Have you ever wondered why sometimes it’s so hard to forgive? We know that we ought to forgive and we know that forgiving is good for us, so why does it sometimes seem impossible?
Beloveds, many times it’s because when someone we love betrays our trust, the pain we feel is so intense, all we want is to lash out because we feel so helpless.
Listen to how David lamented about being betrayed by a close friend in Psalm 55:12-14,
“For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
within God's house we walked in the throng” (ESV).
If it had been an enemy who had betrayed him, David could have handled it. But this was a close friend, a counselor, someone with whom he had shared the secrets of his heart. That kind of betrayal is so very painful! Why? Because when we’ve opened our hearts and given our trust and that trust is broken, there’s no place to hide from the pain.
Have you ever stubbed your toe on a table, and you’re jumping around holding your foot when the other person in the room says something like, “What happened?” and you feel like you want to bite their head off? (I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever experienced this!) There’s something about the intensity of the pain combined with feeling like that table leg just jumped out and blindsided us that makes conversation impossible!
You may say, “But, Suzanne, when my toe stops hurting, I can talk to my friend again. And I don’t have to forgive the table leg, I’m the one who stubbed my own toe!” And you’d be quite right! But that sensation of pain and feeling like something hit us from out of nowhere is what makes us want to lash out, and forgiveness is the farthest thing from our minds.
When we stub our toe, or fall out of a tree, hit our thumb with a hammer, or bump our head on a shelf, it’s obvious that we have been physically wounded. We can put some ice on it, go see a doctor, take an aspirin, certainly pray over it, and in a little while we’ll feel better.
But when someone hurts us emotionally or spiritually the wounds are very painful, and they go very deep. What’s more, they’re invisible and we don’t have any way to bandage them up.
To make things worse, we not only feel excruciating pain, but we can also be shocked, embarrassed, confused, and angry. Sometimes we feel so angry, we forget that before we got angry, first we got hurt.
If we jump straight from pain to anger we don’t realize that we’ve been wounded, and while we’re feeling the anger, our wound is going untreated.
If a person falls out of a tree and breaks their leg, they don’t stay up at night planning ways to get revenge on the tree. They treat the wounded leg.
Likewise, when we are hurt emotionally or spiritually, the first thing we should do is treat the wound, not look for someone to blame. When we’ve been hurt, first we must tend to the hurt, then we can deal with the issues behind it.
That, Beloveds, is where forgiveness comes in.
Where we get confused is where we think what we’re dealing with is anger, but what we’re really dealing with is pain. We think that forgiveness is a way to let the person who hurt us “off the hook,” so they’ll never have to take responsibility for their actions. And because we’re angry, that’s the last thing we think will satisfy us.
But here’s how it really works…
Forgiveness is the medicine, the healing balm that we apply to the situation, that heals the painful wound.
The equation is: Forgiveness = Healing = Freedom.
This means that as soon as we are wounded, instead of leaping over the pain straight to anger, we stop, and realize our condition: “I am hurt!”
Where there is loss, there is pain and there is grief. It is important that we acknowledge this and not run away. When we feel the loss, the pain, and the grief, our hearts remain soft and open. When we run from them, our hearts become hard and we turn to rage and blame.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul reminds us to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (ESV).”
To be kind to one another, first we must be tenderhearted. To be tenderhearted, we must stay present with what we’re feeling and not close off our hearts. To forgive, we must remember that we have been forgiven.
When we remember that we have been forgiven, we also remember that we are not alone. When we remember that Christ’s Holy Spirit lives within us, to help us, guide us and comfort us, we turn away from anger and we turn toward our Savior.
We need the help of our Savior because forgiving is difficult, and often we can’t do it on our own.
But look what Isaiah prophesied about Jesus, as paraphrased in The Message translation:
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).
The English Standard Version says, “…and with his wounds we are healed” (53:5b).
Jesus was wounded for our sins. Our sins, and all the suffering they cause, were placed on him. And he suffered our punishment.
Yet he said, “…Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a ESV).
When we find it difficult to forgive, we must stop - realize that we’ve been wounded, and be present with the pain. Then we can turn to Jesus immediately, because he knows what it means to be wounded by sin. By his wounds, and through his forgiveness, we are healed, and with his help we can forgive, as we have been forgiven.
Remember, we are not alone. As God said to Joshua, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 ESV).
Is there anyone in your life, including yourself, that you haven’t been able to forgive? If so, you’ve been wounded, and your wounds need healing! Please stop chasing after the person who hurt you and turn to the one who died to save you. He will teach you to forgive, and his love will set you free.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36 ESV).