Forgive Me, Lord, for Being Unforgiving

A little over a week ago, while facilitating a divorce recovery class alongside my husband, we came to the topic of forgiveness. In my opinion, few issues are more difficult to those going through the emotional pain of the break-up of their marriage than the concept of forgiving one’s ex-spouse for the wrongs done to them.

So as we led the class, listened to our guest speaker and went through the video curriculum, it struck me yet again just how far I have to go in my own battle with unforgiveness.

I know that forgiveness is Biblically commanded, many times over (Matt. 18:20-35, Col. 3:13 just for starters). I know that unforgiveness eats away at you, deteriorating your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being. I know that the longer you focus on the wrongs done against you – for which you refuse to forgive the offender – the more your bitterness seeps into other relationships. I’ve known people whose bitterness I could see in their eyes. I’ve seen it in my own.

But I can’t change my own heart. So why does Jesus so clearly command me to do something that only He can enable me to do?

In most divorces, the wounds inflicted upon one another pile up pretty quickly. By the end of the conflict, there is much to be forgiven…on both sides of the battle line. Within that context, forgiveness can be a particularly hard concept to embrace. But don’t we all struggle with this at some point in our lives, divorced or not? What I most consistently see in myself is that I balk at the idea of forgiving someone who’s inflicted incredible pain on me when my sins against that person, by comparison, seem so much more “trivial” (at least to me).

This, I think, is where many of us live, isn’t it? We play the comparison game. “Yeah, I know I said this or did that, but look at what she did!” “At least I’m sorry for what I said…he seems to relish the idea of having hurt me!” “I’m in pain over here, and they are going about their lives as if they don’t even notice how they’ve ruined my life!” “I don’t deserve to be treated like this!”

Coincidentally, every single time I find myself wanting to hang on to my anger, it’s against someone who I believe has sinned “more than I have.” My hard-hearted feelings are directed at someone who, in my estimation, has a much larger pile of wrongs at his or her feet than I do.

Conversely, we don’t seem to have nearly as big a problem forgiving when we recognize that our sins against our offender are much greater…do we? In fact, we can earnestly seek forgiveness from someone we recognize we’ve really hurt, and then perhaps even be unpleasantly surprised when they aren’t prepared to offer it yet! I know this is true for me, at least.

Since this latest session on forgiveness ended, I continue to feel convicted by how often I look back and see that I’ve applied this double standard. And I wonder, “Are these thoughts familiar for most of us?” When wronged, don’t many of us rear up with “I don’t deserve this”? And when we ourselves are the offender, “I’m sorry…so I am ready to be forgiven”? Funny how we always think we deserve grace…but we’re typically so bad at extending it to others.

I think this is our human tendency to want to compare situations and make a judgment, based on that comparison, to justify our feelings. But God is always calling us to His standard, not what “seems best” in our eyes. God says, for instance, that vengeance is not our business, but His (Romans 12:19). He will judge us all – the guy who broke into my house and stole from me, the spouse who wrecked your marriage and is completely unrepentant, the in-law who regularly bruises your feelings with insensitive comments…and me and you. On that Day (Rev. 5:11-14), none of us, by comparison, will fare well.

That’s why we all need the blood of Jesus to cover our transgressions. On that Day, it really won’t matter at all if you missed the mark by 1,000 feet and your unforgiven adversary missed the mark by 1,000 miles; before a Holy God, the point will be, rather, that you both missed the mark, repeatedly, since God’s standard is perfection (Matt. 5:46-48).

I can’t change my heart toward anyone whose words or actions, big or small, cause me pain. But what I can do is stop playing the comparison game as a way of justifying my own hard-heartedness. I can instead focus on my relationship with Christ, remembering that every time I try to justify my anger toward another and hold on to it, I am the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 18:21-35), who was forgiven much and yet refused to extend that same grace to another. Every time I feel myself wanting to nurse those hurts I’m struggling to let go of, I can shift my eyes upward, and remind myself of all my sins against God which have caused Him, The Almighty, grief. And most of all, I can pray that God would change my heart, more and more, to be able to extend the grace that I receive.

The apostle John is pretty clear about what he thinks of those who claim Christ but don’t take His word seriously: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says ‘I know Him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

Christ himself begged God to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross (Luke 23:34) while He was still hanging there and as they were mocking Him. We are called to do no less, under far less excruciating circumstances. Praise God, that the blood of Jesus makes it possible for us to even want to walk as He walked. Lord, change our hearts!

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