In recent months, I’ve written about life’s tough times. I’ve said that God is always there, even in the midst of our trials, and that He can bring good out of even the worst of them. But, what if there are other people involved – people who caused our pain and heartache? Then, for the sake of all, and most especially ourselves, we need to learn to forgive. We simply will have no peace and healing until we do.
Let me tell you about a time when I had to forgive a terrible wound.
This story goes back more than 45 years, shortly after my college graduation. My wife at the time and my best friend fell in love, and she ended up divorcing me in order to marry him. No adultery or porn or alcohol was involved. She simply fell in love with this other man and fell out of love with me.
It broke my heart, to say the least. When she walked away for the last time, I was a total wreck. For three long, painful months, I felt as if my heart and stomach were dying. I was positive I was the biggest failure on the face of the earth. I’ve never blamed her or my friend. They are both wonderful people that I respect to this day. I could have been a much better husband to her.
I’ll never forget the night when my heart healing began. The night God met me was far too amazing to put to pen and paper, so I have videotaped the story. I have shared the experience with many hurt people, and they have always found great healing through it.
So, with pen and paper in hand, how do you truly forgive when someone has hurt you badly? Hard-earned experience has taught me that you need to take five positive steps in prayer.
Second, imagine your perpetrator lying in a hospital bed, dying with cancer. While his or her cancer is not visible on a CT scan, imagine that person who hurt you with cancer of the heart and perhaps the deadliest illness of all, cancer of the soul. Imagine your outpouring of mercy as you enter that room.
Third, envision Jesus as your role model. Observe His suffering. Feel the ripping of His flesh with the Roman scourge. Try to imagine the nails being pounded into His hands and feet. Then truly hear His cry that shook the walls of Jerusalem: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Fifth, the final shovel of dirt filling the gaping hole that bitterness causes in the graveyard of complete forgiveness is to begin to pray for your offender. “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,” Jesus proclaimed. (Matthew 5:44)
See that person who hurt you in Heaven, completely healed of his or her heart cancer that caused the affliction. Don’t let Satan continue his victory march in your life! When you forgive, he is defeated.
Emotions are like a restaurant. Sadness, happiness, despair and feelings of cuddly affection are delivered to your table by the server of life’s ups and downs. They come and go.
Attitudes of the heart, however, are served cafeteria style. You can put whatever on your plate you choose. Love is a decision. Hear me, husbands and wives! Overnight anger is a decision. Bitterness is a decision. Hatred is a decision.
Yes, those attitudes presented themselves piping hot and spicy when my first wife told me she was in love with my best friend and the divorce papers were served. I couldn’t change her, but I had a lot of work to do on me.
Listen to the words of the inspired writer of Hebrews describing my hero and role model as He took His “cafeteria tray” down the smorgasbord of heart attitudes:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
So, who has hurt you? Whom do you need to forgive? I’m not saying it will be easy. Your emotions will resist. But, for your sake and the sake of everyone in your life, I pray you’ll do it. My dear friend, Gary Smalley, used to say, “Bitterness is a poison pill you swallow thinking it is going to hurt the other person. Forgiveness brings freedom. Forgiveness brings life!”
Your life is your legacy to your kids. Drop down on your knees tonight and take it to the cross. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” – Jesus (Matthew 11:28)