Rebecca* laid in her bed, her hands covering her sobbing face. Her 78-year voice crackling to get the words out, “Marcus, I said,” recalling last night’s conversation, “will you forgive me?” She paused telling me the story as I swallowed the lump in my throat. “And he said yes!” Uncontrollable now, her sobs filled the room. I had just heard one the saddest stories of my life. And there was nothing I could do to help her. Rebecca and Marcus had gotten married 58 years ago, only to divorce 7 years later. Rebecca had left him. Granted, Rebecca had her reasons, but even speaking of it some 58 years later, she recalled knowing it was wrong. She knew she should have stayed and made her marriage work. But she just couldn’t. He had hurt her for the last time, and so one day, she just left. She packed her luggage and never looked back. But on his 84th birthday, the Lord impressed on Rebecca her need to call him and make things right. She needed to ask for forgiveness. The burden she had been carrying for almost 60 years needed to be released.
Not forgiving holds us as the captive, but forgiveness sets us free!
There are lies Satan tells us about forgiveness, and they become the folly of the unforgiving. He tells us that forgiving that person erases what they did to you. You’ll have to walk around and pretend like nothing happened. BUT if you don’t forgive them, then you hold the cards. You are in control. When in reality, not forgiving only holds you as the captive. Someone once said, “To forgive is to set the prisoner free, and then discover the prisoner was you.” As I sat there listening to Miss Rebecca tell her tragic tale and sob her tears of release, I saw the weight lifted from her shoulders. There was a peace in her aged eyes.
Forgiving isn’t easy. For some of us it’s the hardest thing we will ever do, especially if there is a relationship involved filled with problems from the past, or stressed with the fear of rejection. At times like these, it takes conscious-choosing. It also hurts to forgive. When that person doesn’t ask for it or even realize that they need to ask for it, it’s not easy to choose forgiveness. And though forgiveness may cost you hurt or heartache, NOT forgiving costs far more. “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” (Hebrews 12:14,15) Carole Mayhall says, “Bitterness hurts the vessel it is stored in more than the one it is poured out upon.”
? Not forgiving says we know better than God, but forgiveness places your trust in God!
Whenever coming to the crossroads of forgiveness and resentment, remember the parable in Matthew 18. Christ had just been asked “When is enough, enough? When can we stop forgiving someone who continually does us wrong?” Christ’s response in Matthew 18:23 – 31was staggering. A servant owes his master a large sum of money (10,000 talents). The servant begs for patience and promises to pay the master back. And the master forgives him. In the Greek, the word used for forgive is actually a legal term meaning to grant acquittal, release, set free, and pardon. This man owed 10,000 talents…seems like a lot with all those zeros, right? One talent is said to have been worth 20 years of labor! So 10,000 talents = 200,000 years of work. And it was forgiven. Just like that. Just because he asked. Just because the master “felt pity.” All that debt – gone! This master didn’t just show grace, he showed insurmountable grace. Later on, however, this same debt-free servant meets up with a fellow servant who owes him 100 denarii (about 3 – 4 months of work), but this time when being begged for patience, the servant hardens his heart and throws his friend in jail until the debt can be paid. Even though the master forgave the servant, the servant thought he knew better and refused to forgive what was owed him.
What a perfect picture of what goes on in our hearts when we choose not to forgive those around us. There was a gross debt that we owed Christ, a debt we couldn’t even begin to make payments on. And the moment we asked for forgiveness, God cancelled our debt, nailing it to the Cross (Col 2:13-15). C.S. Lewis reminds us, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” What right do we have to withhold forgiveness from another?
? Not forgiving is sin, but forgiveness sets a habit of obedience in your life.
1. Christ has set the example. (Hebrews 10:17)
All of us would readily admit that we want to be like Christ. It’s why WWJD bracelets became the popular trend of the 90’s. And yet becoming like Christ can be a difficult task when our feelings are involved. Scripture is pretty clear: we must forgive. In fact, it seems like the sole motivation to forgive is because Christ has forgiven us. “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13) You must!
2. A habit of obedience is formed when you choose forgiveness. (Romans 12:17-21)
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32) Growing up, this was the verse my mother had my brothers and I quote at the end of every dispute. I can still hear us now in our sing-song childlike voices annoyed that we had to repeat it over and over again; “Be ye kind one to another…” we would say. And yet now, some 20 years later, I see the habit of obedience formed when we choose to forgive each other. Today, my brothers and I have great relationships, and I consider them some of my best friends. I know a large part of that was due to the bond formed by forgiveness. Each time we come to the crossroads of resentment and forgiveness, we must choose forgiveness every time. Why? Because we were forgiven much! What right did we have to withhold what was so freely given to us?
Forgiveness. It’s not always easy, I know. But it’s always right, every time. And when you step out in trusting God with the outcome, forgiveness frees you from living life burdened by guilt. Don’t be like Miss Rebecca, who waited 58 years to knows what it’s like to walk in forgiveness.
*Name changed and story used by permission.