Years ago I found myself in the middle of a difficult situation. Multiple people had been hurt, lies were flying every which way and there was nothing I could do to bring about resolve. I realized that I resented the offenders and just felt stuck. I could hear God quietly saying, “Forgive,” but forgive was the last thing that I wanted to do.
One day, I went for a run on the beach. This is my favorite place to pray, cry out to God, marvel at his creation and revel in his love. On this particular day though, I was angry, frustrated, and running hard, as if to escape the pain of my circumstances. I had run over three miles when I suddenly realized that I had not once looked at the ocean! Here, was the water’s edge, just feet away from me, but my focus was instead on my pain. I stopped right there, sat down on the sand, and had it out with God. I told him about my anger, disappointment and frustration. I cried and yelled and finally asked for help. Yet again I heard his quiet voice, “Forgive.” This time I listened. I pondered with God what forgiveness could look like. Did it mean that I had to trust? I heard him say that forgiveness did not equal trust; forgiveness was at this moment, more about my own healing than it was about that of the offender. I thought about the degree to which God had forgiven me and I started to notice my heart softening. As I relinquished my bitterness and asked God to help me forgive, I felt the anger subside and instead be replaced with peace and even joy. It was such a relief! Forgiveness takes time; but it also takes a first step.
Hebrews 12:15 says, “Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.”
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we read about how the father forgave his wayward son, and yet the older brother did not. The father ran to his son, full of love and compassion; not harboring bitterness. Just imagine that joyful embrace! Yet the older brother wouldn’t join in the welcome home party and instead pouted. A root of bitterness was growing in his heart, causing him trouble, and stealing his joy. The older son provides us a picture of how anger and resentment can prevent us from receiving the gift of joy that comes with forgiving. The father though, reminds us that only a heart that forgives can have space to rejoice.
Have you ever had the experience of joy that comes from forgiving? Have you experienced the joy that comes from being forgiven? Meditate on Psalm 32:1-7. Thank God for the forgiveness that he has offered you and ask him to help you lay aside all bitterness and renew your heart to forgive others.
Women’s Ministry Director