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Control. We want it, we fight for it, and we don’t like to give it up. At our core, we live our lives in response to what we can control and what we can’t. We fuss and fume for our rights. What happens when they’re violated? We feel unheard, unwanted, and unneeded. Our wounded hearts cry for retribution.
Many of our battles with unforgiveness come because we experience loss of control. We can’t control someone’s choices no matter how hard we try. The struggle with forgiveness lies in this hidden problem many of us carry around and that’s control.
We think that if we hold onto our unforgiveness, it shows that we still have control. It almost feels that if we let go of control over the situation that we condone the action that wounded or offended us in the first place.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we’re saying what happened to us is okay. Forgiveness means that we entrust our heart, lives, and the people in it to a God who knows all things, holds all things, and sees all things.
But this is the thing with control and unforgiveness. When you withhold forgiveness, you’re allowing anger, bitterness, and resentment to control you instead of the Holy Spirit. You’re actually giving unforgiveness the power in your life that God deserves.
If you want to experience forgiveness towards someone, then look to surrendering your need for control in the relationship. I’ve found the greatest freedom I’ve ever experienced is in surrender. You don’t surrender to the pain, but you surrender the pain in your heart to a good, good Father.
Everyday we are presented with the opportunity to practice surrender in order to forgive. Your kid calls you names and blames you for their problems. Your parent demands payback for raising you. Your coworker throws you under the bus. Your spouse betrays your trust. All of these hurts and wounds challenge our need for control over an expected outcome.
You don’t expect that your child blames you for their drug addiction. You expect your parents to raise you without strings attached. You expect camaraderie among your coworkers, and you never ever expected that the person you exchanged vows with would betray you.
But these things happen. People disappoint us and don’t live up to our expectations. No matter how hard we try to control the outcome of our lives, we cannot. And underlying the unforgiveness is an anger because we didn’t have a say into any of those things that hurt us.
And so we hold onto our unforgiveness because we’ve had control stripped away from us and, by golly, we’re not going to be caught unawares again.
But we will. It’s what makes life an adventure. And wouldn’t it be better to go through life with a forgiving heart so we can see life for what it is? An opportunity to know God and make him known.
There’s very little we can actually control. We can’t control someone else, we can’t control natural disasters, and we can’t control our boss’s response to our work. We can control our responses and that’s it. Unforgiveness and control leads us into a defensive attitude towards life, and an offended spirit takes root in our hearts.
Even if we try and be all things to all people, some people will reject us. We can’t control the outcome of every decision. That drunk driver might be in the wrong place at the wrong time and our lives are broadsided and changed forever.
Control. We long for it. We think we need it. But forgiveness comes when we surrender control. It’s when we submit our hurts, our circumstances, and our disappointments to God that we find forgiveness is possible.
It’s in the surrendering where we find the impossible to be possible.
The Takeaway for Forgiveness
One of the roots of unforgiveness lies in our need for control.
Don’t surrender to the pain, but surrender the pain to God.
You control your response to the ups and downs of life.
All too often I focus on the evidence of unforgiveness in my life rather than the forgiveness. I’m familiar with the indicators of unforgiveness because I know them well. I know the messy battle of wrestling with what I know to do and how I end up acting.
I know the struggle of saying I’ve forgiven someone, and then the very real evidence that proves I’ve still got a ways to go. And then there are those moments in time that feel like delicate spun glass, filled with crystal clarity that God has worked a miracle. Forgiveness so real that you feel only love and zero residual effects of the offense.
Fully formed forgiveness does three miracles in our hearts.
The most epic story of forgiveness is found between a man named Joseph and his eleven brothers. Jealousy left unchecked and unforgiven causes behaviors that lead to life-long regret. Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him, but ended up selling him instead. Then they covered up their malice by telling their father he was dead and “proving” by drenching Joseph’s cloak in animal’s blood.
Time passed and Joseph’s journey led him to entrusted slave to the pit to entrusted prisoner to second in command in Egypt. Could he have cultivated bitterness, hatred, and revenge in his heart toward his brothers? But how could his trust in God have grown if he had? I think in the deepest of his hearts he wrestled with his emotions and the dreams God placed in his heart.
Submitting and surrendering to God won. Forgiveness reigned in his heart.
But lurking in his brother’s hearts was doubt. Could this brother of theirs that they hated really and truly forgive them? Was it a show for their father’s sake?
We find Joseph’s heart in Genesis 50:15-21
And in the finding we see the three miracles that forgiveness brings to our hearts.
It leaves the righting of wrongs in God’s hands. Joseph asks them, “Am I in the place of God?” You see, God doesn’t want us to take revenge. He wants us to leave other’s actions and responses in his hands. We miss out on God’s redemption for our own hearts when we allow ourselves to be consumed with revenge. Our hearts grow hard and we see nothing but our rage, which makes us rage at others and, frankly, causes us to behave in ways that wound. Leave the righting of wrongs to God. He will make all things right in his time and in his way.
