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
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
- 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
- For more on hurts and hope, read Where is God When Life Hurts
- For more on forgiveness and grace, read Defining Grace
- For more on judgement, read Judged Instead of Loved
Note: Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com and Fotor.com