How to Forgive Your Enemies

0414-forgive-your-enemiesThis was a rough week. It’s not just that some bad things happened that affected my kids, or that no matter how prepared I was, it still hurt.

It’s also the timing of this bad thing. The actions we feared were confirmed last night, hours shy of Good Friday.

At the time of day that Jesus would have been sitting down for His Last Supper, we were handed our official bad news.

Judas has left the building, people.

Ok, I’m being melodramatic, sure, but if you’ve been watching my scopes, you’ll know that this had to do with betrayal and involved my kid, and it’s been really hard.

Now because I knew the ax was falling last night, I spent Wednesday night fortifying myself with scripture and sermons. I figured anger was the best place to start.

Which is how I ended up on forgiveness.

Wait, what?

You see, forgiveness is the only true tool to fight anger. And I mean real forgiveness, not the kind we fantasize about in our heads. You know what I mean, it goes like this:

Dear Person Who Hurt Me,

I have decided to forgive you. Your character before this incident was good, (OR, I didn’t know you well enough to discern your true character), and you’ve been an asset in my life. But the actions taken by you were hurtful, so as a Christian, I’ve decided to forgive you. That said, I will never forget… <followed by 3-6 pages of hurts and indignities caused by person…>

I don’t expect you to respond and I won’t if you do, but I hope you are big enough to / courageous enough to read and keep this letter! Go in peace. (Sort of.)

Please don’t tell me I’m the only person who’s written this letter in my head. You know you have. If not, you’re a much more mature person than I’ll ever probably be and please send me your email, because you should be writing my faith columns, not me!!

But it’s OK if you have written that letter in your head. It’s  natural. It’s normal. It’s human.

It’s just not…Godly.

What’s Godly is to forgive your enemies. And boy oh boy, is that a bitter pill  to swallow.

And right here, right now, we have to think about that. We need to remember the God Who left His rightful throne and came down to earth to pay the ultimate price for our awfulness.

And maybe, just maybe, while you’re mulling over all that betrayal, you’ll remember the time you were not so great to someone you loved. (And by “not so great” what I really mean is “complete and utter turd” so that you had to be talked to and felt great shame and humiliation because as a Christian, you should know better than to be that big a turd, especially to people you care about. Not that that’s ever happened to me…<cough, cough…>)

As far as how to “get” to forgiveness, all the human methods don’t work. Let’s take a look at some of them:

  • Forgive but don’t forget. Of course, that’s the letter above. It’s really in the forgetting that you are actually forgiving. Of course, if you learned something, that still applies. You can keep the maturity you gained while forgetting the incident.
  • Remember the person’s good qualities. Ok, this has a LOT of problems with it. #1 -what if they don’t have any in your experience with them? It happens. #2 – your forgiveness is a judgment here, i.e., “they are good enough to forgive, so I can do it.” Seriously? We none of us are “good” or else we wouldn’t need Jesus.
  • This made me stronger! Ok, now we have put the focus on us and that makes us superior to that person who hurt us. It’s like saying, “I hate that you did this but thank you for being a jerk because I’m better now – and certainly better than you.” See above about being “good” – or “better.”
  • Forgiveness is for me. This is the lie we all believe. Well, ok, it’s not really a lie, exactly. It’s just that when you start with selfishness, you can’t get to true forgiveness. Yet again you are putting yourself first and that means you’re putting someone else last.

How to Forgive Your Enemies: The Path to True Forgiveness

Ok, so how do we get to forgiveness? Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? Because the Godly path to forgiveness doesn’t have any of those human reasons attached, and it’s a painful, “walking on broken glass” kind of road.

