I don’t want to write this blog post.
It’s not that I don’t think forgiveness is important, because it is. And it’s not that I have trouble forgiving people, because most of the time I don’t. It’s that I have to be real with myself about this, and that’s never fun. Honestly, most of you probably feel the same way I do- you wouldn’t consider yourself to be a “bitter” or “unforgiving” person, but there are those certain few that you are… “not allowing” to stomp all over you.
Society tends to teach us that if we forgive someone time after time, that person will never cherish it. Instead, our forgiveness will be abused. I’ve always struggled with this mindset, because I don’t like people seeing me as someone they can take advantage of- who wants to be seen that way?
I was fine with my school of thought until I started reading Craig Groeschel’s book The Christian Atheist, in which he discusses the characteristics of a person who believes in God, but lives as if He doesn’t exist. This book definitely hits home with me, because even though I try to live a life for God, there are times in which I am living for myself and not for Him. So, today’s chapter: When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive. Here we go.
In all honesty, I got to this chapter and expected to breeze through it, nodding my head and agreeing with everything Groeschel had to say in a manner that says, “Yep, I do that…” But as I was sitting in my room, I stopped in the second paragraph and told my roommate, “Oh no- this chapter is about to make me think a lot harder than I wanted to.” Thanks, God.
Groeschel starts by explaining that our hesitance to forgive is rooted in bitterness. All too often, our state of bitterness leads us to justify a cold heart toward a particular person because we believe we have a right to feel that way- after all, we were hurt, and that’s enough to shut someone out. This period also marks the point where we fear that forgiving someone will only give them the opportunity to hurt us more.
From a personal standpoint, this state of bitterness is where I live when it comes to forgiveness. I actually think that in most situations I’ve faced in which forgiveness has been a challenge, I’ve simply stayed bitter until time made the situation seem irrelevant. But forgetting about a situation doesn’t, by any means, mean that we have forgiven. I mean, let’s be honest- when a situation is that big of a deal, do we ever truly forget it? I don’t think we do, and that leads to Groeschel’s next point- the point where I struggle.
If we ever want to move past bitterness, we have to kill the root of it. I think this is why I choose to stay bitter, because I just start to believe that I’m not capable of “convincing” myself that I can truly forgive this person. But it’s not about convincing myself- it’s about praying that, with God’s help, I can move on. That I can stop carrying that hurt and just let it go- that I can, well, forgive.
While discussing this with my discipleship group today, I thought about an example of this in my own life. This summer, a girl who I had met through several of my friends from college – someone that I had only talked to once or twice – said a lot of rude things to my friends about me. A lot of these things weren’t true, and the things she said that were rooted in truth had been so skewed that all of what was said just appeared to be crafted simply to make me look like a bad person. Because I barely knew her, I never got a chance to confront her about it or ask why she did what she did, and my bitterness toward her just continued to grow. It really put a strain on my friendships with some of those people, and I was so angry and upset that someone who barely knew me would take the time to trash me the way she did. Shortly after, she deeply disrespected one of my best friends in a way that made my situation look like nothing. At that point, it just seemed that this girl wasn’t even worth my forgiveness. I was mad and hurt, and I had a best friend who felt those same things toward this girl. So what did we do? We talked to each other about how much we disliked her, and chose to bash her because instead of forgiving, we just decided to stay rooted in bitterness. I’m not proud of it, but like Groeschel points out, this emotion becomes very easily justified in situations like this.
So, where do I go from here? How do I forgive this girl, and how do you forgive someone who has wronged you? Honestly – and I’m sorry for being cliche here, but it’s the truth – it comes down to prayer. If we want to get anywhere with this, we absolutely have to talk to God about it. The bottom line is that we can’t do it on our own – I think it’s against our human nature to forgive people, I really do. If it was an easy thing to do, I wouldn’t struggle with it, you wouldn’t struggle with it, and Craig Groeschel wouldn’t have it listed as something that gets in the way of our relationship with God. Because forgiveness isn’t about what we “feel” like doing, it’s about obeying a command that God has given us.
For me, this means that I need to pray that God will work in this girl’s life. I need to pray that I can genuinely forgive her- which means that I don’t roll my eyes when her name comes into conversation and I don’t constantly bring up what she did to me, even if it still hurts. When Craig Groeschel related this stage of forgiveness to his own personal example, he said it didn’t feel sincere at all the first several times he did it. But, with each time that he prayed for God to work in this person’s life, he began to mean it a little more.
Only God can soften a heart that is stone cold from someone doing wrong to us. My example is something very minor, and there are much worse situations out there. If there’s one thing I have faith in, it’s that no person is too hurt or broken that God’s strength can’t revive them. If we rest in that truth, I think we can all find the strength to forgive.
“We Christian Atheists can rationalize as many excuses as we need to avoid forgiving. We Christians, however, can find in God the sheer strength to battle through the feelings of anger, hatred, and bitterness, and fight our way back to the cross. That’s where Christ forgave us. And that’s where, by faith, we can find the ability to forgive those who’ve wronged us.” -Craig Groeschel
If you have questions or want to know more about this book, please contact me! As always, have a great week!