Holding grudges, threatening retaliation, keeping score, falling out with on old friend, nurturing hard feelings, posting a stinger on Facebook — all of these can be tale-tale signs of a common problem these days: a failure to forgive. We are quick to accuse, fast to file a lawsuit, eager to destroy someone’s reputation, but ever so slow to forgive. Why is this?
Who gets hurt when I fail to forgive? Mostly me. I am the one who gets robbed of a cherished friendship, a special moment, a good memory, and happiness. You gained the upper hand by snubbing your friend? Congratulations, but think of all you lost. As Dr. H.R. Palmer observed, “Angry words are lightly spoken, Bitt’rest thoughts are rashly stirred, Brightest links of life are broken, By a single angry word.” The same may be said of a refusal to forgive. And sometimes those bright links are most difficult to ever reconstruct.
Forgiveness takes effort. Especially to those unaccustomed, it is hard work, and it doesn’t seem to come naturally. When someone cuts me off in traffic, it’s easier to blow the horn or flash the lights. It’s easier to find fault than to find an innocent explanation. Paul said “love bears all things,” but it’s easier to bear down than to bear with. Forgiveness is hard work, and it takes practice. It seems to us that we have already forgive enough. We don’t want to be walked on, or taken advantage of, or treated like a doormat. “How many times must I forgive?” we ask, but the Lord’s answer is not easy to accept. Forgiveness is not optional. Nor do we deserve credit for doing what was our duty to do. While there is still time, we must learn how to forgive.
There is an art to forgiveness. Some people seem to have developed it very nicely. You couldn’t ruffle their feathers with a rusty pitchfork. They seem to be naive, simple people with a perpetual smile. It comes easily to them. They never really have any big problems. You could tell them anything. How do they do it?
There is an intentionality to forgiveness. We must decide to be a forgiving person. It helps to have a short memory. But it helps even more to remember the words of our Lord, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses,” (Mt. 6:15). This teaches us that we can forgive, because Jesus never commands us to do anything that we cannot do. It’s up to us, but it’s possible. It must be possible if the Savior could say even on the cross of Calvary, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Lk. 23:34).
There is an inner strength involved in forgiveness, a security that comes with recognizing who we are, and who we are not. We are not God. We are not the judge. We are not “holier than thou” or better than anyone else. Kipling wrote, “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.” There is a maturity to forgiveness, which comes from following Jesus. It is an understanding that God knows and is keeping track of things. It’s a willingness to let him be the scorekeeper.
Forgiveness is the opposite of anger, and the companion of wisdom. It involves meekness, definitely not weakness. “Ye know this, my beloved brethren. But let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls,” (James 1:19-21). If I am in the business of holding grudges, how can I meekly “receive the word” of God? How can I let my Savior into my heart while walling others out?
Forgiveness is most difficult when we know the person has wronged us. They may or may not acknowledge it. If they do, we forgive and our relationship is restored. But if they don’t, we must still be of a forgiving attitude or mindset. We must be ready to forgive. We cannot force a person to repent and receive the forgiveness of God, but we can pray for them, and make it easier. When Jesus on the cross said, “Father forgive them,” he was making it easier for them to repent and be forgiven, which many of them later did. If he had held a grudge, would they have ever had a change of heart? Would there be any hope for us?
If you have been in the habit of holding grudges, of denying forgiveness to those who were once dear to you, I urge you to give this matter your urgent attention. Don’t allow the precious days of your life to be consumed with malice, anger, resentment and a refusal to forgive. Life is too short to spend our days that way. Remember the timeless words of the apostle Paul: “Render to no man evil for evil…If it be possible, as much as in you lieth, be at peace with all men…Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Rom. 12:17-21). Forgive!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.