Part 1 was about forgiving ourselves. Part 2 is no less easy: forgive others. Grief, loss, and depression feel largely self-centered once you finally begin to gain perspective and see past the fog of those emotions, but the pain of loss can also focus heavily on what others say and do to us. Very often, we feel that people say things intentionally to hurt us, or we perceive their actions (or inactions) to be a direct threat or insult. When I am hurting, I see everything that happens to me as piling on – my husband didn’t like what I cooked for dinner, so I must be a horrible cook and a terrible person (even though he just doesn’t like turkey meatballs…); no one asked for my input about a project at work, so they must think I an inept or too far behind to be of any help (even though I really needed the space to catch up and didn’t really need to be part of the discussion…); some idiot at the grocery store asked me when we’re going to have another baby (even though I don’t know this person, so their opinion is completely irrelevant to my life…). Most of the time, my grievances have nothing to do with the person who “wronged” me and everything to do with my emotional state. Occasionally, I have reason to take offense, but then I must follow up on that in a way that honors Christ.
In the instances when I am offended, but there is no reason for the other person to apologize (who can blame my husband for disliking turkey meatballs??), I still have to forgive them in order to let go of the anger their “offense” caused in my heart. I have to let go of that so that I can let go of any grudge I am tempted to hold onto and nurse because it makes me feel better to be righteously indignant. When every perceived slight you experience causes you deep emotional pain, you need to evaluate what the source of that pain really is and let go of the hurt and anger you’re feeling that is misdirected. You can walk around being offended by everyone and everything, but you’ll be an angry, bitter person who begins to alienate people when what you need most is to be comforted by people. Start with the small things and make a habit of mentally forgiving the offense and immediately dropping it. This takes practice because, if you’re anything like me, the offensive thing will keep popping into your head. Each time, I have to remind myself that it is forgiven, and I have to let it go. (Please feel free to sing this the rest of the day. I will…)
I have a few rules that I apply to whether I address a grievance or not. The first rule is whether or not the person who aggrieved me matters to me. Rude cashier who can’t help but comment on every single purchase I make? Doesn’t matter. Forgive and don’t waste breath trying to explain how she offended me. A friend or family member I have a real relationship with and would like to have a deeper relationship with? Worth the conversation every time, but I have to approach the topic when I am no longer angry and can explain why I was hurt. Most of the time, that person didn’t even realize that what they said or did was offensive to me. Most of the time a good conversation without anger leads to a healed relationship and a deeper bond of trust. And then you have to forgive and move on. (Let it go.)
The second rule is one I learned in puppy training school: addressing a problem too long after the fact doesn’t do any good. This one is twofold for me; if after some time has passed, I’m not still angry, then I never address it and just let it go; if I waited for a long time after an offense and never addressed it, then I have lost the right to bring it up again – so let it go. I am pretty terrible at this rule when it comes to arguing or being angry at someone I have a long history with, but I did at least learn in marriage counseling that this is a terribly unfair way to fight and is pretty much toxic for everyone involved. I practice really hard at letting go of things and only addressing the issue at hand.
Honestly, I now find fewer things that I have the energy or desire to pursue later. Almost every time I find myself offended, a little bit of time and space lets me see that I was really worked up over nothing. That hasn’t always been the case, and I carried a lot of anger directed at everyone for a long time. I was angry at my doctors for not finding a problem or not testing for enough things. I was angry at anyone who said something stupid in an effort to be comforting. I was angry at anyone who called me on mistakes and turned it into an issue about them and not me. I was angry at women who were walking through the grocery store for being pregnant or for carrying babies. I wanted someone to blame for my misery, so I blamed everyone. The reality is, God never promised any of us an easy time on earth, and some of you have experienced more pain and more junk than I can even begin to comprehend. I don’t know why. I do know that God is still bigger than all of our messes and all of our circumstances, and he forgives us. And he calls us to forgive others whether they ask for our forgiveness or not. He’s pretty persistent about this point. Here are just a few things Jesus said about forgiving others, one while he was dying on a cross:
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 NLT
“Then Peter came to him and asked, ‘Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?’ ‘No, not seven times,’ Jesus replied, ‘but seventy times seven!’” Matthew 18:21-22 NLT
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’” Luke 23:34a NLT
Still not convinced? Here is advice Paul gave to the early church about how to treat each other:
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT
“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13 NLT
I love this last verse because it reminds me that forgiveness isn’t about the person who offended you; it’s about your relationship with God. Jesus forgave me, so I must forgive. I wish I had an easy way to forgive and forget, but alas I am human. My best advice is to redirect your thought process when you remember an offense or are tempted to hold a grudge. If you have forgiven the person, change the conversation in your head about that person or event: “It’s forgiven, so I choose to think about her smile instead.” Eventually the thing will pop into your mind less frequently, and you will be able to think of something positive instead of how you were hurt. For the record, this takes great effort, and I still stink at this a lot, but every time I put into the perspective of God’s forgiveness, I realize I am wrong to carry around such hurt and anger. Also for the record, I have some beautiful friendships that would not exist if I had walked away just because I got my feelings hurt. I’m so grateful that my family and friends choose to forgive me, too. Relationships are worth the effort, and a relationship with Christ is worth the act of forgiving others.