Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Don't Take the Poison

Forgiveness is such a complex thing.  And there are so many misconceptions about it.  A couple of my favorites (enter sarcasm) is that forgiveness is a feeling... that you need to feel forgiveness before you can actually forgive that person.  Or, if I forgive, then that gives the person the right to continue to walk all over me and hurt me.  There are many more (and they might possibly pop up further along in this note), but hopefully I can shed a little light on this subject and give some practical steps to forgive.

We've been going through a series at church called "If God is Good".  We're looking at the life of Joseph and the pain and suffering he went through... which subsequently led to his process of forgiveness.  Being sold in to slavery by his own jealous brothers, he spent an intense 13 years in Egypt (most of it in prison) after being wrongfully accused for something he didn't do.  Then with a turn of events he ends up as second in command in all of Egypt.  Now, there are many important details in this story that lead to the end.  Before this all happened the Lord had given him a dream of his future... a hope!  When he was in prison it says that the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy and loving-kindness and gave him favor in the sight of the warden.  This is a time of suffering... being persecuted for something he didn't do!  And yet, the Lord was with him.  Even amongst this pain Joseph knew that the Lord was with him (exploring this topic will have to be for another time).  Because he knew this he knew God had a purpose for all that he was going through.  Instead of dwelling on how his brothers absolutely betrayed him (which we can all agree he had good right to be seething mad) he already CHOSE to forgive.  And there's the first key word... forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling.  He gave his "right" to revenge to the Lord and trusted that God was in all of this (even though it is SOOO easy to question the whereabouts of God in such horrible circumstances).  He let go of all bitterness and gave the Lord room to seek justice (His perfect justice) on his behalf.  I mean... what good would it have done him to be in prison plotting his brothers' demise... really? NONE!  Except take years off his own life (bitterness dries up the bones) and make his existence a lot more miserable.

So moving on from his initial choice to forgive... he is now second in command of all Egypt and the land is in the middle of a horrible famine.  Joseph's father sends his sons (the infamous brothers) to Egypt to get some food that had been stored for this time.  When they come in to Joseph's presence they don't even recognize him, but he knows who they are immediately.   Before he gets to the moment of revealing his identity he has a moment when he turns away to weep... all the emotions from all those years prior came flooding back.  Does this mean that he really didn't start the process of forgiveness?  NO!  Choosing to forgive someone doesn't mean that you ignore the pain that was caused you (another common lie).  On the contrary, in order to get to the end of the process of forgiveness this release of emotion MUST happen... and perhaps more than once depending on the severity of affliction that you experienced.  I've told this to so many people just in the past month!  It's like we need permission to feel and acknowledge our hurt.  If you just try to sweep this under the rug you will never experience TRUE forgiveness in your heart.  This pain must be completely emptied out of our hearts and souls... it's only then can we let compassion (seeing the person as God sees them) fill us and begin to change our very core. 

Which this brings me to the next point.  On Sunday it was said that it's in the place of compassion that we learn to forgive.  So if compassion is seeing as God sees then how do we get there?  This was a huge lesson that I learned when I walked through my own forgiveness story (at least one of them).  Many years ago I had a friend that hurt me deeply.  I hated confrontation so my coward self only wanted to run from the situation and pretend like it never happened.  In a strange way it did kind of just "go away", but little did I know that it was far from over.  It was about a year later that the Lord brought to my attention that I hadn't forgiven her.  I suppose sitting in church, glaring at her, and hoping that all of her prayer requests weren't answered should have been my first clue that I still wasn't over this... Anyways, after the Lord revealed my unforgiveness towards her it was time to walk down the road of letting go.  I had NO idea how to even begin the process to forgive her... like I said, I didn't want good things to happen to her.  But this is exactly where the Lord had me begin.  Praying for her!  What, Lord?!?!  You know how much I DON'T want to pray for her and that's what you want me to do???  In obedience to the Lord, I attempted.  I have to admit it was REALLY difficult for a while.  My flesh was TOTALLY against it.  My prayers started off something like this: "Lord... bless her. Amen."  That was all I could get out.  But even starting at this, in my obedience, the Lord did for me what I could not.  He began to soften my heart.  My prayers got a little longer, and a little more meaningful as time went on.  I actually became sincere in what I was asking for on her behalf.  I was kind of shocked.  I was starting to have compassion for her.  I chose to forgive, did what the Lord asked of me, and the next thing I knew my heart was free!  No more bitterness!  The interesting thing is she wasn't a part of this at all.  Before this I wanted an apology from her.  I wanted her to tell me how wrong and mean she was.  I wanted HER to validate my feelings, my pain.  But that was NOT what needed to happen.  I needed to vent my feelings to the Lord... the only one that can truly validate me.  I needed to pray for my "enemy" because in that the Lord filled me with His compassion (after I had been emptied of my pain).  Then with His compassion (seeing her and the situation through God's eyes) true forgiveness was achieved and felt.  Forgiveness isn't about the other person... it's about you.. and me.  It's about being free and not letting the person who offended you to continue to have control over you.  I heard this description before and think it is so accurate in describing unforgiveness and bitterness:  Unforgiveness is like drinking the poison and expecting the other person to die.  Don't drink the poison.  In fact, throw the poison away and allow the Lord's life giving water to flow through your body instead.

Now, I must clarify that that there is a clear difference between forgiveness and restoration.  Forgiveness you do on you own with the Lord.  Restoration is what may or may not take place in the relationship even after forgiveness has happened.  I'm a firm believer in healthy boundaries... but that's for another note.

If you want to read the rest of Joseph's story it's in Genesis 45.  After his forgiveness there is restoration... for the most part.  His brothers still doubted for a long time that Joseph had truly forgiven them because it was so unbelievable that someone could forgive such an act.  Again, that's a whole other subject!

I hope this has encouraged you to choose to go down the road to forgiveness.. even if it's forgiveness of yourself...


Georgia said...

So good Sarah!!!! Never realized what was involved in forgiveness until this amazing. :)

Anna {} said...

Going to read Genesis 45 this weekend.

Thank you for this Sarah. I love your writing, you are truly gifted.

love, Anna