August 5 is International Forgiveness Day and August 27 is Global Forgiveness Day. In response to these two holidays we asked Anna McCarthy, author of Forgiveness is Not an Option, to share her thoughts on forgiving in difficult situations.
It’s true with all of us. We hear the word “forgive” and we immediately think of that paramount event in our life that left us crumbled. Where either our heart was shattered, trust was broken or another seemingly unforgiveable act took place. As true as it is that these events do require our hearts to move towards forgiveness, how often do we stop there?
I fear that it isn’t always the tragedies in our life that lead our hearts into bitterness, but often the less noticeable offenses. The ones we are quick to brush aside because it doesn’t seem like “that big of a deal”. Areas where our pride steps in and readily moves past the offense not wanting to admit we were actually hurt. You see, forgiveness isn’t always wrapped up in a tragedy. The kind of forgiveness that Jesus teaches in scripture is daily…repetitive even. We learn of this kind of forgiveness through Peter’s questioning of Jesus on the subject, “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.’”. (Matthew 18:20-22) Right here we see that this was an offense that had the opportunity to occur often…even with the same person!
When someone hurts or offends you on a small level, the first act of forgiveness can come somewhat easily. It is the second, third and fourth time where we start thinking that we either should just toughen up and not let it get to us, or just swallow it and move on because obviously their behavior isn’t going to change. This is where I believe many of us unknowingly open a crevice in our hearts to bitterness. It’s quiet at first, not obvious on the surface and yet over time can lead to one very hardened heart.
Admit to the Hurt
So, what do we do in these moments of mundane offenses? First, we must validate that we are hurt. We can’t begin to forgive someone that we are unwilling to admit hurt us! In that moment when someone’s words or actions sting, stop yourself and internally admit that you are offended. Quietly tell the Lord that you are hurt and why. Then, make the choice to forgive. Tell the Lord that you forgive them. And, what if even after this prayer you still feel angry or bothered? Pray for them. Our hearts are hardwired to soften towards those whom we choose to genuinely pray for. I believe this is one of the reasons Jesus teaches us in scripture to pray for our enemies.
This daily act of forgiveness may seem somewhat insignificant, yet this is much more powerful than we often realize. These small acts of forgiveness protect our hearts, keeping them tender, soft and open.
Whether your life has been met with tragedy or not, I encourage you to look past the glaring offenses in your life and dig a little deeper into the smaller ones. Then ask yourself the question, “Who do I need to forgive?”