(Yikes. Hope this article can really live up to that title…)
(It’s ok, it’s not the words in this post that inspired that title. Scripture inspired that title. So I can go that big with that claim.)
(I probably shouldn’t start a post with a dialogue between me and myself.)
(It’s ok, my readers have come to expect some crazy.)
Now that I have my attention…
As a parent of more than one child, I spend a lot of my time settling sibling disputes. I try to teach the offending child to recognize her wrongdoing, apologize for it, and ask for forgiveness. I try to teach the offended sister to accept the apology by verbally extending forgiveness.
And it goes over about as well as it sounds like it would. Through gritted teeth, they obey me because they have to, not because their hearts feel much empathy.
As an adult in her 4th decade, I don’t do much better handling my own conflicts. A lot of people struggle with forgiving those who have hurt them. We genuinely want to forgive, but we don’t know how to get there. We don’t want to say we forgive and try to force our hearts to feel forgiving because we all know that doesn’t work. We can’t will ourselves to a place of forgiveness.
Yet, we’re commanded to forgive all over the place in the Bible. One example is Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
A lot of times we really want to do this… and we feel guilty when we don’t do this. And we feel angry that we seemingly can’t do this. (I can’t help but think this is all part of Satan’s plan (2 Corinthians 2:10-11).)
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, what do we do?
I got to thinking, what if we’re focusing on the wrong thing? What if mustering up forgiveness isn’t really the place we should start if we want to succeed at forgiving someone?
I know it’s a strange thought, but we’ve already proven time and time again that psyching ourselves up to give our best shot at forgiving rarely (never?) works.
So what if we try something different?
If we read the verses surrounding Colossians 3:13 (namely, verse 12), we get some clues as to how we can improve our chances of forgiving as the Lord forgave us.
Colossians 3:12 says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
This verse - immediately preceding the verse commanding us to forgive all people for all things – says (at least) two important things we need to know and do before we will be ready to forgive well.
1. Recognize Whose we are. Every believer is purposefully hand-picked by God, set apart for Him, and cherished by Him. Maybe instead of jumping prematurely to trying to will ourselves to forgive, we ought to meditate on these three truths about ourselves. When we internalize the implications of our identity in Christ, two things happen: the offense committed against us doesn’t seem quite so important, and our hearts, overcome with humility, start to soften toward the offender, who is really just like us – a sinner in need of a Savior. Forgiveness isn’t going to happen inside the cold, hard hearts of people whose self-worth is wrapped up in what others think of them. So let’s start here and get our heads right.
2. Get dressed. Before we can forgive, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. This is a lot easier to do after we’ve spent some time reflecting on Whose we are. These characteristics seem to start flowing out of us when we are secure and in tune with our Father’s love for us. But trying to forgive without these things going on in our hearts is, as we’ve all experienced, impossible.
After we’ve “completed” verse 12, verse 13 actually becomes attainable! Feeling enveloped in His love, walking in love toward others, we are enabled to, ”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).
If I can be so bold, we can forgive anybody anything (which is how the Lord forgave us) when we follow these two verses IN ORDER.
Dare to try it with me?