Forgiving Others: the rise above resentment

I count three pairs of little feet. Encased in muddy rain boots, they are stomping in a creek next to the path where I walk. Their mother, notably unconcerned about the clean up to come, smiles and cheers them on from the sidewalk.

Later heading home on my walk, I see them again swinging at a park playground. This quartet of chipper voices is clearly seizing the day and enjoying each other’s company. Listen in:

The older brother says, “Take off your boots, Madeline, then you can go higher! That’s how mom helped me. She took one off and it felt much more comfortable. So, I kicked the other off, and I could go so high! Then, you just start pumping, like this, Madeline. See?!”

This sweet brother’s instruction about how to swing unencumbered made me chuckle. Then, it got me thinking about how much higher we might swing in life if we removed our mud laden boots.

Like these three children burdened by their boots, we find ourselves weighed down by hurts, resentments, anger, and even hate. Grudges are difficult to budge. Hurts accumulate and stick to our souls (or soles) like thick mud, pulling us down. What toes don’t love feeling the freedom found swinging high in fresh air? What hearts don’t long to soar peacefully? But, how, oh how, do we get there? How do we forgive and rise above resentments?

1. Recognize Our Hurt

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56:8 New Living Translation (NLT)

Forgiving others first requires us to recognize the emotions that are harming us. Anger, resentment, hurt and hate bubble up inside of us, often unexpectedly, jeopardizing our peace, harming our health, and pushing away those who try to love us. Experiencing our feelings without judging or berating ourselves helps bring acceptance to whatever situation caused them.

When we are hurt by others, we often feel isolated like no one understands our side of things. But, God knows and cares about everything we endure. He is a confidant, a ready and willing listener for any topic, especially our struggle to forgive. He can handle raw honesty and painful feelings; he wants us to give it all to him. Allowing painful feelings to surface in our time with God moves us closer to forgiveness because it helps us feel heard and understood.

2. Redirect Bitterness to Goodness

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 New International Version (NIV)

When we feel the sting of someone hurting us, it’s easy to get wrapped up in understanding why or seeking revenge. But, Scripture tells us to remember that God has our back. He reworks the harm done by others for our good.

Consider the story of Joseph (Genesis 37:1-50). Over his lifetime, Joseph suffered through many acts of injustice. He was discarded by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of attempted rape, and spent years prison. He could have easily given up and viewed the situation as hopeless. Instead, he viewed every situation as an opportunity to be a positive example for others and shine light on God. Time and time again, the people in Joseph’s life witnessed God working through his trials. His gift of interpreting dreams allowed him to assist a king and eventually placed him as Egypt’s second-in-command. Through that position, he was able to reunite with his broken family and find emotional healing.

Interestingly, throughout Joseph’s trials he did not dwell on asking God “why” when hard things happened. Instead, he accepted what was. Then, he redirected his attention towards looking and listening for the next opportunity God presented. In doing this, Joseph was always seeking the good he felt God had in store for him.

Following Joseph’s example, if we refuse to rehash our hurt repeatedly, then we free ourselves to discover the good God has planned. We try to see our pain from God’s perspective. For example, we may discover God using our hurt to bring us closer to him, to teach us how to help someone else, to prepare us for something ahead, or to reveal a new purpose in life. Redirecting thoughts away from bitterness and putting them towards looking for God’s goodness prepares our hearts to forgive. 

3. Respond with Love and Prayer

But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! Matthew 5:44 NIV

When our emotions are redirected towards God’s good works, our hearts become prepared to respond with forgiveness. The Bible teaches us not to retaliate and punish those who treat us poorly. Rather, we are to love and pray for those who hurt us.

Undoubtedly, showing concern for people who inflict pain upon us can seem difficult. However, if we keep our hearts full of bitterness, it is truly impossible to love others as we love ourselves, which is the second greatest commandment. By not working at forgiving others, we essentially distance ourselves from God.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sins so we could live eternally with him. Even on the cross, he forgave those who crucified him and those who stood by watching him die. (“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 NLT) Considering this great sacrifice for a world full of sin (including our own), how can we withhold forgiveness from others? Isn’t it hypocritical to ask forgiveness for ourselves and not offer it to others, especially since we are called to model our lives after Jesus?

