This post is part of a series of advice column-style blogs entitled “Asking for a Friend.” For more information on the series and to submit your own questions, click here!
By Jocelyn Santos
This is such a hard question to ask so first and foremost, thank you for being vulnerable. Secondly, I just want to create some space and acknowledge the hurt you’ve experienced and reassure you that some things are just too difficult to do without the leadership and the counsel of Holy Spirit. With that being said, let’s explore why we forgive.
It’s not surprising that forgiveness is mentioned so much in the bible. The reality is the Lord knows how difficult it is to forgive – I mean, think about all the laws and formalities the Israelites had to go through to atone for their sins. Forgiveness, true forgiveness for all of God’s creation, required a perfect sacrifice that we all received through the death and resurrection of Christ.
I say that to reassure you that Jesus fully understands how hard it is. He gets it, first hand. He is not angry at you, nor is he judging you for struggling in this area. Instead, I can confidently say he is seeking to meet you in that heartache and to help walk you through it.
Jesus speaks of forgiveness quite a bit, but I want to focus on the parable of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18. The preface to this parable is Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Peter went as far as to offer a number of times, he said, “Seven times?” While a minor detail, we have to acknowledge that Peter was being pretty generous, as Jewish law only required forgiveness three times to someone who sinned against him.
But Jesus replies, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven.” Now if we really want to be technical, that is forgiving one person 490 times. I know some of us can be petty *cough* me *cough* but no matter how we want to interpret that I can guarantee Jesus was not instructing us to keep a tally of other people’s wrongdoings. Really what is to be understood by that phrase, seventy times seven, is that it was a saying in Jewish culture of how much revenge would outweigh the original sin.
Jesus is telling Peter, and us, the lengths of which we’d go to obtain revenge is how far we should go to forgive. This is pretty significant not only in biblical times but today, I’d argue its even more significant today because on this side of heaven, the Lord has not withheld forgiveness from you and I.
The parable of the unforgiving debtor goes on to serve as a pretty severe warning against unforgiveness, and I’d encourage you to read it but I want to address your question head on, how to begin the process of forgiveness when you don’t feel like it.
I’d say it begins with observing how the Lord has not only forgiven you, but has redeemed you. If you journal, go back to previous journal entries and review the areas and struggles you faced and take time to thank the Lord for showing you compassion. Thank God for giving you grace and power and for helping you change. I’d encourage you after reflecting to take some time to hear from the Lord. What is Holy Spirit highlighting from your time of reflection? Does that play a role in the unforgiveness you are harboring?
Once you’ve had some time to reflect on the forgiveness the Lord has personally blessed you with, it’s time to repent. This one may be a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is when we hold on to transgressions others have committed against us we are cutting ourselves off from the forgiveness of the Lord. In my own experience, this was the hardest part because I couldn’t understand why I had to repent. Please hear me: you are not responsible for the hurt they’ve caused you, and that is not what you are repenting of.
This step is repenting for not allowing the healing power of Christ to work on that wound. Its for closing off a broken part of your heart and saying you would rather hold on to the pain than to lay it at the cross. Unforgiveness is an anchor that we tie to ourselves. It is not holding the person who inflicted that pain down, it is only holding you down. It is unfair what that person did to you, but it is even more unfair to yourself to allow it to continue to fester. When we refuse to forgive others that unforgiveness turns to anger, bitterness, and distrust. Christ has offered us freedom from all those things, so why refuse his love?
Lastly, it is imperative that you ask Holy Spirit to lead you in this journey of forgiveness. Don’t get ensnared in the lie that you have to forgive immediately or suddenly. Sometimes it is a journey and it takes time. Trust the Holy Spirit will tenderly guide you through the process. After all, the Lord sent us Holy Spirit to be our counselor, our comforter, and our great advisor. You are not alone in this journey, so don’t for a second think you must forgive from your own will.
I know some parts of this were hard to read, and as you prepare your heart to forgive you’ll discover that it doesn’t get easier, per se. But I promise you, as someone who struggled and continues to work on forgiving when I don’t want to, it is so worth it. God thought it was so worth it Jesus gave himself so that our freedom would ring true in every part of lives, including this one. You are so brave and so strong. Let vulnerability with the Lord untie that anchor and see how the love of a good God gives you a new freedom.
With so much love and confidence,