I’m starting to think that like salvation, forgiveness is still pretty much the work of God alone. If that’s true,  then there are only a few things you can do but they are important:

  1. Go to scripture: Ok, we really need to dig deep on the topic of not just Bible verses about forgiveness, but ramifications of non-forgiveness! The Old Testament is full of them, as is Revelations. Here is what the Bible says about holding grudges.
  2. Be Christlike: Just go to Luke 23:34 where Jesus said,“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.Chew on that a bit. While they were as yet unsaved, Jesus asked God to forgive those who participated and were STILL participating in his torture and crucifixion. Out loud. So loud that it was recorded by someone. And THEN some guys gambled for His clothes. Not cool, people. But God is big enough to handle that level of betrayal.
  3. Pray for them. YES. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Pretty clear, eh? There is Jesus on the cross praying for His enemies in the midst of doing awful things to Him. And don’t pray for bad stuff. This is such an easy trap. “Dear God, I pray you bring them to justice!” I’m not saying you can’t pray for justice to the situation, but God does dole out justice – and just as easily completely forgives any person, the worst criminal in the world, if it pleases Him. So do the Godly thing and pray for their soul, their salvation, and a changed heart. That’s much better than praying for vengeance. God already has that under control, however He wills it – if He does at all.
  4. Remember you’re no better. The person hurting you is either 1) unsaved, 2) saved but doesn’t see their error or 3) saved and actually right and you can’t see it. Either way, you have been #1, #2 and #3 at some point in your life. (Or if you were saved yesterday or this afternoon, you will be.) That’s right – you’re no better. You have hurt others, intentionally and unintentionally, before and after you were saved. And you will until the day you die, although hopefully, willful sin will go way, way down, and it’ll mostly be unintentional slights by the time you’re done here. So really, are you any better than them? Nope, not in the least. And God forgave you anyway.

Yes, I realize that those 4 tips sting. They are so painful that maybe you’re not ready to do what I suggest. If that’s the case, I’ll add one more, which really should be #1:

Pray for God to help you forgive others.

This is stinky stuff. I mean, really, who wants to forgive their enemies? Who wants to extend grace to people who’ve hurt our children? Not me.

That’s why we can’t do this on our own. We’re not meant to – God doesn’t want us to! He wants us to lean heavy on Him for things that seem impossible…like forgiving someone who’s betrayed you or your child. We humans don’t want to but God wants us to, and His will is really all that matters.

One day, you’ll be in heaven. And maybe up there, you’ll see your enemy. Maybe they’ll say, “You forgave me. You showed me grace I didn’t know humans were capable of. I had to find out why…and that’s how I got here.” And that will be the sweetest thing in all of eternity.

 

  1. Hi Gina! Oh my, yes. I have written a TON of letters like this! My son was always in some kind of crisis in grade school. His class was legendary for it’s cruelty. It was so hard to forgive these kids for their constant badgering of my poor son.
    It’s such a good thing to try and find a way to forgive that really sticks. Not just words, you know? You have given me a great list to work with. Maybe now when I get to heaven, I’ll rejoice with everyone who’s there!
    Blessings,
    Ceil

    • Oh Ceil, I’m so happy to read your words! I’m glad this helped. To be honest, I was thinking about my post as we worshipped at church this Easter, and I felt doubly convicted that I really needed to make my actions match my words. I can pursue many courses of action against the school…but should I? Would it really accomplish anything other than bad feelings, and isn’t my real purpose just spite?

      That’s why I’m sharing – to keep myself honest, but I’m so blessed to read your words too!!

  2. I have never written a letter like this, but only because I couldn’t forgive for a long time. I’m not talking about the petty stuff but the major things that really hurt me. I only learned to forgive when I was saved. When I remember past hurts now, I ask myself “Did I forgive them?” If the answer is yes, I know that I need to dismiss the thought and move on. If the answer is no, I take time for a short prayer to forgive and let go. I’m still working on #3 (pray for them) not so much because I don’t want to, but more because I really don’t think of them much and tend to forget.

    • Thank you for sharing that, Alice. Funny, I wish it became that easy for me after I was saved! I have to constantly remind myself of Christ’s work and how much of a sinner I am to really get it. And #3 is REALLY hard. It goes against every human bone in our body, so don’t beat yourself up too much over it. Just ask God to help.

  3. I love how you point out forgiveness is God’s territory..in our own it just doesn’t work. You really presented a full picture of forgiveness our way vs God’s way. God’s way turns reigns. Ive done both! Blessings frim Christian Women Bloggers Unite…

    • Thank you Kathy! It occurred to me as writing, so I assumed that was the Holy Spirit teaching me. It’s true then when *I* try to “push” myself towards forgiveness, it just falls flat and I’m left with weeks or months of wondering if I really forgave them.