Saturday, May 28, 2011

Layer by Layer

Onions. They look so innocent in their thin paper-like outer covering. If you’ve ever removed the outer skin and cut through one, you are not at all surprised by what happens next. Uncontrollably, you feel the burn. Your eyes begin to water. The deeper you cut into its layers, the more intense the burn until you are crying big tears!

Many people, however, are surprised—confused even—by the intense mental and emotional process of forgiving. We tend to expect, and sometimes actually receive immediate peace when we make the first step in choosing to forgive someone. Another false expectation is that of instant “finality” to the situation.

Surprise and confusion set in when later that day, or upon waking the next morning, we are hit again with hurt, sadness, or anger. The liar takes his queue to speak, “You didn’t really forgive. You’ve taken it all back. You must start all over again.”

In that moment, we misunderstand our continued need for healing from Jesus in these now raw places where we have chosen the most courageous act of forgiving. Remember, a person’s sin against us is the taking of something that cannot be returned by the offender. Only Jesus can return our security, trust, innocence, or joy. (click here to read "It's Not What You May Think")

We grieve what was lost and stolen by another another's wrong action. Grief is painful and intense. The deeper we walk into our wounded heart, the more intense it gets.

Inviting Jesus to go with us and heal our broken hearts will inevitably bring us to the choice to forgive. By forgiving, we choose to turn from the person who wronged us to the One who can heal and restore us. When we do, He is then able to do His work and “close up” that layer.

But then He takes us deeper, and another layer of our wound is revealed. There, more healing must take place. More truth must replace the lies we’ve believed. More needs to be restored. And another opportunity to forgive presents itself.

“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”
(Matthew 18:21-22, The Message)

This conversation between Peter and Jesus is usually understood to explain how many times we forgive someone based on how many times they continue to hurt us. I also believe it can apply to how many times we forgive a single hurt as we continue to sift through our grief and loss.

The next time you are surprised by your emotions and thoughts after choosing to forgive, remember the onion. Forgiveness over even a single issue is rarely a one-time, final event. Layer by layer we heal, and layer by layer we forgive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Who's Vengeance is it Anyway?

Why is it that some people are easier to forgive than others?

Our relationship with an individual and the amount of damage from their offense(s) has bearing on the ease or difficulty. This is different for each of us.

For example, in my life I could forgive my parents easily for any wrong toward me as a child. First, because I longed to please them and did not want to be a disappointment to them. Secondly, because I loved them deeply and desired a healthy relationship with them as an adult. (not to mention the awareness of my own imperfections as a parent!) On the contrary, a woman I know struggles deeply to forgive her parents because of the severe abuse and neglect she suffered at their hands.

The abusing pastor from my teen years was the most difficult for me. In part because of the process I went through emotionally in the years following his abuse—the explanation of which belongs in another subject in another post. But, mostly, the reason was due to the amount and depth of damage done to my own life and the life of my family.

Often, an insatiable appetite for vengeance grows where we are unwilling (and even unable) to forgive.

Weeks after taking the first step of choosing to forgive my greatest offender (before I felt like it), I penned these words in my journal after some serious time in prayer with God:

“[God] helped bring the depths of my heart to the surface. Part of me wanted him to see what he’s done, be held accountable, and see all the damage he’s caused in my life. I also got to thinking, I have suffered so much—me, my marriage/husband, my kids—I’d like to see him suffer. [Then] God’s still voice said to me, “He already is suffering. He has been suffering because of his sin—whether he realizes it or not, he already is suffering.”

In case you missed it, dear friend, hear it again. Those who hurt you, those you long to hurt in return, already are suffering because of their sin. (unless they have come to repentance and turned completely from their sinful ways, Act 3:19; though even then they may still suffer consequences)

“But your sins will eat away at you from within and you’ll groan among yourselves.”
(Ezekiel 24:23b, The Message)

“Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin.”
(Psalm 106:43, NIV)

“Then the evil desire, when it has conceived, gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully matured, brings forth death.”
(James 1:15, Amplified)

Those who remain unrepentant and deny their sin against you are already suffering.