To see God’s plan in man’s malice. God used hate-filled intentions to bring Joseph to a place where many lives could be saved. Joseph saw, by God’s grace, a larger picture than what he lived. He trusted God with his heart and life even when he couldn’t see how it would work out. You can too. You may only see and feel the hurt caused by another’s choices or actions, but ask God to give you a glimpse into how God is using the wound. Maybe he’s growing compassion in you or the ability to forgive. And that maybe you’ll get to share your story with someone who needs to hear how God worked good out of bad.
To repay evil with practical affection. Joseph ends Genesis with kindness. Kindness is love in action. He acted kindly toward his brother and their families. It’s one thing to speak words, but it’s an altogether different thing to act kind towards someone who meant you harm. Remember my story from a couple of weeks ago? Even though my heart pounds with the memory of the pain, I can show kindness.
Let forgiveness work it’s miracle. It’s a process and some days you won’t feel like you’re making any progress. Rather than turn away from God and the person, turn to God with your hurt and pain and let him move in you and through you. The first step is declaring forgiveness. The second and third and fourth and so on, is embracing the process. And then it becomes real. Let the process transform you as love transformed the Velveteen Rabbit into a real bunny.
Forgiveness works three miracles in our hearts.
Leaves the righting of wrongs in God’s hands.
To see God’s plan in man’s malice.
To repay evil with practical affection.
I’ve lived on an acreage for twenty plus years and we’ve probably had forty cherished farm cats over the years. At one point we had thirteen cats at the same time and we went through bags and bags of cat food to keep them fed.
Seraphina was one of the many cats. She loved to cuddle and had a purr like an engine on a “76 Mustang. But she had one bad habit: she liked to lick. She would rub her tongue over the same spot on your arm until your skin was red and raw. You held her knowing the risks. And forgave her because she was just too cute.
Have you ever met someone that reminded you of a cat’s tongue? They just rub you the wrong way, but you keep running into them? When this happens I get a wee bit judgmental, condescending, and downright annoyed. I swing a wide berth and take detailed notice of the cracks in the sidewalk. Anything. Any way around. Avoid at all costs. Mmmhmm. That’s a real loving response, isn’t it? Real Christ like, right?
But then I feel guilty. I know the scripture to love others as yourself. Many churches have “Love Others” as part of their vision for their church. But, man! It’s hard to live. I keep trying and failing, trying and failing. It gets downright discouraging and I wonder what’s the secret?
“Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Luke 7:44-49 ESV
There’s a correlation between love and forgiveness. The more you need forgiveness the more you love. The more you love, the quicker forgiveness comes. It isn’t about going out and doing the worst of things so you can know the deepest of forgiveness. It’s recognizing that without Christ, no matter your past, you are meant for eternal separation from God.
That love of God? It’s crazy and wild and unexplainable. A consuming fire that overwhelms. It’s a kindness that draws us to repentance and a kindness that reveals the wretchedness of my heart’s state, but instead of condemning me it convicts me that without Christ, I cannot save myself.
Last week, we discussed the two indicators of unforgiveness and what we can do about them and why forgiveness can be hard.
Are you in tune with your own need for forgiveness? This strikes me in my heart because it’s far too easy for me to put on my superiority hat and think I’ve got it all going on.
I don’t. I wish I did, but each time I miss the mark, I remember the forgiveness Jesus offers. Does this mean that I can sin willy-nilly when I know better? No. I’d better not. That is abusing grace. If I know not to do something and do it anyway banking on the fact that Jesus will forgive me, I do Jesus a disservice and harm my witness to others.
If I know something good to do and don’t do it, is that still sin? It’s definitely disobedience and I sin. I act like I don’t love my family when I don’t use kindness in my tone. I lash out instead of being slow to speak and quick to listen.
What if we are so arrested by God’s love, and so in awe of who He is that we fall to our knees and we bring our alabaster jar, the very best of us, and pour it on Jesus?
What if we see choosing righteousness, aka: right living according to God’s standards, as an act of love and an outpouring of our everything for God? When we look at righteousness that way, the fact that we can’t do anything in our own strength becomes very clear.
There’s a direct correlation between our ability to forgive others and our understanding of how much we need forgiveness. Are you perfect? Do you pretend to be? Every misstep I make is a reminder that I am in desperate need for forgiveness and it’s in remembering my desperateness for forgiveness that enables me to extend forgiveness to those who wound me.
You know, we can walk around with our heads held high declaring our identity in Christ all we want, but if we fail to forgive others we’ve left behind a vital piece of our identity: forgiven.
Forgiveness becomes so much easier when we remember that our name is now “Forgiven.”
Our forgiveness overflows from the deep deep love we have for our Father God. Love him. Love him deeply. Focus on pouring your life, your treasure, out as an offering. Love your people as a sacrifice of love to God.
The next time you’re wounded, remember that you’ve been forgiven. Then extend forgiveness as an offering of Love to God.
Stay close to Jesus so you remember how much forgiveness He has given you.
Remember that love and forgiveness are related.
Loving others starts with receiving God’s love for you.