“Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy times seven.” ~Matthew 18:21-22
My roommate and I were talking today about a former employee of his who cheated him out of a lot of money. We had talked about it previously, and I had sort of hedged on the answer. I think I said something about avoiding dealing with this person if possible, but if he wanted forgiveness, yes he needed to give it. Sort of a ‘forgive but don’t forget’ scenario.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and after talking about it again today, I’m rescinding that answer. I had it wrong. God told me so. See, there’s no such thing as forgiving someone but not harboring their wrongdoing in your heart. If you’re holding on to the memory of their transgression, you haven’t forgiven. And in order to truly forgive, you need to let it go. God even tells us “when you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” God all but says that our repentance, our turning from our own mistakes and our own sins and accepting the salvation of the Lord, begins in our own hearts. It begins by forgiving those around you.
There’s no such thing as forgiving but not forgiving. That means that yes, when someone comes up to you and says “I’m sorry I haven’t paid you back yet…” we are obliged to forgive them. But what does that look like? Does that mean that if they ask to borrow money on top of that, do we automatically give it to them – thereby showing our forgiveness? Or do we automatically refuse, knowing they haven’t paid us back and wishing to avoid another feud in the first place? The answer God’s given me isn’t a simple one, and it also isn’t black-and-white. The answer is to ask God. Ask God the way He wants us to seek Him out with any decision; ask Him with a pure heart, as if the same situation hasn’t arisen before. You never know who God is putting into your path intentionally, and you never know why. So if a decision comes up, ask Him for the answer-He gives wisdom freely. Your actions belong to God and He’ll direct them if you ask Him. But in order for Him to be able to do so, to truly lead you the way He wants without you own desires getting in His way, the forgiveness itself needs to come from your heart. If God says ‘yes give money’ and you do, and once again don’t get paid back, and two months later an apology comes, the slate is clean. The forgiveness is yours to give, at Jesus’ command.
Deny forgiveness to your fellow man, and you deny God’s forgiveness to yourself. How often have we made the same mistakes? How often do we take a few faltering steps and fall again? How often is God, who can see our pathways and hearts and the consequences of our every sin, there to tell us it’s ok and help us back up to our feet? So how much more should we be extending that same helping hand, that same forgiveness and reassurance, to someone who is struggling here on earth just as we are? We all fight the same battle; we all face the same enemy. It manifests itself in different forms with different people, but it is all the same struggle. You haven’t won your fight yet either; so don’t hold it against someone else for faltering too.
When we think about it, it is vital to our Christian walk to lay these old wounds down before God, and to forgive and forget if we want to move forward. We need our hearts to be open and pure to God’s guidance; any clouds or dark spots we hold on to just block out His light. He is calling us to lay these things down. We are not put on this earth to judge; we are put on this earth to serve and to love. You can’t properly serve someone you resent, and you can’t properly love if spaces in your heart are taken up by harboring old slights.
For me, there is so much I harbor in my heart. Rejection from exes, slights from roommates and friends. I don’t consider myself a bitter or resentful person, but there are those small bitter memories that exist in the deepest part of me. There are memories that bring pain or anger when I recall them. I’m sure it’s the same for you. So take a moment today to think of them, feel those feelings, and think those thoughts – almost like making a mental list of all those painful things you harbor. And invite God to join you – invite Him to guide this time of self-reflection. Invite to look at each memory, filling those spaces with nothing but His perfect love and peace. Let Him fill you with Himself, so that you can walk closer to Him. Which is more rewarding: holding on to a memory you don’t even like that much, or feeling Him beside you stronger and closer than ever? It’s a no-brainer. So invite Him, and let Him give you grace and strength to forgive and forget, once and for all.
Jesus, look into my heart today. You know every bitterness, every resentment, every hurt I hold on to. You know things about my heart that I don’t even see yet. So Jesus, today I ask you to shine your light into my heart. Shine it bright onto every dark space in my heart. Give me the wisdom to recognize each dark spot for what it is, and give me the strength and grace to finally turn it over to You. Give me the heart to forgive and let go of each slight, as You have forgiven mine countless times. How often have I slighted and rejected You, worse than any one person could ever reject me? And you have been there with open forgiveness, even while knowing my path ahead and knowing that I will reject You again. Give me that same heart towards the world, God. Help me to see with Your eyes, and forgive with Your heart as many times as I’ve needed Your forgiveness for myself. Jesus I praise You and thank You for You mercy, and I trust in Your wisdom as you call me to this place of laying down my pride and pain. Jesus, I love You and I trust You, and today I choose to submit this to You with my whole heart.
And now, I leave you with a song that’s been in my head today:
Good luck and God bless!