Praying for the people who we are trying to forgive helps us release our anger and resentment to God. Surrendering control and trusting the situation to him, takes the focus off of them, and helps us learn more about ourselves. We can ask God to teach us something through the process of forgiveness and to work on strengthening us in the fruits of his Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Offering love and prayer to forgive others helps us model our lives after Jesus, ultimately bringing a closer relationship with God.  

4. Make it “Right” in our Hearts

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37 NLT

When we are angry and hurting, our human nature eagerly jumps in, ready to deliver justice. We feel the need to retaliate, prove someone wrong, or explain our side of things. Scripture, however, warns us against playing judge. Only God truly knows a person’s heart, and he is the only one with the authority to judge (1 Corinthians 4:3). Forgiveness cannot be based on whether someone deserves it. Forgiveness is given solely because we, ourselves, have received it.

We make things right through forgiveness by placing trust in God’s judgement of the person and the situation. Obviously, reconciling with those who hurt us would be ideal, but that may not always occur. We can hope for reconciliation, but there are circumstances and people in the equation that we cannot control. We have to trust God with those unknowns. What matters is that we continue expressing a sincere desire to forgive, then God will help our hearts get to where things feel right.

5. Release Pain

Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. Psalm 34:14 NLT 

Forgiveness is hard work. It takes time and patience and strength. It requires us to recognize what has happened to us and accept it. We redirect our thoughts to the opportunities God presents which bring goodness from our pain. By focusing on God, we can respond to our hurts positively through love and prayer. Continuing to express our desire to make things right through forgiveness opens the door for God to heal our hearts. As we seek and work to maintain our peace, he helps us release pain with forgiveness.

God is always ready to help us rise above our resentments. He knows our boots get muddy in this world. If we were at the swings, I bet he’d ask us to have a seat and stick out our feet – to count on him to pull off those heavy boots. He would give us a push that is “good”.

As we rise high above resentment, we, too, would shout out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, “It is much more comfortable. See?!”

Prayer for the Week

Dear God,

Thank you for the blessings and opportunities to model your love this week. Help me flow through my days free of judgement and full of kindness. Guide me to accept the people and situations that are hard for me to understand. Keep my attention focused on the ways you are working good through these struggles. Lead my heart in love and prayer for those who hurt me, and work with me to make these relationships feel “right” in my heart and in your eyes. As I move towards forgiving others, help me rest easy in your peace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

 

Resources

  •  Idleman, Kyle. Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story. Baker Books, a Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Find Grace is Greater on Amazon.

Other Related Posts

Note: Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com and Fotor.com

Where is God when Life Hurts?

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Book pages, torn and tattered, lay scattered like breadcrumbs along the muddy trail in front of me. Disheartened by the littered mess, I bend down for a closer look. My heart sinks further as I recognize holy words displayed on the pages in front of me.

At first glance, it seems they are pages from the Bible. But, then I see an unfamiliar heading of Mosiah (not a book in the Bible) at the top of a page. Gathering some of the pieces, I research the words with my phone, soon concluding it is the Book of Mormon, strewn like a forgotten jigsaw puzzle across the forest floor.

For me, seeing the Book of Mormon torn to pieces disturbs me just as much as seeing a Bible, or any other holy book, in the same condition. What causes someone to walk along a quiet, beautiful trail ripping out pages, pausing to tear them into tiny pieces and scatter them into the distance?

Some pieces were tossed along the sidewalk, others face down in the mud, between blades of grass or leaning against tree trunks. This act took considerable time and effort to accomplish. What was this person feeling? Anguish, despair, defiance, confusion…emotions which cut raw and deep, making us ache.

Along the paper trail, did this person cry out, “Why am I suffering?” or “Do you hear me God?!”

Do you think the questions were answered?

We long to know.

Because honestly, at some point in life we all feel such pain and probably ask similar questions. And, often we feel like our most difficult questions are met with silence from God.

In the Bible, we learn about many people who faced dire circumstances and proclaimed their frustration to God. They talk of feeling hurt, abandoned, unheard, and confused. One of these people was a man named Job.

The Bible describes Job as an outstanding man with whom God was greatly pleased. He was wealthy in terms of livestock, possessions, children, and health. Through no fault of his own, he lost it all. His livestock, his home, and his children were all taken from him. Then, a painful disease of sores overtook his body.

