(Photo by Lindsay O’Neil)
Giving the Gift of Forgiveness
By Michelle Ochen
Forgiveness is a word that brings immediate feeling. It can be the hardest gift to give and the most cherished to receive. We commonly think of it as optional, but when we consider the effects neglect to forgiveness brings, we find it to be a vital part of healthy relationships. I think for us to truly understand forgiveness we must look closely at bitterness.
The word itself has such an icy feel, and causes a heart to become cold in its ability to forgive. Bitterness is spoken of in scripture as something that takes root. Anything with a root has the potential to grow- and bitterness can do just that: it can grow within a heart until it has created a web of weeds that is hard to come out of. Bitterness always remembers details. If you want a scale to know if you are holding onto something, ask yourself: “how well do I remember the details?” Have you replayed it so many times that you remember the small things? Many people think they have forgiven someone, yet if you ask them about how they were wronged by another they speak of it in detail as if it had just taken place. Bitterness holds on when true forgiveness lets go. It is impossible to give genuine forgiveness if a root of bitterness has formed in a heart. The bitterness must first be taken care of for the power of healing and restoration to take place in forgiveness. Bitterness is formed when we are wronged by someone near to us. For example, we do not become bitter when something unjust happens to innocent people on TV. We may be upset or even offended, but not bitter. But when a wrong is done to us personally, the opportunity for bitterness knocks on the heart’s door.
Everyone will be wronged, it’s not a matter of if but when, but not everyone must become bitter. The choice to forgive is always available. A person who is wronged and allows bitterness to settle and grow only harms himself or herself. Unforgivenss is as a poison to the soul. The wrong doer will walk away and continue living, but the offended who chooses not to forgive will remain in their hurt, stuck in the mud of bitterness.
True forgiveness gives place to restoration. To restore means to put back to how things were before, and specifically before any wrong took place. Restoration invites the wrongdoer back to a place of intimate connection. It doesn’t only offer a room in the heart, but invites the person to dine at their table again. The ultimate example of forgiveness and restoration has been shown to us through the love of Jesus Christ who never waited for His creation before offering Himself, as Creator, an apology for going against His standards and desires. When we were still in a place of wrong He gave Himself, in abandonment to His own comfort and emotion, to forgive us and bring us back to a place of intimacy with God. True forgiveness needs not to wait for an apology that may or may not come, but looks at what has been given and chooses to give out the same. You have been forgiven much and are therefore expected to forgive others in return (Matthew 6:14-15).
As challenging as dealing with bitterness and giving forgiveness can be, there is One on your side who will walk with you through every conversation, tear, and joy of restoration in the journey of forgiveness.