Learning to Forgive
By Golden Keyes Parsons
Conflict - I hate it! Confrontation - I avoid it! Forgiveness - do I have to!? But I'm right - she's wrong. There is no reason for this conflict. He should have to apologize. I have not done anything. Whatever the reason, a conflict has occurred. I now have a choice. Do I freely forgive and forge ahead with love and acceptance ... or do I fiercely fire darts of defense and fall back behind a wall of withdrawal, self-righteousness and pitiful pride?
As a ministry wife with a ministry of my own as well, it seems my husband and I have had our share of difficult people along with ample opportunity to allow the Lord to teach us how to respond to and resolve conflict. My mother-in-law was a godly woman who taught me much. When I was a newlywed, she and I were standing in my kitchen in our little apartment in Colorado Springs. I can remember the bright afternoon sun streaming in the window over the top of Cheyenne Mountain on that crisp autumn day. We were discussing a current situation in which there was conflict between ourselves and the couple directly below us. My mother-in-law said to me, "Sweetie, most people don't mean to hurt you. They are simply thoughtless or insensitive."
As we moved into ministry a few years later, I began to see how true that was. Others are so wrapped up in their own lives they leave thoughtful gestures undone. They mean to send that card or invite you to dinner. They simply never get around to it. Or a thoughtless word is spoken. Most of the time it is just that - thoughtless - not meant to hurt at all. Therefore, number one in resolving conflict is not to take up an offense in the first place when one was not intended.
But what about when there has been an obvious offense? In my opinion Scripture is very clear regarding the route we are to take. Whether we have been offended (Mk.11:25) or whether we have offended (Matt. 5:23-24), our admonition is to forgive and to love. The Matthew passage says we are to leave our gift at the altar - go make it right before we even come to worship. But how do these formal, flowery principles flesh out in the daily working out of our faith? We must forgive - and true forgiveness is a releasing.
"And his master's heart was moved with compassion, and he released him and forgave him (canceling) the debt" (Matt.18:27 Amp).
The Greek word in the Matthew 18 passage for release is apoluo which means to free fully, release, let depart, loose, set at liberty. Forgive and forget? That is the tough part. It is not humanly possible for the memory of the offense to be forever erased from our minds. We are not commanded to develop spiritual amnesia! We are commanded to hold the offense against the person no longer. It is a releasing of the person who has hurt us to the Father - trusting the Father to deal with the situation. We are not to keep the offender in our personal dungeon of debt. That's not our job. Our job is to release.
When I learned forgiving is a releasing, a turning loose, it was incredibly freeing to me. I felt I could do that. Even if the wounds are still painfully raw, I can release them to the Heavenly Father. Every time I am tempted to take them back, I release them again. Slowly, the emotions begin to heal, and the Holy Spirit begins to replace the hurt with His love. Forgiveness floods in replacing the defensiveness.
Because the Father has forgiven me, it then becomes my responsibility to extend that forgiveness to others. For me to forgive is a matter of obedience. It is an issue between myself and my Father, not an issue between myself and the offender.
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Eph. 4:32).
It is important, however, to acknowledge the pain. David cried out to the Lord in the Psalms. Job aired his complaints. Jeremiah recorded his hurt in Ecclesiastes. Express your hurt in prayer and/or in a journal. But then release it to the Father and let it go. If we do not make an attempt to resolve conflict, seeds of bitterness will begin to form deep in our souls. Charles Swindoll says in "Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life":
"(Jesus) said that we who refuse to forgive -- we who live in the gall of bitterness -- will become victims of torture (Matt. 18) - meaning intense inner torment ...We lock ourselves in a lonely isolation chamber, walled in by our own refusal to forgive. For your sake, let me urge you to put away all bitterness now. The escape route is clearly marked. It leads to the Cross ... Where the only One who had a right to be bitter wasn't."
The hardest offenses to forgive are situations which are "not right." Perhaps an injustice has been done to us, we have been slandered or unjustly accused. Still, we are to forgive.
In the mid-eighties we were in a ministry we loved and at which we were very successful. Within a matter of months, this particular branch of a larger evangelistic organization was sold ... and we were let go, even though we had been told there would be no staff changes. Our expertise and experience were no longer needed as the focus of the ministry changed under the new owner. We could find no one who wanted to hire us. My husband went to work as a common laborer in a blueberry field. I substitute taught. All of us did any and everything we could to feed and house our family. This continued for seven years.
A friend admonished us during this time that we not become bitter. As we examined our hearts, we realized, indeed, we had become bitter. My husband set up an appointment with the gentleman who had purchased the ministry - the ministry we had built from the ground floor up - and humbled himself and asked him to forgive him. What had been done and how it was done was not "right," but we had allowed a bitterness to creep in. We lost our career, our ministry, our home, but God had some things He needed to teach us, and He allowed it. Today I praise God for what we have come through.
In seeking to deal with difficult people and asking for forgiveness, I would caution that the leadership of the Lord must be sought concerning the timing and that we go with a repentant heart. We must "own" the problem. If we go saying something like, "There has been an offense between us because you get on my nerves," I would doubt that any reconciliation will take place. We must go with a contrite heart taking responsibility for the offense.
Our response to conflict is critical. The correct response is not to fire and fall back behind a wall of defense, but to forgive and forge on in love! "Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity" (Col. 3:12-13).