When You Don't Feel Like Forgiving
With a hundred miles down the road that day behind me, someone in my path had offended me and I was unloading — not on my offender, but on my wife. I poured out all the reasons why my offender was so wrong and I was so right. As Pamela and I traveled home from an out-of-town wedding, I took advantage of the captive audience and rehearsed the words I really wanted to say to someone else; someone who had done something I found offensive.
Suddenly, the playlist on our car audio system advanced to a new song, “The Prodigal Suite” by songwriter-musician Keith Green. While Pamela endeavored to give me a empathic hearing, my 6-year-old daughter, Kristin, interrupted my rantings with a simple question: “Daddy, what’s that song about?” Ceasing my speech but for the moment, I obligingly shared the high points of the famed parable so well captured by the late musician’s symphonic masterpiece, one of my all-time favorites.
Amidst my storytelling or retracing of the son’s path to redemption, something happened, something unexpected and unsolicited. The truth started to sting. Sharing this familiar, but most amazing parable with my little girl caused me to sense just how unforgiving my words and tone undoubtedly sounded to her young ears. Conviction heightened, yet a problem remained:
Sometimes I just don’t feel like forgiving.
Have you ever felt that way?
It comes in those times when someone has done or said something unkind, uncouth, or unwise. You find yourself frustrated and angry. Your soul feels stung, scorched, even stunned. In those times, the mental scripts shout:
I can’t believe she just said that to me! Again.
Where does he get off acting that way?
I just want to hurt them back … even worse than they hurt me!
The toughest thing about forgiveness is what proceeds it: the big hurt. It comes from something someone says, does, or doesn’t say. It strikes a blow that can leave us feeling:
Somehow the hurts in our hearts reshape the thoughts in our minds. Hurtful thoughts. Hurtful feelings. They feed each other.
MENTAL ROADBLOCKS TO FORGIVENESS
Alexander Pope, the 18th century poet, wrote one of the most familiar quotes about forgiveness: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Forgiving does at times seem downright super-human, beyond our natural inclinations. Yet while we contemplate forgiveness, our minds often fill with opposing thoughts:
Isn’t forgiveness just endorsing their behavior?
Won’t forgiveness give them an upper hand over me?
Do they really deserve my forgiveness?
But just what do we mean by the word forgiveness?
“Forgiveness has nothing to do with the perpetrator, but it has everything to do with the victim,” says Emerge counselor Mike Snodgrass. “It can be given whether the perpetrator has asked for it or not.”
This act of forgiving, then, is not just a feeling we strive toward, but a type of giving — a gift of grace. It has little to do with our feelings and much to do with our faith. To take that step of faith, it helps to consider what biblical forgiveness is and is not.
Forgiveness is not:
• Figuring it all out.
• Dependent on the other person’s apology.
• Condoning the offender’s sin or sinful behavior.
• A place for grace to go to work … in us.
• A gracious mindset.
• About our hearts, not just someone else’s behavior.
People who wait until they “feel” like forgiving are in for a long ordeal. Forgiveness is a decision born out of a heart and mind dependent upon God, His Word, His ways, and His will. So, the next time you are hit with a big hurt:
1. Remember to name the offense; call it what it is.
“Forgiveness means confession first,” says Emerge counselor Tish Granville. “You cannot forgive what you don’t name or confess, so name the harm. Name what happened accurately and descriptively.” Until you call it clearly, it will be tough to grieve it honestly.
2. Remember that forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a decision. It is not a matter of emotion first and foremost, but one of will and of choice.
When we forgive, we are being “empowered through the Holy Spirit to realize our need for forgiveness and the great act of forgiveness on the Cross,” says Emerge counselor Clair Gau. We don’t wait for the offender to apologize in order to forgive, but remember that Jesus forgave us and died for our sins even “while we were yet sinners."
3. Remember forgiv-en people are forgiv-ing people.
“Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget, but that you no longer hold them accountable for what they did,” says Emerge counselor Maribeth Lieberth. “You no longer expect any response, repayment, or obligation from the other person. You give them grace for your sake and theirs.” When you have tasted forgiveness in your own life; it shows. Jesus said that the one who has been forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:36-50).
THE ROAD TO FORGIVENESS
My road trip that day with my wife and daughter started out as a journey of bitterness. While I fired away with all the reasons I was so right and my offender was so wrong, my unforgiveness was suddenly interrupted by a simple question:
“What’s that song about, Daddy?”
“Forgiveness, sweetheart. That’s what is about.”
Once again the words of Jesus had calmed a storm, this time one within me — a storm of offense. The honest question of a child renewed my mind with a familiar story from the Savior. That truth in my head rekindled a grace in my heart and my defenses dropped.
Ultimately, God did not ask me to feel like forgiving.
He asked me to forgive.
Robert C. Crosby is president of Emerge Counseling Ministries based in Akron, Ohio. Emerge has been providing counseling for over 45 years. Emerge also directs The HelpLine, a global call-in counseling support line for AG pastors and their family members. Crosby is the author of several books, including The One Jesus Loves, When Faith Catches Fire, and The Teaming Church. Contact Emerge Counseling at emerge.org or at 800-621-5207.