Welcome GraceBreak Cycles, Embrace Grace
I like to think I’m a forgiving person, that my thoughts and words are kind. But I find myself struggling to overlook the offense. It’s as if the enjoyment of holding onto a grudge is more enticing than the glory God promises if I overlook an offense. Or I say I forgive, but then struggle to say the right things, or think good thoughts or even be around said person. I know I need to forgive, but the hurt is so great and so I struggle.
Physical wounds don’t heal instantly. Our blood clots to stop the bleeding. New skin replaces burnt skin. Bruises transform from mottled purple to chartreuse to gone. Our bodies heal, but it’s not instantaneously.
Forgiveness is a process, not an option, and we’ll get into that at a later date. For today, let’s talk about the process.
We need to forgive. Overlooking an offense doesn’t mean we don’t recognize that the offense happened, it means we address the hurt in our heart and extend forgiveness.
But how do we recognize that the offense has taken root as unforgiveness? By looking at our behavior toward the memory or person that caused the offense.
Blame is an indicator of unforgiveness
Relationships with others is like a dance. And when one person gets their toes stepped on or is wounded, we want to blame someone. Someone I called friend accused me of ungraciousness and judgmental behavior. She took my words and twisted them into something ugly and walked away from our friendship. It was a like a stab in the back with a vicious twist of the knife.
Women friendships became liabilities for me. I didn’t trust women to be good friends, and I second guessed each word said. Every conversation would replay in my head as I agonized if it would be or could be interpreted wrong. The fact that I blamed her for my inability to participate in other friendships indicated my struggle with unforgiveness. I knew I needed to forgive and I did so because it’s what I was suppose to do, but I struggled to live it out. Blaming her became my excuse for not growing into the woman God wanted me to be.
Punishment is the second indicator.
In our unforgiveness, we withhold our approval and acceptance of the other person. We punish them through snubbing them or talking about the situation to other people forcing them to choose sides or we promote division by telling a biased version of the situation. Or we rail against them in our minds and fill our thoughts with revenge.
Forgiveness is a process.
Forgiveness is a process. That’s not to say that we should justify our unforgiveness, but there’s a difference in our behavior when we’re in the process of forgiving or just not forgiving.
When we’re in the process of forgiveness, we often feel fake because we’re behaving in a forgiving way, but we’re still dealing with the hurt, which makes it seem that our forgiveness isn’t real. I don’t know about you, but it’s harder to forgive someone who’s close to me rather than the driver that stole my parking spot in the mall. We live in relationship with people and we can’t run away to the wilderness until we’ve full forgiven the person.
So we live with this tension of the process of forgiveness. We need to learn to recognize when we’re in the process: choosing behaviors that demonstrate godliness such as mercy and grace versus when we really haven’t forgiven at all with behaviors of blame and punishment.
“And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4
John the Baptist preached the baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sin. To repent means to turn from your sin. I am sinful. You are sinful. Withholding forgiveness is sinful. To blame or punish someone is sin. And when we turn from unforgiveness to forgiveness, we experience a washing of our soul. God washes us clean and gives us the strength to behave in a forgiving manner while He walks us through the process of forgiveness. This is a life being transformed.
Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
When you live in community with others in the process of forgiveness, you experience the power of the Holy Spirit guiding you. You get to see and experience the difference of being led by your flesh or led by the Spirit of God.
The two identifiers of unforgiveness: Blame and Punishment.
Recognize that forgiving someone is a process and submit to the process.
I’ve worn bitterness like a security blanket. I’ve wrapped it tight around me and held it close under my chin. The fabric is worn and ragged with stuffing spilling out, but still I cling to it. Nothing can penetrate, and no one can see what’s underneath. I’ve found comfort in my grief. It’s familiar. There’s constancy in replaying that conversation that slashed my heart. Instead of applying the salve of grace, I replay bitterness and hate and watch as the wound festers and weeps.
Bitterness doesn’t need much to take root. It can be a disappointment in a health diagnosis, a lack of response to your latest effort to connect with people, or harsh words exchanged between two people. But before we get to bitterness, we have to recognize something else.
If we reserve the expression of grief for those “big bad” experiences like death or devastation, then we’re ill-equipped to deal with the daily griefs. The daily griefs are more commonly known as disappointments and offenses.
But when I trace the disappointments back to the core feeling, I find grief. I’m sad because something didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to. Or God didn’t answer my prayer the way I thought he should. Or someone I love chose to reject the very thing that I’m passionate about. Sorrow is at the root of these disappointments.
At the root of my response to offense, underneath the anger, is sadness. I’m sad that someone I called “friend” chose to walk away. Or insult me. Or turn others against me. I’m angry, but I’m sad too. And sadness is grief. And it must be processed in order for us to know the freedom that forgiveness brings.
