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.