I saw a photo of someone unexpectedly, out of the blue, and my first thought was Uhhhhg.
Until that moment, I had thought we were good. I thought I had forgiven. Several times, actually.
I have forgiven them, I thought, defending my realization that perhaps I hadn't. I've forgiven! I just don't want to SEE them. Or think about them, and that should be ok! I shouldn't have to want to SEE someone who's hurt me, right? I've forgiven!"
And that little justification conversation with myself is exactly what God brought to my attention when Ramendy was preaching last Sunday on our forgiveness being a necessary component of God's forgiveness.
"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions," Jesus says in Matthew 6 quite clearly, and again in Mark 11, "When you pray, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that the father in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."
As I think about forgiveness--NOT in light of me forgiving my fellow man for love's sake or obedience sake--but alongside of God's forgiveness of ME, I realize that my "standard" of forgiveness for myself has been far lower than my desired standard for the forgiveness He gives me.
I saw that person in that picture, and I cringed. My heart stabbed, my mouth tasted bad, I didn't want to see them. But I'd forgiven them, right?
Is that version of forgiveness I want from my Father?
As I think about the forgiveness God graciously bestows on me, do I have this idea in my mind that He has forgiven me, but He SURE doesn't want to see me? Or have to think about me? Or be reminded of me? Or want the best for me?
Of course not!
I dwell continually in needing and asking for and receiving His forgiveness, and His Word and my thinking are clear...He has FORGIVEN. Completely. He wants to see me, and hear from me, and love on me, and be sought out by me.
Even though He knows I'm going to hurt Him again. Even though He did not in any way merit my injury. Even though I often lack genuine heartbrokenness and repentance over my sin.
And so if THAT is His forgiveness, have I truly forgiven if MY forgiveness doesn't look like that...at all?
God is convicting me that if I am to forgive others, as He has forgiven me, then I also must forgive others HOW He has forgiven me.
Once I realized that, the Lord brought all kinds of little harbored hurt and bitternesses and people into my mind. That person in the photo isn't the only one that I have yet to forgive as He is daily forgiving me.
My next thought, of course, is that it might be impossible. I mean, how could I REALLY, truly, completely and entirely, with purity and goodness and joy and freedom, f-o-r-g-i-v-e some of those things, some of those people!
As I start to think of all of the little bitternesses holding me back from HIS type of forgiveness, I suddenly feel incredibly weighed down and pained, angry, and wronged.
The Holy Spirit is quick to remind me that "weighed down" is a sign of less-than-freedom. Of less-than-forgivness. Of less-than-Christ....Otherwise known as continued sin my life.
If I think that I can abide in Him, and NOT be actively at war with this less-than-forgivness attitude in my life, I am wrong.
If God can't forgive our transgressions when we are knowingly and deliberately not forgiving others, not even trying to, then I have some work to do.
A work I am not even capable of doing. I'm not even capable of mustering up that FULL forgiveness. The hurts have been too hurtful.
As if somehow the ways I have hurt the Father have been LESS than ways others have hurt me. How proud I am. How ridiculous.
The good news here, of course as with everything else, is that I don't have to muster up any super-Stacey or dig deeper to find something that just isn't there or condor up some miraculous unconditional Stacey forgiveness. I just plain don't have it.
It's still all Him.
EVEN forgiving with His forgiveness is done through His grace, by His power, with His help.
God can fully forgive. No bitterness, no cringe, no bad taste, no resentment. I know He can, because He gives it to me that forgiveness every single day.
And if God can do that, then HE CAN do that in me. Through me. If He can forgive like that, then He can help and empower ME to forgive like that, too.
I strongly believe that there is nothing God asks us to do that is just not capable of being done, with His help and grace.
I strongly believe nothing is impossible through Christ who gives me strength. I truly believe that He is able to do far more than I think, according to His great power that is at work in me. I completely believe that that which He asks, He is able to accomplish.
But if His Spirit is going to be at work, helping me to fully-God-forgive, then I've got to be at work, too. God's kind of love, God's kind of forgiveness, that stuff doesn't happen in our lives on accident.
Are you struggling to forgive?
Let us struggle then. It is not struggling to forgive perfectly, to love perfectly, to grace perfectly, that destroys us. John Piper says that as long as we are in the flesh, we'll be doing our good deeds imperfectly, including forgiving and loving others. Jesus died to forgive those imperfections.
What destroys me is when I see that picture, I cringe, and I settle with that and call it complete forgiveness, as God has forgiven me.
Those hurts I'm hanging on to? They are legitimate. They were painful. Some of them even continue to happen! Some of them were intentional. Many of them have been without apology or recognition. And you know what? He's going to take care of that.
As I finished off Romans the other day, I was reminded again that God is not only going to help me through the hurt others are going to cause in life and help me forgive like He does, He's also going to take care of injustices. Take care of teaching lessons. Take care of correction. "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for God, as it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good!"
When it comes to others, leave room for God. He will take care of it. We can trust Him. Trusting Him brings healing in our own lives. Trusting God with the lessons enables us to fully forgive unconditionally...without needing to see change or growth or repentance first.
When it comes to ourselves and forgiveness, let us leave room for God...and NOT for anything else. No room for excuses. No room for "good enoughs". No room for burdens He wants to lift. No room for injuries He wants to heal. No room for trespasses He wants to forgive...
Because in His forgiveness of us, He leaves no room for continued guilt, no room for continued condemnation, and no room for continued unforgiveness of others.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus
For the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus
has set you free from the law of sin and death
...for the mind set on the flesh is death,
but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.