The Struggle with Forgiveness

forgiveness

Forgiveness is something that I really struggle with. And when I say struggle, I mean STRUGGLE. I am a queen of holding grudges and not letting stuff go. I could give you a wrap sheet of people who I have cut off and cut out of my life for hurting me or doing me wrong. That list includes colleagues, friends and even family. (No, I don’t discriminate) And I’m the type that will cut you off and never speak to you again in life. The type that will see you in the street, at the store, or at your mama’s house and won’t speak. The type that would keep riding if I saw your car broke down on the side of the road. Okay, maybe I’m not that bad, but you get my point. My struggle with forgiveness is so real. But God has really been working with me on this issue lately and forcing me to face my issues with forgiveness head on.

I’ve been seeing that my issues with forgiveness come from the fact that I heavily value justice. I hate when things aren’t even and fair. I feel like if you do something wrong then you should make it right. If you hurt someone, then you should do everything in your power to make it up to them. It’s a standard that I hold myself and others to, and it’s that way of thinking that’s made it so easy to hold grudges and bitterness in my heart against others. Whenever people have wronged me in the past my automatic response has been, “They did something to hurt me, so if they want my forgiveness then they should come to me and make it up to me by apologizing. That’s only me being fair.” I felt that if I forgive them without them taking the steps to make it “right”, then I was letting them off the hook. I thought that if I didn’t hold a grudge then what they did had no consequences.

While it may sound fair and even sound right on the surface, the way I was thinking, and the way many of us think about forgiveness, isn’t based on truth. I think what’s at the core of our unforgiveness is the lie that our healing has to come from the same place that our hurt came from. We feel that since a particular person was responsible for hurting us, then by default, they are responsible for healing us. We hold on tightly to anger and pain from past hurts because we falsely believe that the people who hurt us are the only ones capable of setting us free. Forgiveness frees us from that way of thinking. It allows us to realize that even though someone hurt us, we don’t have to wait around for them to heal us. We don’t have to walk around day after day holding onto grudges, waiting around for an apology that may or may not ever come. Forgiveness allows us to see that our healing is not dependent on the person that hurt us. It opens our eyes to the fact that it doesn’t matter where our hurt came from because our healing ultimately comes through Christ. That’s what makes forgiveness so freeing. It turns our attention away from the ones who hurts us, and sets our eyes on the One who heals us. He is the only One capable of tending to the wounds from our past. He is the only One that can take the sting out of the slights we’ve felt. He is the only One who can piece our heart back together after it’s been broken by others.

And realizing that forgiveness hinges on Him and not on human beings, reminds me of why Christ died on the cross for us. His death was the ultimate act of forgiveness. It was the recognition that no human being would ever be capable of apologizing, sacrificing or paying God back enough to cover the wrongs of our sins. It was the ultimate recognition that there was no way a human being could heal the agonizing hurt we cause God whenever we disobey Him through our sin. Christ’s death was the realization that human beings were incapable of undoing the damage our sinful ways cause. I hurt the very heart of God every single time I sin. We hurt the very heart of God every single time we sin. Every single time. Yet He doesn’t hold grudges until I make it “right”. He doesn’t make me, or any of us, pay Him back for wronging Him. He forgave each of us and tangibly showed us that forgiveness by sending His only begotten Son. Looking at His incredible forgiveness of all of my sins, makes my unforgiveness seem really petty, childish, trivial, insignificant…well you get the point.

So maybe you’re like me and struggle with forgiveness. Maybe you’ve been holding grudges with the false hope that the people that hurt you were the only ones capable of healing you. Maybe somewhere along the way you forgot that the same forgiveness God extended to us over 2000 years ago on an old, rugged cross is the same forgiveness we’re called to extend to others. But as you go into the new year, start off by taking your eyes off of the ones that hurt you and fix them on the only One who has ever been capable of healing you. Go into this new year letting go of pain and bitterness that unforgiveness causes, so you’ll be able to fully embrace the healing and comfort that God’s forgiveness brings. Pick up that phone, send that text, write that e-mail or letter (Shoutout to you if you still write letters) and let someone who hurt you know that you forgive them because you know the One who has forgiven you.

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Being a Christian is Hard

Being a Christian is hard.

I grew up in the church. I’m the daughter of a pastor. I was baptized at the age of 3 or 4. But being in the church and being in a relationship with Christ can be very different things. There’s a big difference between practicing the religion of Christianity and embracing a life-long love with Christ, and it’s safe to say I’m learning that difference now at 23 years old. It wasn’t until the past year or so that I got serious about my relationship with Christ. I got to the point where I was tired of the occasional conversations with God that I had via prayer. I was fed up with living “good” Christian life in public, but living a different life behind closed doors. I was tired of carrying around the guilt of living a double life. A life full of fornication, alcohol abuse, profanity, gossiping, lying, disobedience and rebellion to God’s will for my life. I’d had enough and I was ready to give my all to Him. I finally wanted to live a life that was pleasing in His eyesight, both inside and outside of the church. I wanted to live a pure and righteous life, both in public and private.

So I started making changes. I went to a Christian counselor to help me with my unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I ended the relationship that was causing me to continually have pre-marital sex. I distanced myself from the friends, TV shows, music, or anything else that would influence me to turn away from God. I joined a prayer group of other young women with hearts for Christ. I started delving into the Word more and more and praying everyday. I even enrolled in seminary school so I could learn more and discern the call that God has for my life. When I did those things and started taking my relationship with Christ more seriously, I saw drastic changes in my life. I felt so much better. Much of the guilt and pressure that came with trying to live two lives at once was gone. My relationship with Christ felt so much deeper. I experienced His presence in ways that I never had before. But what I didn’t realize was that what I was feeling was the honeymoon phase.