But It’s in the processing where we trip and fall. And some of us don’t even like to process our emotions. Let’s just forget it and move on. Let’s pretend it didn’t happen. If we ignore it, it will go away. And in running away from conflict we find ourselves struggling to experience authenticity in our life. And when we fail to experience authenticity, we rob ourselves of the fullness of God’s grace.
The antidote to bitterness is grace. It’s grace that gives us the power to forgive when forgiveness seems impossible. Grace gives us the courage to place our wounds in God’s gentle hands. It’s grace that reminds us that without God, we are wretched sinners bound for hell. It’s grace that washes us and makes us new. It’s grace that God longs to give us and it’s grace that makes a way for us to boldly walk into the throne room of God and ask for daily grace.
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” Hebrews 12:15
The problem with wearing bitterness in our hearts is that eventually it shows up on the outside. We might feel secure and justified in it, but to other people all they see is that ragged security blanket that’s starting to smell.
Bitterness manifests itself in your approach to people. It’s a hard edge in your voice. It’s cynicism in your relationships. Bitterness manifests itself in your speech when your words tear others down instead of building them up.
Bitterness leads to selfish ambition which leads to forgetting what your purpose here on earth is for: to make God known and enjoy him forever.
But God. The most two powerful words in our language. But God. But God can turn our bitter into sweet through the power of his grace. Don’t fail to obtain grace. Receive it. Surrender your hurts, wounds, anger, and sadness. Practice grace. When that hurtful scene replays in your mind, see yourself running to the throne room, getting grace, and then pouring God’s grace on the situation.
It’s God who works in you. I know what it’s like to be unable to forgive. The hurt is too deep. Too personal. It feels like I’m bleeding to death while I put a smile on my face and go about my day and no one sees me bleeding out. Partly because I don’t let them. Partly because I don’t want to give voice to the beast inside me.
But what I can do is this: run to God, tell him of my incapabilities and that hurt has incapacitated me and that I need him to help me forgive. So I hold out my hurt and he pours his grace on it. He reminds me of his stripes and the beating he took for me when I was still a wretched awful sinner. And then he enables me to extend that same grace to the one who wounded me. And exchange bitterness for grace.
Consider a situation that has caused you grief.
Listen to this song and picture yourself running to God’s throne room.
Imagine God filling up your bucket with grace and then imagine you pouring it out on your situation.
We’ve had Good Friday and then a Saturday. Some call it sad, or silent, and for some it’s just Saturday–that day of getting things done. But Sunday comes and with it the recognition and celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. There’s sunrise services, pancake breakfasts, and coffee. Kids and candy. We sing songs celebrating the cross and hear sermons centered on Jesus.
But what happens Monday? We drag ourselves out of bed still half drugged by all the delicious food we ate the day before. We stumble and bumble as we take one wobbly step after the other.
Do you forget the power of Resurrection Sunday and turn to the power of caffeine to make it through your morning? I stumbled through my Bible reading today and didn’t feel awake until I gulped that cup of steaming coffee. How does the resurrection change your life? Or does it?
I’m sitting here, slouched low with a blanket tossed over my lap. The skies are laden with hidden snow and a wind that slips through the cracks of this old house. I wonder how quickly bedtime will get here and I sigh as I wonder where that resurrection power went. Today felt less than powerful.
Is God’s grace only good for when I am full of energy? Is it grace when I’m on top of my game, but have I lost my hold on grace when my speed is that of a sloth?
Could it be that we have our understanding of grace misconstrued? What if it’s grace to embrace moving at a slower pace? What if it’s grace to snuggle a little longer with your babies or linger over that cup of coffee as you listen to the birdsong?
It’s the start of a new week and we experienced the climax of Christiandom this weekend. The betrayal. The sorrow. The beatings. The grief. And the wonder. It’s all grace because it was part of God’s plan to bring us to himself through his son Jesus.
And if grace can include the hard then we must look at our hard through the lens of grace.
Remember that morning where you longed for an intravenous line of coffee and it took all day to get your engines going? There’s grace in it because Christ is in you.
Yes, we have responsibilities that call us. And we’re going to eat too much and pay for it the next day. We’re going to be irritable and snap at our co-worker, our family, or our friends. That doesn’t mean grace has left us.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:7 ESV
It’s in those moments, when exhaustion sets in or irritation rules us, that we need to remember that it’s not our actions that prove grace is in our lives, but it’s God’s mercy that he washes us and renews us by the Holy Spirit. It doesn’t ebb and flow based on your mood or energy or what happened to you today. It’s our response that ebbs and flows and the more we relax into God’s transforming, amazing grace, the more we’re changed.
The Takeaway for Grace
As we surrender to the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit our wretchedness gets exchanged for grace, our lost-ness for found-ness, and our blindness for sight.
On your next bad day, take a perspective shift and ask God to show you the grace in it. It could be developing perseverance, endurance, maturity, or hope. Today, I knew God as my strength, not just to help me with the physical exhaustion, but emotional strength as I dealt gently with my people.