Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Freedom in Forgiveness

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."
Colossians 3:13

Forgiveness is something required of us from the time we are children, and a lesson we learn earlier than our minds can probably even remember. It's required when a sibling accidently breaks your toy, or when someone calls you a name on the playground. As young as we might be when we first learn the importance of forgiveness, it never seems to become easy. As we get older, the offenses against us become greater, and so our ability to forgive becomes seemingly more difficult. Forgiveness is always a difficult decision to make and even more difficult to genuinely do, no matter how many times you've had to forgive.

I was bullied a decent amount in middle school. I was called fat, ugly, annoying...and it affected me. Yet ultimately, I came to see those instances as more petty than cruel, so I was able to label them as middle school immaturity and forgive them. When I began my 7th grade year, though, I was tested in my ability to forgive. I had a classmate who, every single day of that school year without fail, said to me, "Nobody likes you. You should jump off of a bridge and kill yourself." It was a much more cruel sentiment than calling me fat. It seemed so much more hateful, and so it hurt much more. It wasn't a random immature comment in passing, but a constant and intentional effort to hurt me. I couldn't write it off as I had in other instances of verbal bullying. Each day I would hear those words again, and then again the next day, for over a hundred days. My hurt grew with each day, as well as my bitterness towards that person. Forgiveness wasn't even a thought, because he seemed so undeserving of forgiveness. He threw those same hurtful words at me day after day, so I knew he wasn't sorry. Of course there are other, more intense situations where forgiveness was more difficult than this, but this was the most severe situation I felt comfortable publishing.

I never knew the true importance of forgiveness until I gave my life to God. It wasn't until the God of Heaven and earth forgave me, every sin, every wrongdoing, every hurtful act against others or my own self, that I understood the power of forgiveness. Yet, even in that knowledge, it is still so unbelievably hard to forgive. We suffer time and time again from the words and actions of others that seem to cut us like knives. So many times, we plead, "But God, you don't understand how much they hurt me!" We act as if God doesn't understand the difficulty of forgiving those who hurt us most, those who offend us so severely without having remorse. Yet God does understand, because Jesus Christ walked this earth and experienced the human condition. To me, one of the most powerful sentences to come from the mouth of Jesus is said in the most unforgiving of circumstances. Jesus was humiliated, spat on, mocked, brutally flogged, had a crown of thorns shoved onto his head, forced to carry his own cross up a hill on his wounded shoulders, before being painfully and horrifically nailed to that cross. Then, as his torturers and murderers gambled for his clothes at the foot of the cross he was hanging on, broken and bleeding, Jesus spoke these powerful words:

"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
Luke 23:34

Reading that red text in my Bible is a true conviction when struggling with unforgiveness. How many of us could endure so much cruelty and torture, and in the midst of that, be forgiving? We'd all like to believe if we were in Jesus' place, we could say those words. Yet how many of us truly could? Yes, there are people on this earth who endure injustices where forgiveness is near impossible. Yet Jesus proved anything can be forgiven when he endured torture and pain that was so great that it was enough to cover the sins of all of mankind, and in the middle of it all, forgave those who inflicted that agonizing cruelty upon him.

When we live in unforgiveness, we live bound in heavy chains that keep us from living in Godly freedom. Unforgiveness prevents us from experiencing the joy, peace, and blessings that God has for us. Our perfect Heavenly Father forgives us, so how much more should we as imperfect people forgive one another? I have the life that I have because of forgiveness that I did not deserve.

It was at the altar that I forgave my classmate for the months upon months worth of telling me that I should end my own life. There were people and situations where I felt the hurt and bitterness for so long that I had become numb to my own unforgiveness...and I forgave those people and situations at the altar, many years later. I became free when God forgave me. I became free when I forgave others. Forgiveness isn't easy, but when we break the chains of unforgiveness, it is so worth all of the goodness that comes from it.

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