His friends, desperate to make sense of the tragedy, reasoned that sin must be causing his suffering. They told him he must confess his wrongdoing. This was not a particularly sensitive way to comfort Job, but he examined his heart for sin nonetheless. After coming up empty-handed, Job rightly maintained his innocence.

Clearly, Job was devastated that the God he worshipped allowed such immense pain to pervade his life. Throughout his struggle, Job did not try to hide his overwhelming anguish and grief. At one point, overtaken with emotion, he exclaims that not being born would have been better than being forsaken by the God he loves.

“At last Job spoke, and he cursed the day of his birth.” Job 3:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

“I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest; only trouble comes.” Job 3:26 (NLT)

In the midst of all this hardship, Job’s faith undergoes a lengthy and mighty test. Conflicted about trusting God to pull him through, he repeatedly asks why he is suffering. He easily trusted God’s plans when life was going well. But, once life became really difficult the extent of his unbelief became clear to him.

Faith wavered and questions surfaced. He faced a choice of either giving up on God or relying on him like never before. God’s silence did not make his decision easy. For thirty-seven chapters in his story, Job challenges God for answers and receives silence.

If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of all humanity? Why make me your target? Am I a burden to you? Why not just forgive my sin and take away my guilt? For soon I will lie down in the dust and die. When you look for me, I will be gone. Job 7:20 (NLT)

I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look. Job 30:20 (NLT)

After listening in silence for quite some time, God offers Job a revelation by asking him a series of questions no human could answer – things only a creator could know. The questions, focusing on things like the earth’s creation, forces of nature, star constellations, and the animal kingdom were certainly beyond Job’s comprehension (Job 38:1-41:34). Answers to the questions were not expected; God wanted Job to grasp his sovereignty and trust his care. 

Job wonders, if he cannot fathom these things about creation then how can he possibly understand God’s reasoning and ways in other matters? The questions spark an AHA moment in him as he realizes that God has a bigger and better picture of the world than he does. The magnitude of God – his wisdom, power, justice, and grace becomes clear to him.

Job “sees” God in a deeper way than ever before – a way that humbles him and strengthens his trust in God’s plans for him. Job’s question, “Why am I suffering?” is not directly answered by God, but it suddenly becomes irrelevant in his mind. He understands everything God allows into his life is meant to prosper him – even his struggles (Jeremiah 29:11).

If Job’s trouble had left quickly or the answers came easily, he would not have been enlightened in such a profound way. God ultimately increased Job’s faith to the same extent that he allowed it to be challenged. 

“But Job replied, ‘You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?’ Job 2:10 (NLT)

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”… “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2, 5-6 New International Version (NIV)

In our lives, stories like Job’s inspire a fondness for popular quotes like these:

  • “I am thankful for my struggle because without it, I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” -Alexandra Elle
  • “We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” – Thomas Fuller
  • “Hard times are sometimes blessings in disguise. We do have to suffer but in the end it makes us strong, better, and wise.”  – Anurag Prakash Ray

It’s motivating to quote words like these when life runs smooth, simple, and good. Ironic, though, how when life takes a hard turn, these quotes are difficult for us to believe in. Like Job, we think we have faith. We think we trust God no matter what happens. But, struggles can surprise us with doubt. Trouble quickly brings us face to face with the depths of our unbelief.

And, that’s okay. God is not surprised by doubt. He understands raw emotions. In fact, the Bible tells us he aches with us. He knows the “why” questions and the desire for quick answers are part of human nature. God waits and endures like a loving parent. He trusts us to deepen our faith and allows us to embrace our own AHA moments.

Where is God when life hurts?

He walks the path beside us and silently picks up the pieces. He wants so much for us to trust his plans in good times and in bad. He hopes that a stronger relationship with him will ignite our faith like never before and lead us to share it with others.

Building a deeper relationship with God in the silence means we work on understanding his Word, trusting his love, and being patient for his promises. We can ask him to use our suffering to help others who suffer. Our hope can bring others hope. Our experience changes how we see God and the world. It allows us to actively search for and carry out his good works with a fresh pair of eyes.

Then, when another trial comes, as it surely will, we can pray, trusting him to meet us in the silence and piece us back together again.

