Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Extending Forgiveness When People Let You Down

It’s interesting how people come and go in our lives.  Sometimes we lose people because of physical distance; sometimes we lose them because of emotional distance.  Lives change, jobs change, and neighborhoods change, which can all lead to changes in who we spend time with and who we choose to befriend. Occasionally we lose people because they have wounded us with hurtful words or actions that are like painful daggers.  Or maybe we’re the ones doing the wounding.

A few years ago, I left a budding friendship because of hurtful words spoken in anger. The side of me that understood human emotions and motivation knew the anger was coming from a place of hurt and anxiety, neither of which was caused by me.  I was just the unfortunate recipient of those words. As I left that evening I cried out of hurt and embarrassment and I lost confidence in that friendship.

For a long time after, my stomach would knot up when I thought about that encounter.  That experience festered in me and I couldn’t even think about that person without feeling strong emotions. 

But you know what?  God is good.  He is a God of forgiveness and asks this of us as well.  Colossians 3:13 tells us to forgive if we have a grievance toward someone and to forgive as Christ forgave. Ephesians 4:32 echoes that notion by telling us to forgive each other as Christ did for us. Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that if we forgive others, then our Father in heaven will forgive us. 

In my thirty-seven years, there have only been a handful of times that I have felt deeply wounded by another person.  I would say I’m pretty good at letting things go and most of the time it’s easy for me to see the best in someone despite their shortcomings. By the grace of God, He keeps bitterness from festering.  I know for some it is difficult to forgive, especially when words damage and attitudes are foul. 

The truth about forgiveness is that it not only paints a picture of mercy and grace poured out for another, but as the one doing the forgiving it frees us from bitterness and anger.  In some relationships, the person needing forgiveness may not know or care, but it’s still important to forgive. It’s healthy to forgive someone in our own heart to not be burdened by a past offence. Forgiveness is good.

One of the places most susceptible to conflict is within our closest relationships.  Loving our friends and family is not an easy task because with them we are most vulnerable.  What happens when they let us down?  Again, it’s easy to hold on to grudges and allow bitterness to take root, but it’s also important to know that people, including you and me, are imperfect.

Although God created community and friendship and love, we cannot put our faith in imperfect people.

No person can complete you.

Not your friends, not your kids, not your spouse.  No human being is capable of providing all you need to make you whole.  No person walking this earth, or sitting next to you on the couch, or holding your hand can ever fully close your wounds or make you feel complete.

Only God can.

Only God can bring peace and perfect love.  Only God can fully satisfy our longing for relationship.

When we put others in a position to do only what God can, then we are destined for disappointment.  Other people will let us down.

Every. Single. Time.  It’s inevitable. 

To me, that’s why forgiveness is so important.  If God can forgive us as we fail Him over and over and over, to infinity, then we must learn to be more forgiving toward those who fail us. “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

And hope they’ll forgive us as well. 

Although that friendship didn’t move forward from that upsetting evening, I have forgiven that person because I too am in need of forgiveness. I feel like Paul who says in 1 Timothy 1:15, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” I may not have persecuted or murdered Christians, but I am a sinner guilty of words that damage, hurt, and destroy.  I commit sins of the tongue every day. If I am extended mercy and forgiveness, how much more should I extend that same forgiveness to others? 

I am thankful I have a merciful God who covers a sinner like me with overflowing grace and I pray I won’t have spiritual amnesia when it comes to extending forgiveness to others. 


Jennie Goutet said...

I am working on forgiveness and forgiving people even for the small things (someone who honks at me in traffic). It's a freeing thing, but this is coming after 22 years in the faith. I don't have a history of forgiving easily. I justify myself in my head and hold on to anger and rehash. But your chosen scriptures are spot on. We need to forgive, as much for ourselves as for honouring our God.

Stephanie said...

Thank you for your honesty, Jennie. Forgiveness is always tough, but the outcome more than makes up for it.

Mrs. Pastor Crocs said...

Well said! This is something I've been grappling with lately as well - I don't do well with change and losing a friend over a disagreement is definitely never easy. I recently read Grace is Greater by Kyle Idleman, and he lays out forgiveness and grace so well. We can't expect God to show grace and forgive us for our sins if we can't do the same to our brothers and sisters here on earth. It's never easy, but if you don't at first try it will never happen.

Stephanie said...

You're right; it's never easy. I love devouring a new book so I'm going to look into Grace is Greater. Thank you for the recommendation!