holy Spirit.” He does and I  find that I have finally learned how to forgive. It’s a nice way to live! It’s the only way to live!

And it’s a wonderful way to experience God in your life. Because God never gives His gifts apart from Himself.

How God’s Forgiveness Works

Here is a famous story that illustrates how God’s forgiveness works in real life.

It’s likely that you’ve read or heard about Corrie ten Boom’s classic concentration camp story entitled The Hiding Place. The book includes an anecdote of her meeting with the Nazi SS guard from her incarceration in World War II. I share it here because it perfectly describes how only a relationship with God makes it possible for any of us to forgive.

She remembers that she saw him at a church service in Munich, the man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck.

And in her own words, “He was the first of our jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there—the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsy’s pain-blanched face. (Betsy had been raped by this guard).

“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming, and bowing.

‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you said, He has washed my sins away.’

“His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

“Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

“As I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.’

“As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

“And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He calls us to love our enemies, He gives with the command, the love itself.”’

More Than A Nice Story

Nice illustration, eh? And did you notice that after Corrie ten Boom forgave the concentration camp guard, she experienced love for him? That’s always the danger of extending forgiveness. We may end up loving someone we would prefer to hate.

James Hilton wrote: “If you forgive people enough, you belong to them and they to you, whether either person likes it or not—squatters rights of the heart.”

Does this mean that I am forced to have a relationship with a person who has damaged me just because I forgive him or her? Not at all, although forgiving a person does open the door to that possibility. Here’s the rest of my own forgiveness story that involved my mother.

My Story

When at 17 she and dad dropped me off for my freshman year at college, and she told me they thought I would probably flunk out, I vowed from that day forward to stay as far away from her as I could until the day she died.

For about 15 years, I made good on that promise. I even spent one entire Christmas vacation deep cleaning bathrooms on the empty university campus to help with my tuition, but also so I could avoid seeing my mother. However, 15 years later, I became a Christian. Yes, I’d gone to church all my life, but God didn’t have my heart until that time. By the way, I was extremely fearful right up to graduation that I might fail some class and not graduate. I didn’t fail. I went on to get a master’s degree, wrote three books, and became the editor of a national magazine published for the young adults of my church.

However, I operated my life with a lot of fear during those early years.

But I didn’t forgive my mother for her words or her behavior. Not until at the age of 30 did I let God into my life in a New York City hotel room while on a business trip. Then about two years after that, I attended a seminar in Philadelphia where the speaker was talking about the importance of forgiveness.

He went on to say that it didn’t matter who was the most wrong in a conflict between two people. Christians had the responsibility, he said, to extend forgiveness even if the other person was, in their eyes, 87% wrong. “Take care of your 13%,” he said.

That got to me. And within several months, I had occasion to go home to visit my parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I knew before I left that I would need to deal with my mother. And I wasn’t looking forward to it because it wasn’t fair. After all, she had inflicted most of the damage and she was the one who should have been seeking my forgiveness. Or so I thought.

Confronting the Issue

It wasn’t long after I got home that I was able to confront the issue. I was 32 years old at the time. Mother and I were alone in the family living room when I began to do one of the hardest things I have ever done—to ask her forgiveness for what I felt to be my 13% responsibility for the bad blood between us. The conversation went something like this and includes what I call the six magic words that can transform relationships. See if you can spot them.

I alluded briefly to my commitment to Christ in New York City earlier and told her I had something to tell her that emanated from that experience. Then I said, “Mother, I realize that when I was growing up, I wasn’t very nice to you some of the time.”

She replied, “Yes, that’s true.”

And I said, “I guess I was pretty hard to get along with.” And she said, “Yes, that’s right.”

I continued, “I must have caused you quite a bit of pain.” And she said, “Yes, that’s true too.”

Then I told her, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? And my mother who I remember as a feisty little Irish woman who never backed away from a fight looked at me in disbelief. Tears filled her eyes as she forgave me for the boyhood damages I had inflicted on her from years before.

Years of Bitterness Melted

My relationship with my mother improved so much after that encounter. It never became great. But one thing I can tell you is that something very beautiful happens when one person says, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” and the other person replies, “I forgive you.” Years of bitterness, resentment, and rancor melted away after Mother and I had that exchange.

You may be wondering if my mother ever made amends for her conduct. She never did. But, you know, that was her problem. What was nice for me was to have a decent adult relationship with her and not to have to carry around all of the rage and vitriol from my youth. Because by God’s grace, I was able to forgive her even though she never asked. I forgave her not because I wanted to, but because I needed to.

Your 13 Percent

Do you think of someone who’s hurt you along the way? Maybe you need to talk to them about your 13% or whatever you feel your small part in the deal was. If you have such a conviction, I encourage you to act on it. You may not get—or even want—the relationship back. But you will become a healthier, more whole person for making the effort.

Your entire life will be enhanced.

What are the six magic words again? Repeat them with me: “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me.” And when you do this, don’t tell the person under any circumstances, “None of this would have happened if you hadn’t done or said such and such.” Just take care of your part and leave the results with God.

Become by God’s grace a forgiving person, and you’ll obtain the freedom to become the happy person God intended you to be.

If you liked this, you may also like Learning to Forgive | Eight Steps to Forgiving Others 

Mike Jones wrote from the Pacific Northwest.

© 2002 - 2024, All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.

About Mike Jones

Mike Jones

wrote from the Pacific Northwest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept the Privacy Policy