Monday, August 31, 2015

Finding Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It is the cornerstone of Christianity. It is the message of the Cross. The hope of the Gospel. And yet, it is my greatest struggle as a Christian.

I know I am not alone in battling the desire to earn my salvation through works-righteousness (you know, because Jesus bleeding out on my behalf obviously isn't enough.) I struggle with forgiving myself and with accepting the forgiveness which was provided for my unworthy self. Beyond that, I really struggle with giving forgiveness. I have for years, but this is something God has really been driving into my heart lately.

I have this problem of saying with my head that I forgive, because that's what I am supposed to do as a Christian. I've read the parable about the man who was forgiven a debt owed to the king, a debt larger than he could ever repay. This man then turned around and demanded a much smaller debt be paid back to him immediately; as a result, the king revoked the forgiveness and placed the ungrateful and self-serving man in prison. I know that withholding forgiveness places me in a prison of my own creation. I know all the adages about resentment being like poisoning myself, hoping others die. In my head, I get this. So, in my head, I say, "I forgive. I forgive because Christ forgave me."

But, in my heart, the story doesn't read the same.

In my heart, I hold onto the pain and the hurt caused by others. I cling to it, crying out for vindication of my pain. I am a justice seeker and I desire to see wrongs made right. It makes me ill to think of some of the ways I have been hurt and that stirs in me a desire to see that my pain was not in vain, which ultimately stirs up anger in my heart.

Recently, I received an incredibly heartfelt apology from a person who has hurt me more deeply than anyone else in my life. For years, I had "forgiven" this person in my head, but held onto the hurt because I felt like said person was unrepentant (and how can I truly forgive someone who doesn't feel bad about what they did to me?) Then, I received this apology. And I know this person is deeply hurt by the way I was hurt. But I found myself angry at the apology. All these years of my hurt and pain, watching this person move forward like nothing wrong had happened, and now, because of sudden remorse I am supposed to just dole out forgiveness? Yeah, that doesn't sit well with me.

But, because of that knowledge in my head, I know that attitude is sinful. So, I prayed. I cried out to God, "Lord, help me. I know this attitude is sinful, but I have prayed for years wanting to see remorse of the transgressions against me, and now that I have it, it doesn't feel like enough. God, I want to see my pain vindicated." And, in the midst of this crying out, God responded, "Your pain has already been vindicated. It was vindicated the day I hung on that Cross for the very sins which caused you pain." Whoa. I had to take a moment (or a couple days) to let that truly sink in.

The last few months have been a season of great trial for me. But, these last few days have been incredibly turbulent, emotionally-speaking, as I try to wade through this mess of my heart and make sense of everything by holding it up to the truth of God's word. Beyond trying to make sense of everything, I want to figure out a way to genuine forgiveness toward this person and all the others who are keeping me locked in my prison.

Here's what I'm learning.

My acknowledging forgiveness in my head, but holding onto the pain in my heart is more sinful than just my disobedience in following the command to forgive others as I have been forgiven. It is insulting to Christ and all that He has done. By holding onto my pain and demanding vindication, I am saying, "Look, God, I know what you did on the cross and all, but my pain is bigger than that. I know You paid the price for ALL sins that day, but these sins against me? They cost me more. Your sacrifice on my behalf was simply not enough."

That's an UGLY attitude. 

That ugly attitude is rooted in my idolatry of self. (Coming to terms these days with my long-time sin of bowing down before my own heart idols while claiming Christ is Lord of my heart. More on that another day.) This is more than just refusing to pay forward the Grace I have been shown (which is what I always thought holding onto resentment was.) This attitude boils down to a lack of trust in Christ. A lack of trust that His sacrifice was enough. A lack of trust that He genuinely cares about the ways I hurt. A lack of trust that He will make good on His promises. When I say with my head, "I forgive", but hold onto the pain in my heart while waiting for vindication, I communicate to God that I don't trust Him with this. That I feel I can do a better job taking care of the pain. My seeking vindication communicates to Him that I still believe works outweigh grace. Which, in the simplest of ways says, "Jesus, You aren't the only way." In my head, I know the truth and with my mouth I profess that Jesus is my savior, but with my actions, I deny the Gospel.

This is heavy stuff. 

As the scales have started to fall from my eyes the last day or two and I have pressed deeply into Christ begging for forgiveness of my ugliness (ironic, much?), I have found myself facing another issue. How do I let it go? Because, seriously, this pain is nearly unbearable. I delivered my second child vaginally with no drugs; I would rather do that a thousand more times than spend another day with this hurt in my heart. These wounds have never healed and in many ways still hurt as deeply and harshly as they did when first inflicted. This pain stirs in me a desire to toss out my entire belief system and seek vengeance. However, that knowledge in my head keeps whispering the truth that Jesus is the only way.

So, how is this forgiveness thing supposed to work? What does it look like? I know from my past that I can say today, "I forgive", but tomorrow or next week or next month, something is going to touch that hurt again and I am going to want to see vindication. Through my prayers and time with God in His word and devotionals, I have come up with a plan. It is not a quick "5 Steps to Forgiveness" or anything like that, as I know this will likely be a lifelong process and journey. However, just because I can't mark off items on a list and achieve ultimate forgiveness in a week, doesn't mean I should spend the rest of my life allowing my heart to simmer in anger over my hurts.

My Plan for Learning to Forgive

1. Repent and seek forgiveness of my own. I have already confessed my sins. Now, I must repent of my idolatry and my insults to God. This will not be a one-time thing, as those heart idols are deep-seated, but it is a necessary step that will continue to be repeated until the issue is resolved. Beyond my repentance, I must accept God's forgiveness of my sins at face value. No more heart idols masquerading around, affirming works-righteousness. Merely, accepting the fact that I am a dirty sinner, wholly unworthy of His mercy, yet fully privy to His grace because of what HE did.

2. Cling to the truth. Daily, I must submerge myself in His word and commune with Him in prayer. When I start desiring vindication of the transgressions against me, I must remind myself that it was provided the same day my own transgressions against God were forgiven. I must remind myself that I did NOTHING to earn that forgiveness, thus I can expect NOTHING from others before I forgive them. (This part is the easier part, because that knowledge is there, I just have to keep it at the front of my head.)

3. Let go of the pain. This is the hardest part. Not because I necessarily desire the pain, but because I know that it's just not that easy to let go of a hurt that runs so deep. I know that there will be reminders of this pain for the rest of my life. How can I let it go? I've decided it will be a lifelong event to let this go. Each day, I will have to knowingly give the pain and the resulting anger to God. When something triggers a hurt, instead of wallowing in the pain, I will have to consciously remind myself, "I have already given this to God and He is bigger than my hurt." God has requested we lay our lives down as a sacrifice to Him; this includes giving Him our hurts. When I cling to the hurts, I am prostrating myself in worship before my heart idols. When I give God the hurt I desire to see vindicated, I am sacrificing me for His glory. 

I am sure I will continue to feel this hurt for years to come, but that does not mean I cannot find forgiveness along the way. Friends, please pray with me and for me as I let go of my hurt and cling to Jesus in an attempt to find grace in the midst of all this ugly.

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