By Ruth O’Neil
Many families have at least one member who seems to be a thorn in everyone’s flesh. Kyle’s family had one: his older brother.
When Kyle was very young, his brother taught him several inappropriate words. When Kyle repeated them, his brother told their father so that Kyle would be punished. When they played games together, Kyle’s older brother would often find a way to purposely hurt others, giving him the upper hand in the competition.
As they grew older, Kyle’s brother turned to theft. He wrote bad checks, cheated on his wife, and stole money from his mother—money she gave him to pay her bills. He left her thousands of dollars in debt. He stole the deed to her home and signed it over to someone to whom he owed money, leaving her homeless and in the middle of a lawsuit.
Kyle’s brother continued to hurt family member after family member until they finally refused to get caught up in his schemes. Then he moved to hurting people outside of the family. Finally his behavior caught up with him. He spent more than one stint in prison.
During his time in prison he tried to make others feel guilty. He claimed no one visited him, no one wrote to him, no one checked on his children, and no one sent money for his necessities. For the brother, it was all about him. He didn’t care what kind of attention he got, as long as he got some.
Kyle struggled all of his adult life with forgiving his brother. Kyle was a godly man and knew he should forgive him, but he rationalized his reluctance by saying, “He hasn’t asked me for forgiveness. He isn’t in the least bit repentant for anything he’s done.”
“I forgive you” may be some of the hardest words we ever utter.
William and his father did not have the best of relationships while William was growing up. Abuse occurred in the home from both father and son. When William was old enough, he moved out of the house. Several years later, William’s mother passed away after battling cancer.
His wife’s death made William’s father realize how short life was. He realized how wrong he’d been. He took the initiative and went to his son to apologize and ask for his forgiveness. William chose to hold a grudge and refuse to forgive. When William’s father remarried, he asked William to be his best man. William turned him down. “I don’t even like him. I’m not going to pretend to be his best friend,” William responded. Often the old adage, “Forgive and forget” is easier said than done.
God’s Word has much to say about forgiveness. Luke 23:34 records Jesus’ words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Matthew 18:21, 22 tells us, “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.’” These are hard verses to follow, especially for the one on the forgiving end. However, forgiveness is not about the one who did the offending; it is about the one who was offended.
Forgiveness has been defined as “the act of forgiving” and “the willingness to forgive.” Such a definition doesn’t say anything about a person asking for it; the act of forgiveness falls solely on one person—the offended. We need to be willing to forgive.
Sadly, we would rather retaliate or get even when someone has caused us harm. We may even want to punish someone for his actions by not forgiving him. Actions like these only hurt the one who refuses to forgive, however. Unless the wrongdoer is truly repentant, he won’t care what you think or how you feel. He won’t loose sleep over your wounded relationship the way you might.
Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. His suffering makes our forgiveness possible. His sacrifice displayed God’s mercy and grace.
Giving mercy and showing grace take practice and a lot of prayer on our part, but that is what it takes to forgive those who injure us. To forgive is a command, not a suggestion. It is a choice we make. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” We may not feel like forgiving someone, but we do it because we want to be obedient to the Word of God.
Fast forward a few years in the lives of Kyle and William. Kyle realized that forgiveness was not about waiting for his brother to come to him on bended knee showing repentance. He knew it was for his own good to offer forgiveness, even though it was never requested. Kyle still does not condone his brother’s behavior and sinful actions, but he doesn’t hold it against him anymore, either. He is no longer angry and rarely even thinks about his brother, except during times of prayer.
William on the other hand, still holds a grudge against his father, even though his father has tried to build a new relationship with his son. William has grown bitter. Bitterness and anger have eaten away at his soul, preventing him from forgiving and moving on. William thinks about his father all the time and the pain he caused. He fits the topic into as many conversations as he can.
The process of letting go and forgiving can be quite a journey in life. It is one where God is willing to walk alongside you. There may have been a great deal of hurt in your life, and forgiveness may not happen overnight. But as long as you are diligently working on forgiveness, God will grant you the grace you need to extend mercy to another. Remember, your act of forgiveness may lead someone to repentance.
Ruth O’Neil is a freelance writer in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Teaching Children Forgiveness
I Want to Teach My Child About Values by Marcy Bryan (Standard Publishing, 2005)
Forgiveness: A Bible Verse Card Game (TMA Games, 2006)
Find out more about the above items at www.standardpub.com.
“The Four Promises of Forgiveness for Children” by Corlette Sande