“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
People are naturally disposed to rubbing shoulders with one another: A slip of the tongue, a backhanded compliment – even a wrong look.
I once thought that church would be free from the pains of the world like disagreement and conflicts. It turned out that coming to church can still be painful. It hurts when we see our exes in service. It stings when we have to sit next to a cell member whom we have strife with.
It seems petty, but bitterness takes everyone and anyone as prisoner. Sin is inclusive that way: It doesn’t leave anyone out.
Resentment, conflict, anger … Sure, they can happen suddenly. But most times, they’re the end results of a gradual buildup of negative experiences. And these negative feelings thrive in spaces where we experience rejection.
But rejection isn’t always a reality – sometimes it’s perceived. We need to learn how to tell the difference.
THE UGLINESS OF UNFORGIVENESS
People say that unforgiveness is like dead weight. I read somewhere that during the days of the ancient Roman empire, the most condemned criminals were forced to carry around a corpse on their back. As the corpse decomposed, its maggots and bacteria would slowly seep into the skin of the criminal. Eventually, he would die a slow and gruesome death.
When we refuse to forgive someone, we carry around a toxic thing that produces death. Bitterness weighs us down, and cannot help but to show itself. We become difficult people to be around.
We walk around parading our hurts as if to proclaim “I’m the victim here!”. And as we harbour resentment, we become easily irritable and cynical – unable to trust anyone else for fear that we might get hurt again.
Unfortunately, the desire for reconciliation does not come naturally to us creatures of pride. But if we want to be forgiven, we must also forgive (Matthew 6:14-15). Sometimes this means we must take the high road: Mustering the courage to come to a place of mutual understanding and acceptance, we exchange our apologies and make up.
But for most of us, forgiveness is a tedious thing. We rather not rehash all the experiences we desperately want to forget and be done with. Plus, the deeper the wounds go, the more difficult it is to forgive. All we want is to just “put it behind us” and “move on”.
When we struggle to look someone in the eye after they’ve hurt us, sometimes all we need is a reminder of what God has to say about an unforgiving heart. So here are some ways you can start on the road to forgiveness.
4 PATHS TO FORGIVENESS
1. Ask God to search your heart
Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
It’s easy to tell someone what wrong they’ve done to us. Harder still, is admitting that we have a stake in the blame too. Ask for conviction from the Holy Spirit to see if you’ve done anything wrong – if there’s something you need to apologise for. Don’t be too caught up with picking out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, forgetting you have a log through your own (Matthew 7:5).
The great thing about our relationship with God is that we can come as we are. Bring all your hurts to the table. But don’t expect to leave with them, or the same. Take some time to cool off with God, so that when it’s time for the conversation, you’ll have the clarity and level-headedness you need.
2. Check in with people you trust / are accountable to
Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:20-21)
The beauty of family is that we have a constant supply of good advice from those who are wiser than us. Beyond what the Bible says about your situation, seek wisdom by checking in with the people you’re accountable to (i.e. cell group leaders) and those that you trust.
These people – who should maintain objectivity without taking sides – will be able to check your blind spots, and may even identify new problem areas between yourself and the other person. Remain teachable, and the God-given advice you receive will bring reconciliation (Proverbs 11:14).
3. Pray, pray and pray some more
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)
After all is said and done, God’s ways are still higher than ours. It is to our benefit that we seek Him first before we jump into any situation headlong – lest we have the conversation of reconciliation prematurely. When we invite God into our situation, we are giving Him full control. And when we pray, we ought to also pray for those who have hurt us (Matthew 5:44)
Reconciliation is a sensitive situation as it involves vulnerability, emotions and putting down our pride. We’re going to need all the help we can get from God – the very One who knows the depths of our hearts. Ask God to lead you to approach the person at the right time, and to give you just the words to say when the time comes. Keep praying! (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)
4. Have the conversation in private, or with a mediator
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)
The Bible gives us a guide on how to go about reconciling with those who have hurt us. First, we should try to settle it privately with the other person. If that still doesn’t work, then it is best to ask for the help of a mediator or a mutual friend who can objectively facilitate the conversation.
Sometimes reconciliation doesn’t happen immediately. But take heart: Trust that God is in the process of healing the both of you. Know that nothing happens without God’s approval and that one day, in His time, reconciliation will come.