Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Road To Forgiveness Is A Journey Toward Freedom

June 10, 2014
How's your relationship with your father? If you could, how would you celebrate Father's Day with him?

Although my Dad passed away in 1986,  I still think about him with mixed emotions. Growing up, I yearned for a Dad who wholeheartedly loved his wife and kids. As an adult, I carried Mom's deep hurt and betrayal to the point that I was afraid to trust my husband. I held onto Mom's conclusion that "Men are all the same." Always protecting myself, I put on a hard shell -- competent and self-reliance -- and almost destroyed my marriage because of my lack of trust.

As a new believer, I experienced peace and joy after reconciliation with God. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

But, even as a believer, there are moments that I feel insecure and automatically revert back to my old self-protective mechanism. That's human nature (our flesh) taking control. I thought my past history would not hurt me as long as I forget about the hurt from my family of origin. But I was wrong. It was the thing that I did not try to think about that automatically triggered me. 

Are you or someone you know being "controlled" by negative emotions that surfaced out of nowhere and caused downward spiral in your relationships? The Road To Forgiveness Is A Journey Toward Freedom.

In his book, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis wrote this about forgiveness: "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."

When people get hurt, they often react with resentment, anger, rage, even hatred. While some of these feelings may be appropriate responses, holding on to them can cause emotional pain and stress. Nurturing old wounds and resentments is like tending weeds in a garden. The more care you give them, the more they take over until there's no room for the feelings that can nourish you.

Forgiveness doesn't mean condoning inappropriate behavior and excusing personal violations. It doesn't mean giving up or hiding or denying what was done. To forgive someone of something doesn't necessarily mean turning the other cheek so that you can be hurt again. To forgive doesn't mean you forget that you were harmed. Or that you felt the way you did as a result.

What it does mean is letting go of the feelings of anger or resentment, so that you can get on with your life. Forgiving is a process -- sometimes slow -- that heals wounds and returns our power to us. So long as we hold onto old feelings, we give control of our lives over to those who have hurt us. Forgiveness sets us free.

In spite of this tremendous potential of freedom, could mere mortals really forgive? The Bible (Luke 5:20-21) recorded that Jesus said to a paralytic, "Man, your sins are forgiven you." In their heart, the Pharisees retorted, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" It is true that forgiveness of sins is beyond human. Thanks be to God, that the spirit of each Christian has been united with the Spirit of Christ (Romans 6:5). Therefore, each is given the resource for true forgiveness.

Ways to Forgive
It's not as though you can simply decide to forgive someone and it is done. Forgiving is an active process. Christians could practice forgiveness through the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2). To get from here to there is a journey to be traveled. But you don't have to take it alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help along the way.

• Acknowledge all the feelings. Though anger and resentment might be on top, beneath may lie feelings of hurt, betrayal, loss and grief. Uncovering these more tender emotions may be painful, but, like curves in the road, it is part of the journey to be traveled.

• Stop blaming. So long as you hold someone else responsible for your feelings or circumstances, you continue to hand over the control of your life to others. As a Christian, you belong to Christ. Therefore, you could rely on the divine resource of forgiveness in your new spirit where the Holy Spirit dwells in you.

• Release the desire for revenge. The wish to inflict suffering or pain on the person who hurt us keeps us in a place of suffering and pain. We cannot experience the freedom of forgiveness until we are willing to move away from the need to punish. We can refrain from taking justice into our own hands because God is the judge of all (Hebrews 12:23).

• Learn to accept. It's virtually impossible to stop judging; however, the fewer negative judgments we make, the easier it is to accept. And there is wisdom in this saying, "Acceptance is forgiveness in action." Think of how useless negative judgments are: does it affect the weather because we say it's awful? Imagine complaining to God about the quality of a sunset. Judgments say very little about the judged, but communicate lots about the one who is doing the judging. Remember that you are now of Christ.

• Decide to confront or not. Talking with the person who has harmed you may or may not be the best action to take. You need Godly wisdom and timing. Professional counseling can help you in making this decision.

• Let go. Only through releasing all feelings of anger, resentment, or animosity can forgiveness be unconditional. Unforgiveness is incompatible with the new spirit of Christians. Letting go is possible because we now trust that God cares for us. Forgiveness would free us from captivity and bondage of the past when we let the Holy Spirit lead our new life.

Forgiveness is not just an outward expression toward others. Turning the open hand of forgiveness inward is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. When we forgive ourselves we acknowledge our human limitations, release ourselves from our own judgments and practice self-acceptance. These actions are essential for a life of freedom and joy.

Through action or inaction, out of fear, pain or confusion, we may harm ourselves or others. But when we say, "I'll never forgive myself," we sentence ourselves to a life of guilt and shame.

Practice self-forgiveness through:
  •      accepting yourself rather than judging yourself
  •      honoring yourself rather than blaming yourself
  •      nurturing yourself rather than criticizing yourself
  •      releasing the past rather than holding onto it
All the above is possible only through identifying yourself with the new spirit already in you. Forgiveness, even self-forgiveness cannot be forced. And it may not come easily. Like many other skills we must learn, self-forgiveness takes practice. If you are unable to immediately release the past and move on, be forgiving of yourself and continue the practice.

Still find it hard to forgive someone or yourself? Remember, your Heavenly Father has forgiven you in His Son. God loves you. You belong to Him as His children. Nothing can separate you from His love. Approach His throne boldly.

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us." (1 John 1:8-10)

I'm so grateful that my Dad believed in Christ a few months before he died of lung cancer. A few years later, I became a Christian and learned to love and to forgive. I'm so happy that I could say, "Dad, I love you. I'm so happy you are with Jesus Christ!"

How did you celebrate Father's Day? As for me, I celebrated ahead of time with my sister and brother last weekend! I wish Mom and Dad were there to see their children now.
Author's content used with permission, © Claire Communications

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