When It Is Just Too Hard To Forgive (Part 2)

The choice is ours, but the rest is up to God

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In part one of this article, I shared about Mark, whose daughter was killed by a serial killer. Mark is still wrestling through his anger and pain, but learning he can choose forgiveness even when his emotions tell him otherwise. Mark has discovered that his only responsibility is to engage his will; the "heavy work" of forgiveness is God's part.  For many of us, our journey towards freedom begins by duty, and we just have to “fake it till we make it.” We may only have a weak “yes” to offer God as we continue to flounder about in turmoil, but this is actually all God needs to work in our lives. Since we are shaped by what we practice, if we choose to pray for our enemies even when we do not feel like it, and we persist in obedience and surrender, somewhere along the way God will change our heart (Luke 6:27-28, Romans 12:14).  

I know that Mark’s journey toward healing is only beginning, but he is off to a good start. Will he have days where the anger resurges and tries to take over? Absolutely. Will he have days where the pain and grief feel like they will consume him? I am sure he will. But I know Mark will be okay, because even in the face of such devastation, and while still riddled with unanswered questions, he is refusing to shut down his connection to God. Mark knows the battle is not his to win, and he knows he can rely on God’s strength to face each day (Philippians 4:13, Isaiah 40:29-31, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Psalm 46:1).

Mark ended the appointment by telling me he knew God sent him there that day (in reality, God had even saved that appointment slot for him ahead of time). Mark then said exuberantly, “This was the best doctor’s appointment I have ever had!” I wanted to cry out of gratitude to God – because I knew that what I gave Mark that day did not come from me.

Most of us have no idea the havoc resentment reaps in our lives. We think because we are justified in our anger, we make the other person “pay” by not forgiving them. However, it has been said that, “holding a grudge is like drinking poison while waiting for the other person to die.” Harboring unforgiveness robs us of our peace and hinders our ability to hear God clearly.

After walking through some painful experiences in his life, R.T. Kendall wrote the book, “Total Forgiveness.” Kendall confided the details of a hurtful scenario to a trustworthy friend, but instead of affirming Kendall’s right to be angry, his friend responded, “R.T., unless you totally forgive them, you will be in chains. Release them, and you too will be released.” Kendall admits he did not expect this response, but shares that this truth became a defining moment in his life. In his book, Kendall expounds on the facets of forgiveness, explaining that we are called to forgive others even when they have not repented. However, he points out that forgiveness is an ongoing work - we have to do it at one point in time, but also do it in stages. After choosing to forgive someone (even after feeling the peaceful resolve of the decision), old emotions can resurge . . . and when this happens, we must renew our forgiving spirit (Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, Luke 17:4, Ephesians 4:31-32).

According to Charles Kraft, “To forgive means to release the other person and oneself from captivity to anger, bitterness, and resentment.” There is nothing about forgiveness that says what the other person did was okay. After an apology, we tend to respond, “It’s okay.” However, the apology does not change the nature of the offense, and it is NOT okay what they did. Forgiveness is simply our choice to not hold what they did against them . . . to keep no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). Maybe it would be better to just answer, “I forgive you.”

It is also important to note that forgiving someone does not mean we are called to restore our relationship with that person. As Jonas Clark says, “There is no foundation for reconciliation without repentance.” We still may not be able to trust the person who hurt us, so we need to use wisdom when relating to these individuals . . . which includes setting appropriate boundaries so that similar hurts do not reoccur. As Desmond Tutu said,

Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering--remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.

Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.

Lastly, total forgiveness requires giving up the right to be angry with God. This means ceasing to ask the question, “Why?” For Christians, it can be hard to reconcile the idea of a loving God with the tragedy and suffering we experience in this life. But according to Graham Cooke, the question “Why?” will not lead us to peace. Instead we should ask, “What does this mean?” and “What must I do?” These are the questions that will help us discover the answers we need to move forward. Surrendering it all to God, even when we don’t understand, will set us free from the torment in our soul.

I reconnected with Mark after a couple of months and he tells me he was invited to speak at a “Second Chance Recovery” meeting, an organization committed to helping people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Mark says he has decided to talk to them about forgiveness. So there he goes . . . already partnering with God to redeem this horrible tragedy in his life. Way to go Mark.

My prayer is that with God’s help, we can all seize the power of forgiveness in our lives . . . and that in doing so, we will be set free from the chains of resentment that hamper our true joy and peace in life.

Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now--in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. ... Indeed, God is transforming the world now--through us--because God loves us.

It is through weakness and vulnerability that most of us learn empathy and compassion and discover our soul. Out of the cacophony of random suffering and chaos that can mark human life, the life artist sees or creates a symphony of meaning and order. A life of wholeness does not depend on what we experience. Wholeness depends on how we experience our lives.

In the end what matters is not how good we are but how good God is. Not how much we love Him but how much He loves us. And God loves us whoever we are, whatever we’ve done or failed to do, whatever we believe or can’t. - Desmond Tutu  

**The details of this account were shared with Mark’s permission, but his name was changed to protect his privacy.

Recommended Reading:

Book “Total Forgiveness” by R.T. Kendall

Carey McNamara

I am a wife to Bob, a mom to Connor, and a physician assistant who is passionate about beating heart disease. As a devoted lover of Jesus, I am on an unending quest for more truth, love, and wholeness through Him. I have come to a place in my life where I realize God is not afraid of my questions, and I have learned the joy of pursuing Him until I discover His heart. As a result, I created a blog to encourage others in their own journey towards Life, Liberty, and Love in Christ. I am passionate about doing life authentically in community, and am thrilled to share a bit of that with you here.

*Please comment respectfully. I welcome honesty as you share your thoughts and feelings. However, since many of these subjects are controversial, I ask that you take care to honor others in the process. I reserve the right to delete any inappropriate comments.