Forgiving From the Heart March 23, 2017
For most of us, there is much confusion and misunderstanding about the concept of forgiveness. Undeniably, as followers of Jesus, we are admonished to forgive. Check out the Lord’s Prayer and verses following in Matthew 6:9-15 and the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18: 21-35. Verse 35 says that you must forgive “from your heart”.
There is a difference between forgiving from the heart and forgiving from the head. Heart forgiveness begins with head forgiveness. The decision from the head to forgive another person is meant to set us on a journey that accomplishes forgiveness from the heart. Too often we perceive forgiveness as an event rather than a process. We believe that the decision to forgive and then speaking it out loud or confessing it to another person should bring the desired end. Forgiveness is meant to bring great freedom to the heart – a release from anxiety, guilt, shame, judgment or fear. Then why is it that we continue to struggle with these feelings once we have proclaimed forgiveness? When the feelings return, we often turn shame and judgment back onto ourselves for not being able to forgive.
“we can’t forgive a person; we can only forgive a debt.”
Through years of struggling with my own inability to forgive and receive forgiveness, I’ve come to understand some concepts that help me reach the heart level of forgiving. First, it helps to know that we can’t forgive a person; we can only forgive a debt. To forgive is a financial term that means, “to cancel the debt”. So once we have made the choice to forgive, we need to identify the debt. What was taken from me? What does it feel like they owe me? This may be something tangible, but it is more likely to be the loss of respect, relationship, a sense of value, or something along those lines.
In Phillip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, he says that no one can forgive without full disclosure. What happened and who did what must first be revealed. Step by step we “must remember the past in order to forget it.” We have to get honest with God about our hurt and all of our resulting thoughts, emotions and actions. God already knows all the nasty resentment we’ve carried in our hearts. It’s only when we start getting real about what’s inside us that He can reach our hearts with Truth. A two-way conversation can begin. Head forgiveness doesn’t allow God to speak. We are telling Him we have forgiven and that’s the end of it. Heart forgiveness involves grieving what was lost – identifying it and asking God to help us accept the loss and move on. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Mourning involves feeling, and He can’t comfort us until we mourn.
It helps us release the debt into God’s hands when we understand that our sin is against God and God only. Sin is only sin because it violates God’s kingdom. Therefore, it is only God who can judge justly. When we violate God’s kingdom, people get hurt. That’s why God hates sin. Coming to a place of heart forgiveness means we come into agreement with God that the person who hurt us is accountable to God for their sin and not to us. It means we agree that it’s not our responsibility to punish or bring about justice.
It’s important to clear up our misunderstandings about forgiveness. Some common myths are:
- If I forgive them, it means they aren’t guilty or won’t be held accountable. To forgive, you must first acknowledge their guilt and identify what needs to be forgiven. Can you trust God to deal with them justly and let go of your desire for retribution?
- If I forgive them, it means I have to allow them to continue to hurt me. Jesus lived constantly in forgiveness, yet He set firm boundaries in relationships. People could only do to Jesus what He permitted them to do.
- Unforgiveness (anger, withdrawal, etc.) keeps me safe. Unforgiveness gives way to bitterness and resentment, which make me wide open for more hurt.
- If I forgive, It’s like saying I’m wrong and they are right. God knows, and that’s all that matters.
- I’m in control if I don’t forgive. The opposite is true. You have given power over your emotions to another person when you don’t forgive.
- I can forgive, but I can’t forget. Forgiving doesn’t require forgetting what happened. It means you forget the hurt.
I think the most critical component of forgiveness is to understand our own need to be forgiven and God’s incredible mercy toward us. We must know we are first forgiven before we are able to truly forgive another. We have to be able to see our opponent with eyes of mercy, understanding that we have the same potential to sin and the same need to be forgiven.
Cindy’s training includes a Bachelor’s degree from Life Pacific College in Ministry and Leadership, she is a graduate of GSM Counselor Training Program and Elijah House Ministries basic and advanced counseling programs. Cindy has travelled to Kenya, Congo, Egypt, Thailand, Nepal, and Pakistan to offer GSM Counselor Training and suicide intervention training. For the past seven years she has worked at Blue Mountain Community College as the coordinator of tutoring, disability services, suicide prevention, and health and wellness programs.