In this episode we continue our interview with Pastor Miriam Callahan. Throughout this episode, she helps us answer the questions, “what is forgiveness, what isn’t forgiveness, how do I know I need to forgive, what do I do if I can’t forgive and what are the effects of unforgiveness?” She explains the impact unforgiveness has in our lives and describes how we can find our way to forgiveness while dealing with our unacknowledged hurts. We encourage you to listen!
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Recently I was watching one of my favorite shows and one of the characters said a line that I will never forget. “The hour is certain to come, so we must forgive graciously.” I think this stood out because the person apologizing had exhausted all of their “I’m sorrys” and it started to lose meaning. She asked him, how did he know that she meant it, and that was his response, “the hour is certain to come, so we must forgive graciously”. To forgive graciously is not a strength of mine. To be honest, forgiveness has always been a struggle for me. That word…forgiveness…boy does that word hold some weight.
It’s important we start with what forgiveness isn’t. Miriam outlines some truths for us to note when we think about what forgiveness isn’t.
It’s not justifying the other person’s behavior.
It’s not asking God to forgive them.
It’s not saying, “Well they didn’t really mean it.”
It’s not explaining away their behavior or understanding them.
It’s not forgetting what they did.
It’s not denying that they’ve hurt or sinned against you.
It’s not going to that person and telling them that you forgive them.
Now that we know what it’s not, we need to define what it is. I really loved Miriam’s definition.
“Forgiveness is an act of will, done by faith, in which we give up our right to hold another person accountable for the wrong they’ve done us.”
One of the hardest truths Miriam revealed about forgiveness is that it’s a choice and a process, not just a feeling. She said that sometimes we have to choose to forgive over and over again, and in some cases not just once a day but every few minutes. We have all been hurt, and some of the worst hurt was inflicted by the people closest to us. As I listened to Miriam talk about forgiveness, I noticed I started to feel uncomfortable and upset because I started to think about all the unforgiveness I have in my own heart.
I’ve recently been trying to heal from religious trauma I have from a previous church I attended, and this topic opened up some old wounds for me. I’ve had trouble forgiving the people who stopped talking to me when I left, I’ve had trouble forgiving God for allowing me to experience the pain I felt when I attended that church but most of all I’ve had trouble forgiving myself. I distanced myself from God for a while and I’ve made a lot of mistakes and you have no idea how many times I wish I could just have a do-over. I’ve been hurt and I’ve hurt others. I was really surprised when these feelings came up.
Miriam explained that failing to forgive can be a result of minimizing the situation and not admitting how hurt we actually feel. She said that we can only forgive the parts we acknowledge. “Ask God to reveal why. Why am I angry? He showed me the offense I thought of as a one or two story building but it was like the empire state building.” I realized I haven’t spent a lot of time really processing past hurts from my old church and it became obvious that I was going to need God’s help with this.
I just wasn’t sure where to start. I had started a collection of resentments in my unforgiveness. Miriam revealed that “opportunities for resentment happen each and every day.” We might not even notice, but we can allow bitterness and resentment to fester for so long that the last thing we want to do is forgive. We think holding a grudge or burning a bridge will resolve the anger and hurt we feel inside but it doesn’t really fix anything. Choosing not to forgive is like drinking poison but expecting the other person to die. We only hurt ourselves when we latch on to unforgiveness. We get overcome by the flood of emotion that overflows when we remember the offense. Our feelings almost never agree with the choice to forgive initially but it has to start with a choice and with God’s help, our feelings eventually align with our decision.
“If I give it to God to deal with, it doesn’t mean they don’t get punished, it doesn’t mean they’re not going to have to go to jail, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter, it just means that I’m no longer the judge.”
We’re reminded by Miriam that God doesn’t tell us how to feel, he tells us what to do. He reminds us that there are consequences to our sin. God’s trying to warn us and protect us out of love but sometimes we’re stubborn. “Forgiveness involves the release from guilt that comes from sin. I have sinned because I held onto unforgiveness. When we refuse to forgive others, God refuses to forgive us. In other words, we remain under the burden of guilt and bitterness until we forgive... You can be a child of God but still remain under the burden of unforgiveness, both yours towards others and God’s towards you.” When we forgive, God restores us. God rewards our obedience in beautiful ways, ways we wouldn’t even expect. We’ll be left with scars, but those scars mean that we’ve healed, and they’re no longer open wounds subject to infection.
