Choose to Forgive
By Stacie Ruth Stoelting
Ow! That stung. I remember feeling a warm, piercing sensation as “Nicky,” my “friend,” insulted me with a cold, sharp comment.
Many of my peers deemed Nicky to be a great, personable person. She wore her cross and proclaimed her faith in Jesus. Yet, I innocently agitated her weakness: jealousy. In response, she tried to humble me (even though I already felt humble).
Do you know the old song, “Unforgettable in Every Way”? Well, I felt like replacing the word “unforgettable” with “unforgivable!” (Just kidding.) I didn’t want to forgive her. I didn’t want to spend time with her. I did want to tell others about her. I did want to “nurse my hurt.” (I’ve been known to be a good RN for that! Ha!)
Have you been “stung” by a lot of people? Well, I understand! Have you found it difficult to get past the feeling of hurt? I relate. But it helped me to realize that I don’t have to “feel” like forgiving others. I just have to do it.
It helps to realize this: Forgiveness is not some fluffy feeling. It’s a decision to release the guilty person from future punishment and to stop focusing on the debt of the debtor.
Even when we don’t “feel” like forgiving, we need to forgive in order to live. “Feeling hurt” is a fire alarm for our souls.
Picture this: An apartment’s fire alarm blares. Instead of escaping, tenants decide to wait to take action until they “feel” the heat of the fire. Would that be reasonable? No way!
If we don’t forgive, we’ll burn up with the fire of anger.
Anger and resentment make people do horrific things. I shook my head as I read the following news story:
BATAVIA, Ohio (AP) – A man who neighbors say was devoted to his meticulously kept lawn was charged with murder in the shooting of a 15-year-old boy who apparently walked across his yard.
Charles Martin called 911 on Sunday afternoon, saying calmly: "I just killed a kid." Police, who released the call's contents, said Martin also told the dispatcher: "I've been harassed by him and his parents for five years. Today just blew it up."
Larry Mugrage, whose family lived next door, was shot in the chest with a shotgun. The high school freshman was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Martin, 66, allegedly told police he had several times had problems with neighbors walking on his lawn. He remained jailed without bond Monday. His jailers said no attorney was listed for him.
Neighbors said Martin lived alone quietly, often sitting in front of his one-story home with its neat lawn, well-trimmed shrubbery and flag pole with U.S. and Navy flags flying. Joanne Ritchie, 46, said Mugrage was known as "a good kid." She said she always also considered Martin to be friendly.
Union Township is near Batavia, about 20 miles east of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Isn’t that tragic? I could not believe it! What was the root of the murderer’s crime? Unforgiveness.
We need to forgive people for “trespassing” in our lives. If we don’t forgive, we trespass against God. (When you think about it, it doesn’t make sense to trespass against God just because someone trespassed against us!)
Some people “wait a while” before they forgive. They say that they aren’t “ready” to forgive. Waiting invites spiritual heartworm into our hearts. Grudges and heartworms possess lots of similarities:
Dogs with heartworm appear healthy until the heartworms grow. People with grudges appear healthy until grudges explode. Parasitic heartworms enter dogs through seemingly minor –but irritating- mosquito bites. Unforgiveness enters the soul through the sting of offense. Heartworm grows. Grudges grow. Over time, innumerable white worms tangle and squirm within the hearts of infected dogs. (If you enter a veterinarian’s office, you might see a heartworm-infested dog heart on display. It’s gruesome!) Eventually, the infected dogs die. People can eventually die from grudges, too.