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,’ says the Lord.”
(Romans 12:19, NASB)

Enough said. That arena belongs to God. And we need not get in his way or take matters into our own hands—as hard as that may be sometimes (and lest we sin ourselves in doing so!).

For those whom we find it more difficult to forgive, we must call upon the help of the Lord, who promises that vengeance is his and that he will repay their sins.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Courage and Will

The hard step of forgiveness:

“A real step of courage and will. We must forgive those who hurt us. The reason is simple:  Bitterness and unforgiveness set their hooks deep in our hearts; they are chains that hold us captive to the wounds and the messages of those wounds. Until you forgive, you remain their prisoner. Paul warns us that unforgiveness and bitterness can wreck our lives and the lives of others (Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). We have to let it all go.

’Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’” (Col. 3:13)
(Captivating, pp. 103-104)

I know what some of you are thinking…”There’s just no way I can forgive.” “Easier said than done.” “It’s easy for God to forgive.” “I don’t feel like forgiving yet.”

Some of us are waiting to feel something first, as though forgiveness means we should have some ushy-gushy feeling of releasing the person. That’s how I thought when I faced the decision of forgiving my greatest offender.

Undergoing prayer counseling several years ago, walking through every relationship of my past and dealing with the spiritual issues surrounding each one, we came upon forgiveness. Sharing the thoughts above, among many others, I sat waiting in silence, trying to feel forgiveness and release. That is when the prayer counselor said, “It’s not about a feeling. Forgiving is an act of the will. Feelings come later.”

With her words there was a sense of relief. I had a choice to make, an act of the will. Step one, you could say. If I waited for feelings to come first, they would never come! But if I wanted my heart to follow, I had to choose to forgive.

Forgiving is not saying the wound didn’t matter, rather, the opposite. It is saying it did matter, and it hurt me deeply. What you did was wrong, and I release you to God. I will not be your captive any more. (Captivating)

It took a while for my heart to catch up, but I found it to be true that as long as I was unforgiving, I was bound to my offenders and to the messages of their wounds. Not only does the act of forgiving release the person to God, but it also releases our own heart!

Bitterness and anger no longer controlled me. It stopped spewing itself upon my family. Greater depths of healing were freeing my heart daily through the courageous act of forgiving. And I was no longer a prisoner to my offenders.

Who are you struggling to forgive? Will you take the first step today? Ask Jesus to give you the courage.

There is much more to explore and sift through here, and we will. But today, choose to trust God with all your fears and questions as you take step one:  choose to forgive. (It's not what you may think...)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dear Sisters (and Brothers)

We had a massive interruption to life this week--death is like that. It doesn't ask your permission, or wait for a "convenient" time. It sneaks up on you like a thief. With no warning. That's what we experienced this week when my sister lost her husband suddenly and unexpectedly.

We are no stranger to such tragic losses. Yet, because we've seen and felt the mighty hand of God hold us up, heal us, and restore us, walk with us and talk with us in past tragedies...we again hope against all hope, as we are told in Romans 4:18.

The passage here is speaking of Abraham, when his and Sarah's bodies were as good as dead. Yet, God had promised them a baby! In their old age! It was ludicrous. It was crazy. It required a hope against all hope, a belief that did not waiver (v. 20). It was an "impossible" time.

Those things which shake us up in life, those things which leave us wondering what in the world we will do and what in the world/how in the world will even God accomplish anything here--those impossible places call upon us to hope against all hope, believing God like never before. We become desperate.

Desperate for Him to speak.
Desperate for Him to move.
Desperate for Him to act.

What has interrupted your life? What is your impossible? For what are you desperate right now?

In hope against all hope believe that God will do for you as He has promised. Get in His Word, the timeless words of God in the Bible, and learn what His promises are. Hope, pray, and believe they will be true for you.


I will return to our topic of forgiveness very soon, as I am still staying close by my sister's side right now. You can read the first part of this topic here. It is a continuation of the heart-healing series which began in the December archive.