“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you,rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” Luke 17:3-4 (New King James)
There are so many wonderful changes happening in my family’s lives this year. There are businesses being started, dreams coming true, ministry is growing, children are starting school for the first time, people are being delivered from bondage, new doors of opportunity are being opened, and so much more. What a wonderful God we serve. He is worthy to be praised. I can’t help but bless His name because I have found mercy and favor with Him; I have been immersed in His grace.
While there have been many wonderful things going on in our lives, there have also been some very troubling situations; teenagers are in rebellion, sickness tries to consume us, fear and worry come against me full force causing me to fight against anxiety, there has been back biting and betrayal, misunderstands and deceitfulness. I haven chosen to praise God for the good and the bad, because I know that in either situation I am blessed and I know that our God is using each of these situations to change me and my family. These hardships refine us and help bring us from glory to glory, so I am not without hopeful expectation. (James 1:2-4, Romans 5: 3-5, Gen. 50:20)
However, the offenses and the betrayals that I have faced in this season have caused me to fight against bitterness, anger, and resentment. I find my heart has been infected with unforgiveness and I know that I do not need this hindrance in my life. I hate to give others power over me, and that’s exactly what unforgiveness is; giving power to your offender over you. I read some where that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I don’t need the poison of unforgiveness in my life. So I will choose to forgive every time those taunting thoughts come to my mind bringing to my remembrance the offenses against me.
It has not been easy for me, but the Word of God is so clear on the topic of forgiveness and also on God fighting our battles for us, so I choose to leave each situation and person in His hands. All I ask is for My Heavenly Father to help me to not allow my heart to become hardened by all the drama and betrayal. I don’t want to be a bitter fool walking around with a spirit of heaviness on me. I am going to choose to live free from unforgiveness.
One of the tools that the Holy Spirit has been using to help me overcome unforgiveness is the book, ‘Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No, To Take Control Of Your Life’ by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Our Lord used it to show me where I had unhealthy boundaries and where I had allowed certain situations to get out of hand, which is why I have been experiencing some of the things I have been going through. It also helped me to understand what my pastors call, ‘ a forgiveness that restores and a forgiveness that releases’.
This was probably the most liberating lesson I learned over the year, but it certainly has not been the easiest because I have had a tendency to forgive and restore relationships, trusting and reopening myself up to intimacy before first allowing time to see if there was true repentance or change in my offender’s life. This only resulted in further betrayal and insult. I should have forgiven but allowed for the fruit of repentance to show itself before restoring the relationships. (Matthew 3:8, Luke 3:8)
During this season my dear friend who has seen me going through this messy pattern over and over again, sent me a message telling me to forgive but to use wisdom before allowing myself to be in relationship with certain individuals again. She sent me this quote:
Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. – George Washington
What I now understand, thanks to my pastors and the ‘Boundaries’ book, is that a forgiveness that restores is when we have been hurt or offended by someone, we choose to forgive them in our hearts and they show true sorrow and repentance for the offense; which allows us to trust them again resulting in restoration of the relationship. A forgiveness that releases is when there is forgiveness without repentance and therefore we release ourselves and our offender from the relationship, or when we forgive in our hearts but the other person is not truly repentant and does not want restoration. When there has been betrayal and offense there can not be restoration unless there is true repentance.
Quote from Boundaries: True repentance is more than saying, “I’m sorry”; it is changing directions.
I love how the Boundaries book explains it. Here’s another exert from the book:
The Bible is clear about two principles: (1) We always need to forgive, but (2) we don’t always achieve reconciliation. Forgiveness is something that we do in our hearts; we release someone from a debt that they owe us. We write off the person’s debt, and she no longer owes us. We no longer condemn her. She is clean. Only one party is needed for forgiveness: me. The person who owes me a debt does not have to ask my forgiveness. It is a work of grace in my heart.
This brings us to the second principle: we do not always achieve reconciliation. God forgave the world, but the whole world is not reconciled to him. Although he may have forgiven all people, all people have not owned their sin and appropriated his forgiveness. That would be reconciliation. Forgiveness takes one; reconciliation takes two.
Now there are those that will claim that forgiveness without restoration is not true forgiveness and that setting such boundaries with individuals is not loving others and not Christ like. Beware of such people because chances are they suffer from setting healthy boundaries themselves. Christ & Paul both set examples of removing ourselves from unhealthy, unrepentant relationships until there is repentance. (1 Corin. 5, Matthew 18:15-20)
Setting boundaries and not allowing yourself to be treated like a door mat is loving yourself and is in fact loving the other person. The purpose of separating yourself from unhealthy people is to allow the other person to feel the loss of the relationship, allowing time for them to come to repentance. It also allows for us to have the space needed to heal. If the separation results in repentance then there can be restoration, however if the separation results in hardening of the heart, then we are better off without that relationship. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
Whether the forgiveness results in restoration of a relationship or not what matters is that we don’t allow our hearts to be infected with bitterness, anger, and resentment over the offenses that we will experience in this world. We must learn to forgive and trust God to work in our situations and we must never forget to pray for our enemies, I believe that is where the true healing comes; when we lay down our right to get even and we ask God to have mercy and bless them instead.
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, Matthew 5:44 (New King James)