For me, Father’s day is a wonderful day to celebrate the men in my life. A wonderful husband, father and father in law all in one family are three gifts that seems so rare in today’s world.
But, what do you do when the holidays, like Father’s Day, are a day of dread for you? Maybe you didn’t have the caring husband, father or mother that others celebrate. Perhaps you were deeply hurt by your family situation. Maybe you were abandoned, abused, neglected or just plain mistreated. And maybe you are still carrying those wounds with you into your adult life.
Where is the hope of the gospel in situations like these? Or in any sin-ridden relationship gone sour? How can you live a life of peace and joy when the wounds are re-opened year after year? When you feel as though the flood of emotion wells up within you at the very mention of the name of that “somebody” or “something” that happened? What do you do when bitterness has become your norm?When, like the Hatfields and McCoys, your life has become defined by your feud and has been fueled by your hatred.
The answer is found in forgiveness.
Everyone in life gets hurt. We are sinful people. We hurt others and have been hurt by others. We truly have been affected by the sin of others. But the truth is that the greater harm comes in harboring bitterness and resentment towards the wrongdoer. When we are wronged we have a choice.
1. We can become debt collectors.
This is what it looks like:
The natural response is to set out to make the offender pay for what he has done. We may be overt or subtle, but until we get a satisfactory apology, until we determine that an adequate penalty has been paid, we intend on keeping the wrongdoer in debtor’s prison: we reserve the right to punish them for their transgressions. This is the pathway of retaliation and resentment- getting even, exacting payment for what they did…But the problem is that being a “debt collector” does more that keep our offender in debtors’ prison: it puts us in prison.”*
Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping someone else will die.
2. Or we can choose to release them:
When we as God’s children realize that His grace is sufficient for every situation, that by he power of His indwelling Spirit we have the ability to respond with grace and forgiveness to those who have sinned against us- at that point, we are no longer victims. We are free to rise above whatever may have been done to us, to grow through it, and to become instruments of grace, reconciliation and redemption in the lives of other hurting people and even in the lives of our offenders. Yes, we can be free- if we choose to be.*
In our day, we are coddled into thinking that it is normal to be a victim. That by replaying the wrongs done against us, we will someday find healing. Words like “hurt”, “wounded”, “victim” are all a mindset that will leave you replaying the incidents over and over in your mind, feeling angry, vengeful and ultimately your life revolves around the “wrong.”
It is a lot harder to admit that we’ve let that hurt escalate (or descend, to use a better word) into unforgiveness or bitterness- which puts responsibility on our shoulders. And our unforgiveness is a sin, just as the original offense was. No worse a sin, but certainly no less of one.*
Forgiveness is the only way to live freely. All other options land you in a prison of your own making.
Read the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matt. 18 and note the conclusion in vs.35:
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you , if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Matt. 6: 14,15- If you forgive others their tresspasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
What if God only forgave me to the extent that I’ve been willing to forgive those who’ve sinned against me? *
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Matt. 5:7
*Quotes by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
** I know I will get emails if I do not write this clarification. I am not saying that if your abuse was criminal that you should not seek the full extent of the law. Forgiveness does not mean that people do not pay the consequences for their actions, in fact, quite the contrary. Scripture teaches that the law is there to protect us and to meet out judgement for wrong doers. I am saying that as horrible as abuse could be, the longer lasting and more devastating damage is done within our own mind. You DO have power over how you respond to life’s cruelties. And forgiveness does not always mean that restoration with a toxic person is possible.