“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.” James 4:8-10
At some point in our lives we have all encountered situations that involve us forgiving someone, or us seeking someone else’s forgiveness for some wrong we have committed. At no time in my life have I heard the word forgiveness used and practiced more than during my years of employment with the Atlanta Union Mission, Women and Children Services. The women and children who came through our doors seeking help were addicted to alcohol, drugs and/or victims of domestic violence, or homeless. For the most part these women were broken in spirit, their lives shattered and were viewed as “real loosers,” in society. Most of these moms were looking to make a change in their life and for the most part willingly admitted the role they had played in the lifestyle they had lived and which ultimately had led them to this tragic time in their life. Exact instructions on how to seek forgiveness is found in
James 4:8-10. The Bible says, this is a time to get serious about life. It is time to cleanse your hands and a time to purify your heart. Stop being double-minded, cease laughing and thinking life is one big joke; become sorrowful, mournful and weep unashamedly; apologizing to God and seeking His forgiveness. Only after this process is complete and we have humbled ourselves in His sight, will He reach down and lift us up.
I don’t think I would be an exaggerating to say, I heard the words “I am sorry” uttered thousands and thousands of times, during the years I worked for the Mission. Often “I’m sorry” was blurted out to an employee, in an effort to convey the desperation a client might be feeling regarding her personal circumstances and to try and convey her sincere desire to turn her life around. Some cried out to anyone who would listen as they begged forgiveness for the hundreds of wrong choices they had made in their lives and for the damage those choices had not only brought to them, but to those around them. To hear mothers and children cry out to God and utter silent and soft prayers of forgiveness was not unusual. Unfortunately, I have witnessed the birth of a child whose mom chose to continue using drugs during her pregnancy. It is heartbreaking to watch an innocent baby be born into the world thrashing uncontrollably, exhibiting a distinct high pitch cry and generally under nourished; all of which are common signs of a baby drawing its first breath as a drug addict. The screams and echos of mothers and children begging each other for forgiveness for sins they had committed against themselves, other family members and God, will forever ring in my ears. Unless you see some of these things for yourself, I think it might be hard for you to imagine what emotions are involved as a mom apologizes and begs forgiveness from God and from a son she has repeatedly raped, or from a beautiful daughter who at the tender age of 8 or 9, was set up in the business of human trafficking. The mother was nothing more than an “agent” for her child and used her own flesh and blood as a means of supporting her drug habit. I have heard young boys and girls weep as they beg mothers to forgive them for their many years of being decitful, lying, stealing, having abortions and participating in any other type negative behavior you might imagine. As we begin to search our own heart, we need to remember that our sins are no different from the sins of these mothers and their children. Sometimes we try to classify sin; but it just doesn’t work that way. Sin is sin and God says we have all sinned…..”The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that ALL should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 This means that everyone has the same opportunity to seek and to be forgiven of their sins and to spend eternity in heaven. “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Acts 2:21
In their first few days and weeks at the Mission and without even realizing it most of the women and children are not seeking forgiveness; they are simply making an apology. This is good, for apologizing is a necessary step to take in order to move forward. However, we need to be aware that while it is fairly easy to apologize; forgiving is an entirely different matter and usually takes a longer amount of time. Even acts that seem as unforgiveable as those mentioned in the previous paragraph – may be understood within the context of a person’s damaged life or soul. Hanging on to the memory of past transgressions – whether your own or those of others; allows the poison to grow more potent within you. Forgiveness is the only way to rid yourself of deep feelings of anger, resentment and guilt. Resentment, if left untreated will build a wall between you and God. It will destroy a marriage and sever any relationship you might hope to have with your children, or friends and leave you with feelings of hopelessness and despair. According to physicians and medical journals, unresolved anger and resentment can contribute to physical ailments that range from heart disease and high blood pressure to digestive problems and depression. It is easier to resolve feelings of resentment as soon as possible, rather than carrying the anger inside you for months and often years….sometimes forever. Sadly, it is not usual for people to continue carrying anger and an unforgiving spirit toward someone who has died. Whether the other person is dead or alive, our first step in forgiving is to understand what happened. One way to do this, is to write a letter about the behaviors we found unforgivable – we will know exactly what they are because they have continue to haunt us on some level. This is a letter that will never be mailed. Rather, it is a way for us to give voice to our emotions and to help move the emotional pain out of our body. The letter is a tool to help us see past the hurt we feel and to other factors that may have influenced the situation. Several aspects of human nature may make this hard to do. One impediment to letting go of anger is the fear of being hurt again – but it is important to push past that fear. Life is much to short and too full of blessings for us to harbor anger and resentment within our heart.
The second factor at work is more complex. People sometimes experience a type of power when they don’t fully forgive because it gives them the sense of being in control and in being in a righteous position. Yet the Bible clearly addresses the seriousness of a person who chooses to assume the role as this righteous person. Luke 5:32 says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Forgiving not only allows us to let go of that power, but it also allows us to accept responsibility for our part in the transgression. Though this may be the hardest part, it liberates you from the role of victim; a role that may feel comforting at first, but in the long run limits your ability to grow.
True forgiveness is a challenge that demands complete honesty about yourself and/or the other person. No what how old or how young you are, it is a call to grow up and deal with others on a mature and loving level. How do you feel today? Do you feel sick; emotionally, physically and/or spiritually? Maybe it is time for you to take that important step towards forgiving someone who has treated you wrong, or to ask someone to forgive you for something you have done wrong.