So, you might be asking yourself, how do I know I need to forgive? Miriam has a great litmus test you can try for some clarity.
Do you find yourself thinking judgmental thoughts about this person?
Do you enjoy seeing this person punished or in pain?
Do you have an inner vow that was created out of judgment against that person?
Is it hard for you to look them in the eye or be near them?
Do you feel the effects of unforgiveness? (Bitterness, resentment, anger, isolation, criticism, pushing people away, etc.)
If you said yes to any of these things, you may have some unforgiveness that you haven’t acknowledged yet. It’s a good place to start digging so you can be intentional about your forgiveness.
If we blame God, she explains that we have to release the unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment we have towards him. If we hold onto those things, we just build a wall that gets thicker and thicker the longer we refuse to let it go. If we want to live as a reflection of Jesus, we can not tolerate unforgiveness in our hearts. It’s like a tumor inside of us that will keep growing the longer we ignore it. If we want to get better, we have to allow the doctor to cut it out. It can be painful and we’ll have to recover but we are happier and healthier as a result.
Girl, trust me I know it’s easier said than done. Forgiveness is a weakness for me. There may be a lot of us that just don’t want to. For those of us in that boat, Miriam has a suggestion we can try. Would you be willing to pray this ‘God will you make me willing to forgive?’ I ask you to give me what I don’t have, you have the supernatural ability to forgive people that don’t deserve it, you did it, Jesus did it, I ask you give that to me, to supply it because I don’t have it. God, will you give me the willingness and ability to forgive?” We can approach God honestly and tell him we want to be obedient, but we just can’t do it by our own strength.
Some of us have had traumatic experiences, abusive relationships, and moments that you beg God to help you forgive. Your feelings are valid, and it’s okay if you are still wrestling with the thought of forgiving your offenders. Just know that God sees you, loves you, and will help you through your journey. He wants you to be free from the burden of bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness. He already died on the cross for you. He's already paved a way for your complete freedom in Him. I pray that each day you take a step closer to believing and receiving that freedom.
A huge thank you to Miriam for her words of wisdom and heart to share so vulnerably. As always, thank you for reading and we’re glad you showed up!
Forgiveness is a choice and a process that takes time.
You can be a child of God but still remain under the burden of unforgiveness, both yours towards others and God’s towards you.
Failure to forgive is a result of minimizing how hurt we felt.
Making amends is when God convicts me that I have done harm to someone else, and I have a desire to express my regret for the pain I caused.
If you don’t have it in you to forgive on your own, ask God to give you the willingness and ability to forgive.
Sit down and take time to journal about unforgiveness that you haven’t acknowledged. Really take your time with this and ask God to reveal any unforgiveness if you’re having a hard time thinking about it.
Set aside time this week to meditate on some scriptures about forgiveness. You can also read some parables that illustrate examples of forgiveness. Ex: The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), The Parable of the Two Debtors (Luke 7:41-50)
Take time to reflect on forgiveness vs. making amends. Ask yourself, “Is there someone I need to forgive, or is there someone I want to make amends with?” If you said yes to one or both, ask God for direction on how to address it.
If you’re really wrestling with the idea of forgiveness, honestly talk to God about why it’s hard, or why you don’t want to and ask him to help you through it.
Not necessarily homework, just a reminder. Be gentle with yourself. Forgiveness is hard and sometimes it’s a long process. Give yourself grace, allow yourself to feel what you need to feel and take your time dealing with those emotions. Try not to minimize your pain but rather be honest about how much it affects you. Then have some ice cream or something because I’m sure you need a pick me up after such a heavy reflection.
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Matthew 6:13 “And forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us, and don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.” (The Lord's Prayer)
Matthew 6:14-15 “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 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Ephesians 4:32 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Resources: Choosing Forgiveness