Freedom in Forgiveness
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col.2:13-14)
What comes to mind when you hear the word forgiveness? Perhaps you have been deeply hurt by someone and are determined to never forgive them. Maybe you want to forgive the person who has hurt you, but you are finding it difficult to commit to forgiveness. The wounds inflicted upon us can take up so much space in our body and soul that there seems to be little room (if any) to even entertain forgiving such horrific offenses.
Yet, holding onto the offense begins to become burdensome. Let us be clear, what happened to you should have never happened. You were wronged. In that knowledge, there is something we crave, something that we feel is lacking, some retribution we are pursuing when we decide to not forgive the offender. As you pursue retribution, you may notice that there are some companions who join you in your pursuit.
Some of these companions have been described by the Mayo Clinic. Perhaps you are familiar with some of these: anger and bitterness in your relationships, inability to enjoy the present due to being fixated on how you have been wronged, depression and anxiety. The Mayo Clinic also describes the benefits of forgiveness: healthier relationships, less anxiety and stress, and overall improved mental health (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047). So, the benefits to forgiveness are appealing but how do we get there?
I think the biblical description provided by Paul (above) in Colossians is a good place to start. Notice that forgiveness involves a debt. In the immediate context of the scripture quoted above Paul is speaking to the debt of sin that we could not pay so Jesus paid it for us. We owed and could not pay. Our offenders owe us. They are indebted ultimately to God and secondarily to us. What we ought to have received from the offending party we did not get. Rather, we were hurt and now they ought to pay. However, often they will not or cannot pay us back. Where we get stuck is constantly going after our payment with little to no chance of ever getting what we are owed.
What follows is a model of forgiveness presented by Everett Worthington. I hope this will serve in motivating you to stop the pursuit and forgive your debtors (Matt. 6:12). Worthington provides an acronym for us: REACH. The “R” stands for recalling the hurt. You have been hurt and it is important to understand this in order to truly forgive (how can you forgive the offense if you have not reflected on how you have been hurt?). The “E” stands for empathy. That is, try to understand why the person may have done what they did. Empathy is not excuse (there is no excuse for what they did) but it can help you give forgiveness as an altruistic gift, the “A” in reach. The “C” stands for committing to forgiveness. There are many ways you can commit such as writing a note to yourself that you have forgiven the person. “H” in REACH is for holding onto forgiveness. This is where writing a note of forgiveness can come in handy. You can look back at the note as a reminder that you have decided to forgive the one who hurt you.
Space does not permit to go into further detail about this process. I invite you go to: http://www.evworthington-forgiveness.com/ for more information. Again, my hope is that you can find your way to forgiveness. That the heavy burden of seeking payment will be lifted. And that you will experience the freedom that comes with a forgiving heart.