Letting others down and being let down seems to be an inevitable part of life. Each broken relationship provides another chance to mature or be stunted in our growth. Jean married Phillip when she was 20 years old. As their new marriage began to unfold, it became apparent that Phillip had a problem with alcohol. While it didn’t keep him from being a successful business owner, it crippled his relationship with his wife, their friends, and with his two boys.
Many promises were made and broken, and Jean shed many tears over the inability of her husband to overcome his demons. She loved him anyway, clung to her faith in God, and did not succumb to her desire to become embittered. She and the kids were hurt numerous times by Phillip’s drinking. Jean forgave her husband over and over. She supported him when he was unsupportable. She was truthful with him when it was often unpleasant. She kept her vows and loved him through everything. Throughout their marriage Jean was forged into someone she would never have become without Phillip. Her soul grew while her life paid a huge price.
Julie’s mom never seemed to get it right with her girls. She was overbearing, often unreasonable, and many times even mean. Julie and her sisters took the brunt of her moodiness, and the attention lavished upon their brother was something the girls grew to resent. Dad was distant and uninvolved, choosing to detach rather than face the wrath of Julie’s mom.
Her youngest sister went to college, and for all practical purposes, never returned. Julie’s other sister reeled under the weight of being unloved and made choices that sent her spiraling on a path of self-destruction. Julie’s brother eventually married, but for some reason, found his wife not quite good enough, eventually divorcing at 32, very disillusioned with marriage and relationships.
These stories are a composite of a hundred more just like them. People facing the demons of their pasts and finding forgiveness to be a huge ally in embracing human brokenness. Jean’s patient love won Phillip over. Though he can still be difficult, he has learned to love Jean for her faithful care for him. She held the family together, and even today, he gives her full credit for saving him as well as rescuing his relationship with his sons. Her forgiveness has broken the stranglehold of his self-loathing. There is freedom, where, without forgiveness, there would only be layers of crushing bondage. Outcomes vary, but God’s love remains the same.
Julie has slowly forgiven her mother for her hurtful mothering. Her faith has opened her eyes to her own mother’s pain. This all occurred quite unexpectedly one day visiting her grandmother in one of her remaining lucid conversations. As Julie’s mom’s mom explained the harsh and painful experiences of their family in the years while Julie’s mom was growing up, it was as if a key turned in the lock of a dark room filled with volumes of information. For the first time Julie had perspective on her mother’s life. This insight set her free to begin the process of forgiveness. She can’t fix her siblings’ issues with her mom, but she can love them and remain on her own road of forgiveness. Julie prays for forgiveness and reconciliation among her family and tries to love them with as little prejudice as possible.
It would have been easy to write this part by giving you some principles and formulas for forgiveness, but success in forgiveness occurs when you believe that there is Someone who does understand and care about you. Jesus is that person. Many of us believe we are very alone, and no one else can understand what it means to suffer the way we do. This is simply not true. Certainly there are greater injustices than others. I would never want to minimize another person’s pain. My point is that when someone has never asked for and received forgiveness themselves, it is very difficult to forgive others. In order to be forgiven, we must believe we have something for which we must be forgiven.
Bitterness is a cruel master, often laying claim upon the one embittered much more than the one who has done the abusing. If you have been trapped by the bitterness which comes from not forgiving, Jesus is the ultimate deliverer from this kind of heart-breaking bondage.
As Jesus died, He forgave disappointments, betrayals, and enormous personal losses. He set the gold standard for achieving the wonderful gift of personal peace. His teaching was clear on this:
“One of the Pharisees (religious leaders) asked him over for a meal. He went to his house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to tell you’ to which Simon replied, ‘Tell me.’
“Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.” “That’s right,” said Jesus.
Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She has been forgiven many sins, and so she is very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”
Then he spoke to her: ‘I forgive your sins.’ This set the dinner guests talking behind his back: ‘Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!’ He ignored them and said to the woman, “‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”’ – from Luke 7 in The Message
By laying down the heavy weight of unforgiveness, we find the heart of God.
Jesus placed some of His highest worth on forgiveness because it most reflects God’s compassionate heart. Embracing forgiveness as a lifestyle brings personal freedom. The one who goes to God to find strength for forgiveness, however he or she has been wronged, will find the key to being released from what the Bible calls roots of bitterness. These spring up in many crops such as disappointment, fear, doubt, pride, rebellion, anger, dread, stubbornness, or depression (to name a few).
It is important not to underestimate the gift of freedom which comes from forgiveness. Who do you feel you need to forgive much? In what ways have you received significant forgiveness from others whom you have let down or offended?
Ask God for clarity on this for yourself and begin to make it a point as part of your conversation with the Father. He is an expert. Just try to imagine the extent of what He has chosen to forgive. And this includes you and me.
√ Where has forgiveness eluded you?
√ Where has forgiveness set you free?
This is powerful and right in the center of Jesus’ teaching,
Dave and Burnadette