A few things to remember from Job:

  • Faithfully loving and serving God does not provide an exemption from hard times.
  • God does not cause our suffering, but he may allow it. This does not mean he is insensitive to it.
  • We may not receive an explanation for our trial, but putting our trust in God strengthens us, provides hope, and ultimately, works for good.
  • Our struggles can be used to deepen our faith and that of others.
  • We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can always choose our response.
  • God created us with emotions, and it is always okay to express them to him.
  • Although God may feel far away, the Bible tells us he is omnipresent – everywhere at the same time. He is always with us, even if we cannot sense it.
  • God wants us to learn how to share our faith with the world. In struggles, we can either respond with “why me” or “use me”.

A Poem for your Week:

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The Hope Tree
by Jamie Trunnel

Passing this tree for a few weeks
Feel like it has a message to speak

With three solid trunks, it had stood tall and proud
Then a storm raged and two hit the ground

Now I see it standing there, broken limbs at its side
Stripped to the core, nowhere to hide

I think I know how you feel I say to the tree
Like you’ve been ripped in half and no one sees

They said you’d bend, but not break
They lied; it seems too much to take

Listen, I whisper, I’ve been here before
It’s so hard, but I finally found the hope you implore

Don’t look down at what’s fallen away
Look up, look up for what’s here to stay

May God bless you in your trials and in your celebrations. 

For more on how to get through hard times, see these previous posts.

Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 2-expectations

merry christmas

Festive, joyous, bright, and full of merriment – that’s what holidays are made of. It’s what we order every year. It’s what we expect to receive. When life is good, we wait with joyous anticipation, and then, “Yes!”, we throw open the door and eagerly unwrap this type of Christmas.

Hmmm…but, there are those harder years, though, right? When the bell announcing the holiday rings, and we swallow real hard and hesitate to open the door. Because we know, this year, the package delivered won’t be what we ordered. We wanted a shiny, sparkly Christmas. Instead, we find a drab, beat up, missing-a-corner-kind of Christmas waiting on our front step.

I  pray your Christmas delivery this year is the shiny, sparkly kind we look forward to. There are several families on my mind lately who will have a more difficult time celebrating this season. This past year they battled illness, injury, and devastating losses. Chances are, people in your life are also coping with these struggles, and others like financial hardship and divorce.

We all relate to these difficulties at some point in our lives. This week, my Christmas Countdown Challenge is to help others who are hurting. Similar to last week’s challenge, I will begin by writing a meaningful Scripture on the heading of my to-do list. Before I assign priority to any task, I will read and contemplate this Scripture. While I go about my week, I will replay these words in my mind. My goal again this week is to remain less overwhelmed and more fulfilled by the season. I hope you will join me! The Scripture we will focus on this week:

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16 New International Version (NIV)

A few ideas on ways we can fulfill this Scripture:

  • Stop and pray. Picture a big red stop sign in your brain. Allow a moment to write down the names of the people in your life who need prayers. Next to their names, jot down your hopes for them. Be as specific as you can. For example, instead of simply praying for healing, you could pray for less pain, greater mobility, or caring doctors. Revisit these prayers each day.
  • Embark on encouragement. As you make your list for the week, include tasks to encourage those you are praying for. Maybe, include a hand-written note with your Christmas card to them. Bake a few extra treats to send their way. Offer to help them shop or take them for a coffee break. If they live far away, mail a gift certificate for an evening out or send a Christmas centerpiece to their home. In some way, let them know you care.
  • Leave a trail of joy. When you are out and about, remember to remain in the moment. Be present with the task you are completing and the people you are interacting with. If you are shopping, smile and make conversation with the clerk. If you are at work, listen to your co-workers and contribute only positive comments. Open doors, offer assistance, and dish out praise.
  • Let go and let God. Human nature convinces us at times that we can fix life’s difficulties, especially for those we love. We are disappointed when we discover we cannot. God calls us to work for him–not as him. Our toughest assignment, I believe, is trusting in a plan we cannot see. This Christmas, let’s work on letting go of things out of our control. Let’s hope that one day, when we look back inside that drab, beat up, missing-a-corner-kind of Christmas, we will be surprised to see a glimmer of treasure missed before.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for staying right beside me no matter what life delivers this Christmas. Help me pray words which convey hope for others. Guide me in offering encouragement in meaningful ways. Show me ways I can serve you each day, as I try not to get lost in a holiday daze. Please forgive me when I try to run the show, and support me as I learn to trust in you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and use it for your list while referring to the Scripture throughout the week. Let your light shine!

To-Do List with Scripture week 2