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To forgive another person from the heart is an act of liberation. We set that person free from the negative bonds that exist between us. We say, ‘I no longer hold your offense against you.’ But there is more. We also free ourselves from the burden of being the ‘offended one.’ As long as we do not forgive those who have wounded us, we carry them with us or, worse, pull them as a heavy load. The great temptation is to cling in anger to our enemies and then define ourselves as being offended and wounded by them. Forgiveness, therefore, liberates not only the other but also ourselves. It is the way to the freedom of the children of God.  ~Henri Nouwen

Forgiveness is to the soul what a trade wind is to a sailboat. 

Have you ever been in a small group and someone starts in… “I can’t forgive this person for what they have done to me”?  Well, they are half right.  They can’t.  To truly forgive it takes more than mere will power, it takes the grace of God alive in your heart.  And while you try as hard as you can to forgive but just can’t find it in you to go there—all the praying, bible reading, and attending church you can muster will never relieve your responsibility to forgive.

36Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36, ESV).

As it is when we first encounter Christ and the forgiveness we find in him, so it is in our other relationships.  There is a freedom we can only find in forgiving our adversaries and absolving those we have allowed to hold us captive in an emotional prison.

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I have often said, ‘I forgive you,’ but even as I said these words my heart remained angry or resentful. I still wanted to hear the story that tells me that I was right after all; I still wanted to hear apologies and excuses; I still wanted the satisfaction of receiving some praise in return—if only the praise for being so forgiving!

But God’s forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It calls me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one whom I am asked to forgive.  ~Henri Nouwen, ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, page 129-130

It can be compared to slow and repeated torture.  You’ve told all of your darkest secrets.  Shared all of your craziest dreams.  Battled the enemy hand in hand together.  And then it happens, you’ve been loyal as a Labrador Retriever  and the next thing you know the malicious lies get back to you. 

When a close and trusted friend betrays you, it’s as if a sword goes straight through your soul—over and over and over again.   

The eccentric Oscar Wilde once quipped, A true friend stabs you in the front.  No need for explaining, if you have had a genuine friend (by no means perfect), and also a phony friend, you know the difference.  Here’s a hint: Phony friends always will  find some excuse to finally give up one you.  It should be known that their so-called “love” for you was ever designed and practiced for serving their own ends.  Once these snakes are done using you they discard you like a bag of useless trash.

King David understood the sting of betrayal and the thirst for revenge.   

9 Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
   who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me,
   and raise me up, that I may repay them!  (Psalm 41:9-10, ESV)

Returning the favor is an option after all. 

When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.  ~Lewis B. Smedes   

My experience has taught me that forgiveness isn’t warm and fuzzy.  While forgiveness isn’t a feeling, I’d add that it doesn’t have to mean the lack of feelings either. 

It’s inhuman to be immune to pain.  We were made to feel.  Problem is, we are afraid we will feel too much.  In turn, we suppress, drown, and deny those feelings—never allowing ourselves to own our hurts.  It’s okay to hurt, it’s returning hurt for hurt that is the problem.  It’s one thing to feel like wringing someones neck—an altogether different thing to attempt to sabotage someones’ life.  

Over the years it has become more and more obvious to me that there is no room in the Christian experience for “I’ll get around to forgiving you when I feel like it, when I’m good and ready.”  There are those foolish guides who will tell you that your feelings will not lie to you.  Let me respectfully and adamantly object.  You can feel wonderful about yourself and not know the first thing about forgiveness, while the next guy can feel lower than a snake in a wagon rut about himself and have forgiven those who have sinned against him.  Forgiveness has never been about feeling good.  I have found that I can be downright depressed and be very forgiving all at the same time.

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  ~Ephesians 4:1-3, ESV

I’d say it’s safe to assume forgiveness is our calling.

Community is not possible without the willingness to forgive one another ‘seventy-seven times’ (see Matthew 18:22). Forgiveness is the cement of community life. Forgiveness holds us together through good and bad times, and it allows us to grow in mutual love.  ~Henri Nouwen

You can’t very well remain cold and be a person who has learned what it is to walk in forgiveness at the very same time.  People who have any similarities with Jesus—learn what it is to forgive.

When Jesus showed up, the Pharisees just couldn’t understand his fascination with forgiving reprobates.  Here they were throwing rocks at sinners and Jesus has the nerve to call out these shame-based characters.  When you are coming from a religious mindset, you can’t possibly understand what it is to forgive—all you know is pride, pomp, and stinginess. 

When you approach forgiveness from a Jesus frame of mind, you get it—because forgiveness is all about humility and generosity based on mercy.  

 23″Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart (Matthew 18:23-35, ESV).”

There will always remain a segment of folks within the four walls of “church” who never grasp what forgiveness is about, or who it is for.

Forgiveness is for sinners.

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