I recently spent several hours with my 7-year-old niece at a park in my hometown. For a time, my adult self took a back seat to a younger version of me, a girl-like Shana who likes to giggle at silly things and look wide-eyed at the world. Madalyn and I held hands while we walked along a tree-lined trail, laid under a big pine and compared our “tummies” to see whose is whiter, made a verbal list of all the beautiful things in the park that God made, took a picture of ourselves in front of a large waterfall, and sang silly songs, starting our tune slow, then going faster and faster until we were almost out of breath.
As I drove her back home, it dawned on me that I love her just because. Not because she’s funny or because she looks a lot like me, but just because she is part of my family. This innate love makes me take note of how smart she is and her witty sense of humor; it also makes me delight in her and want to do the best for her—it even means forgiving her if I need to.
This is how it is with God. He loves us just because He made us and if you belong to Him, He loves you just because you are a part of His family. Out of this love for you comes a delight in you even better than I have in my niece and the desire to do what is best for you—even forgive you, which He needs to, because after all, no one is perfect.
God forgives you just because He loves you. But He didn’t have to forgive; He chose to forgive, compelled by an innate, deep and abiding love.
It’s sometimes hard to receive forgiveness, isn’t it? Why is this so? Because at our core many of us know we are unworthy of it, hopelessly filled with a multitude of issues. We struggle with pride and shame, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, fear, insecurities, selfishness and other betrayals of the human heart. Therefore, our biggest surprise doesn’t come when someone is unkind, ungracious or unforgiving, because after all, this is familiar; and sadly, if we’ve lived long enough, many of us have come to expect that we won’t be forgiven. Rather, our biggest surprise is when we are forgiven in spite of all that we are and all that we aren’t.
One time in particular receiving forgiveness from a friend brought me to my knees in tears and I wondered how they could still love me in spite of myself.
When we receive forgiveness, our hearts are softened. We no longer have to hide our flawed selves. We can live out of our imperfections because we know that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). When we know forgiveness, we also know that inadequacies don’t mean the end of love; instead they give love and forgiveness a chance to shine in the darkness our imperfections.
God’s forgiveness is powerful. It’s freeing. It liberates the human heart to just be. And once we come to know God’s forgiveness, we can pass it on.
Sadly, few of us encounter God’s version of forgiveness in our relationships. We rarely receive it or give it. After all, there are divorces motivated by selfishness, murders, scandals, resentments, and divisions happening everywhere all the time. The Bible says that in the end times that people will be lovers of themselves (2 Timothy 3:2), which means they won’t be lovers of others.
However, some people do know the humbling of heart that comes from getting more than they deserve, like one woman I know who had an affair, became pregnant with “the other man’s” baby and was embraced by a forgiving husband; like the father who wronged his daughter and was forgiven when he came home; like the gambling addict who had a change of heart and was embraced by those in her community which led to her healing.
The woman who had the affair said to me, “There aren’t words to describe how you feel when someone accepts you like that. My tendency was to put up a wall because I couldn’t believe that my husband would forgive me. I felt so much shame.” She knew she deserved judgment, but instead she received love. Any rocks her husband could have thrown at her, he laid down in obedience to Christ. He modeled God’s love. The result has been a deeper and more meaningful restored relationship. Has it been easy? Not way; but it’s changed both of their lives for the good as their hearts have been enlarged to love and transformed by the power of forgiveness.
Don’t get me wrong; God may not always call us to remain in relationship with particular people because doing so would be detrimental and would go against His will for our lives—but He always calls us to forgive (Colossians 3:13). It’s our job to ask Him who we are to remain in relationship with and who we aren’t.
Sometimes forgiveness can feel like a unilateral contract, like we’re doing all the work while the other person gets off. Remember that the refusal to forgive flows from a desire to right the wrong, to make sure we are exonerated and the other person pays. We want justice! Ironically, if we got what we deserve, we would get justice, but instead God has chosen to forgive.
I’m not perfect at forgiving by any means. Unfortunately, there have been times when I have fallen short of God’s standard. I’ve held on to my hurt because I felt that I had the right to. But in reality, the forgiveness I refused to grant was only hurting me. When we forgive, we experience peace because where there is no forgiveness there is always anger and anger and peace cannot co-exist peacefully inside the same heart.
Friend, when you choose to embrace forgiveness and extend it to another, you will experience peace. But when you hold onto wrongs done to you, there will be the opposite: torment, anger, frustration and anxiety.
Forgiveness means that we lay down a grievance and let go of the right to take revenge. We let go of bitterness. We choose to stop dwelling on what the one who hurt us has done. One of the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary says that forgiveness means to: allow room for error or weakness.
What would the world be like if we all did just a little more of that? Author and teacher Beth Moore says that we are never more like God than when we forgive.
So, what will your response be? Will you choose to give the next person who wrongs you and forgive because God has forgiven you? Will you lay down your grudges and give up your “rights” because God gave up His when He died on a cross? Will you be the giver of the good gift of forgiveness that is out of this world? Will you let God help you if you feel you can’t forgive?
Let your grievance go, friend. Give it to God and then give someone the gift of forgiveness even if you feel they don’t deserve it. Granted, it may take time. Press into God. Ask for His help. He will not fail you.