No wonder God makes it clear: “For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], neither will your Father forgive you your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15, AMP)
If you don’t enjoy forgiving others, you’re just like Peter: At first, Peter didn’t like the idea of always forgiving everyone. Here is what he asked Jesus:
“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’”
Obviously, Peter had a hard time with forgiveness, too. How did Jesus reply? Well, He really brought home some reality in a story from Matthew 18:22-35:
Jesus answered him, I tell you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven! Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a human king who wished to settle accounts with his attendants. When he began the accounting, one was brought to him who owed him 10,000 talents [probably about $10,000,000], And because he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and his children and everything that he possessed, and payment to be made. So the attendant fell on his knees, begging him, Have patience with me and I will pay you everything. And his master's heart was moved with compassion, and he released him and forgave him [cancelling] the debt. But that same attendant, as he went out, found one of his fellow attendants who owed him a hundred denarii [about twenty dollars]; and he caught him by the throat and said, Pay what you owe! So his fellow attendant fell down and begged him earnestly, Give me time, and I will pay you all! But he was unwilling, and he went out and had him put in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow attendants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and told everything that had taken place to their master. Then his master called him and said to him, You contemptible and wicked attendant! I forgave and cancelled all that [great] debt of yours because you begged me to. And should you not have had pity and mercy on your fellow attendant, as I had pity and mercy on you? And in wrath his master turned him over to the torturers (the jailers), till he should pay all that he owed. So also My heavenly Father will deal with every one of you if you do not freely forgive your brother from your heart his offenses.
Jesus’ illustration leaves no doubts: forgiveness is a must –not a maybe.
Big news: If a person relies on God’s Spirit for help, it is possible for anyone to forgive anything. If you think that you cannot forgive someone, you can. If you think that you can’t, you’re wrong: You are simply deciding that you won’t. Everyone, through the strength of Jesus, can forgive every offense.
Having doubts? Well, countless Christians have forgiven murderers. For instance, the Nazis killed the family of Corrie ten Boom. But, with Jesus’ help, she forgave them.
Unforgiveness is as serious as the original offense. When our hearts harbor unforgiveness, we hurt God’s heart. (Why hurt God’s heart because our own hearts hurt?) When we decide not to forgive, we decide to refuse the help of God’s Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us forgive, if we receive His help.
God forgave you and me.* He knows how to help you forgive others.
Tips for How to Forgive:
- Realize our weaknesses. You and I aren’t perfect either. Where would we be if everyone never forgave us?
- Meditate on what Jesus did to forgive us. Picture Jesus, bleeding on the cross, choosing to forgive you and me. (When I think about that, I feel so humbled. How could I, after being forgiven, hold a grudge?)
- Ask Jesus to empower us with His Spirit to forgive.
- Then, replace thoughts of judgment with thoughts of encouragement. (This can take some practice. But it makes a lot of difference.)
Let’s ask Jesus to help us forgive others freely. Let’s ask Him to fill us with His grace, mercy, and love. With His help, you and I can forgive what we once considered “unforgivable.”
Yes, I forgave Nicky. Then something shocking happened: She matured as a Christian and became a great friend! (To this day, she doesn’t know that she hurt me.) I also forgave other people who hurt me only to have them become my friends. I would have missed out on super friends if I had held grudges!
Holding grudges holds us back. Forgive and “give for” others what you received from God: a clean slate. Who knows? Maybe you’ll collect friends in the process! I have!
Note from the Author:
Connected! isn’t a typical monthly column. Think of it as an e-mail. Feel free to reply. Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org. After all, I want to be a friend and introduce you to my Best Friend, Jesus Christ. We’ll cover issues relevant to our generation. Most of all, we’ll connect with Christ. If you don’t know how to connect with Him yet, click here.
Stacie Ruth Stoelting and Bright Light Ministry share how to have victory over tragedies and trials. At 22, she already has experience: At 15, Stacie Ruth wrote Still Holding Hands: Bonus Tips for Caregivers & Tips for Helping Families Facing Alzheimer’s, depicting her grandparents’ romance, and victory over Alzheimer’s. Celebrities (i.e. Pat Robertson) endorsed it and/or Bright Light Ministry. At 20, she sang for President Bush. In dramatic programs for all ages, she speaks, acts, sings and entertainingly inspires. Now, she is writing books for teens (e.g. Catching Faith Stealers in the Act). Visit www.brightlightministry.com.
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