Our relationship with Christ is a lot like a marriage. As a matter of fact, we are the bride and Christ is the bridesgroom. Unfortunately, many of us, have been cheating on Christ with the world. Granted we may go on dates with Him occasionally by going to church or praying when we need something, but as soon as we get what we need from Him, we’re back out in the world doing the very things that break His heart. That’s exactly what I had been doing for most of my life. I’d been locked in a cycle of getting my heart broken and shattered by the world, running to Christ to get Him to mend all the broken pieces, then running right back out the world only to get heart broken again. I had been using Christ. Exploiting His love for me and getting “closer” to Him just long enough for Him to patch me up, so I could go back out in the world and do what I wanted to do. Thankfully, He brought me to a point where I could see that the cycle of make-up and break-up with Him would not sustain me, and that what I was doing was breaking His heart. He showed me that He loved me so much. He loved me so much that He would heal my broken heart every time I came to Him hurting, even though He knew I would turn my back on Him as soon as I started feeling better. He loved me so much that He still wanted me no matter how many times I cheated on Him with the world. I finally saw that and wanted to commit my life to Him and stop cheating on Him with the world. I decided to finally be the bride of Christ and spend the rest of my life with Him and not the world.

This past year has been wonderful. I have grown a lot closer to Him. I received so many blessings from Him. I started feeling the joy and fulfillment in Him that I had been hopelessly searching for in the world. But now I feel like I’m coming to the place where the honeymoon is over and the very real work of marriage starts kicking in. Lately, the Lord has been showing me that while the initial things I gave up to be completely committed to Him were great, there still is more work to do. He’s showing me more and more that I have to die to my flesh every single day. I have to give my all to Him and serve Him every single day. Even on the days when I don’t feel as close to Him. Even on the days when I haven’t received tangible blessing from Him. Even on the days when I feel tired or sad. Just like a marriage isn’t always fun and filled with ecstasy, neither is our relationship with Christ. Just like a marriage can be hard, our relationship with Christ can be hard, too.

This phase of our relationship can be so tricky, because for many of us, we assume that because it doesn’t feel like it initially felt then something must be wrong. Maybe we’re just not cut out for this Christian life. Maybe life in the world wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe it’s okay to start compromising our faith just a little bit. Maybe we don’t need to pray or read our Bible today. It’s not like we’re getting the same feeling that we did before. I know I’ve struggled with thoughts like that. I’ve been tempted to go back to things in the world and have fallen into sin because I felt that maybe it wasn’t really a big deal like I thought it was. However, the Lord has been showing me the importance of this phase of our relationship. Being a Christian is about far more than being on a continual spiritual high. It’s about more than always being happy and always being blessed. Being a Christian is about loving Him with our all and having the endurance and discipline to stick with our relationship with Him even when it’s not easy. Hebrews 12: 1-11 lays this out perfectly. In our relationship with Him, we have to have discipline so that we can gain endurance and righteousness. Having to face discipline is hard. Gaining endurance is hard. Being righteous is hard. Being a Christian is hard, but it’s well worth it. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself leaving the honeymoon phase of your relationship with Christ. Remember, this is where the work happens. This is where you will grow and become more and more of who God wants you to be. Don’t give up and don’t turn back. The hard work of your marriage to Christ starts here, but the crown you will receive from it one day will be well worth it.

Chained Up

Back when I was in high school and was taking a psychology class, my teacher told us the story of an elephant. A cruel trainer owned this baby elephant. Every single day, this evil owner would chain this poor baby elephant to a huge tree. This tiny elephant would try with all her might to break free. She stomped and she kicked. She pushed and she pulled, but not matter how hard she tried, she was just too small and too weak to break free. So after weeks of failing to gain her freedom, she gave up and stopped trying. Fortunately, this baby got rescued by a kind and loving animal conservationist, who took care of her and allowed her to roam in freedom. The elephant grew up with her new owner but years later she found herself tied to another tree. By now, the elephant had grown big and strong enough to not only break the chains tying it to the tree, but to literally uproot the tree she was tied to. However, the elephant didn’t even attempt to break free because she remembered how she was unable to break free as a baby. Though she was capable of breaking through the chains and regaining her freedom, she was too bound by memories of past defeat to realize her own power.

Of course, this story my teacher told me, easily helped me remember and understand the concept of learned helplessness, but it also helped me see a spiritual issue that so many of us often struggle with. So many times, we’re just like that elephant. At one time, before we came to Christ and committed our lives to Him, we were much like that baby elephant. We belonged to a cruel and evil master. We were under the rule and influence of the enemy. Just like that elephant, we were far too small and weak to break free from the chains that the enemy used to keep us bound. While the chains for the elephant were physical, our chains were spiritual, emotional and mental. Chains of sin, shame, fear, depression, anxiety and hurt held us captive and we were powerless to their uncanny ability to hold us back in life. Since we’ve come to Christ, though, we’ve grown stronger and bigger in incredible ways and He has endowed us with the ability to break free from every single chain that’s had us bound. But just like that elephant, we’re sometimes so haunted by how powerless we were that we fail to realize just how powerful we are now in Christ.

So I share that story to share this message: Break free! You are not who you used to be! You are not weak! You are not helpless! You might be facing some of the same obstacles you faced before you got saved and they may have you feeling tied down like before. Just know that the Heavenly Father who, in all His lovingkindness, rescued you from your chains before has let you be chained up again, not to scare you or remind of your past weakness and failures. He’s allowed you be tied up again to show you just how big and powerful you’ve become in Him. He wants you to see the work that He’s done in you and He wants you to exercise this new strength He’s placed inside of you.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with praying and seeking Him when you feel weak and helpless. But if you’ve prayed in hopes that the Father would come and break you free from what’s holding you back, and you seem to be getting no reply, it’s possibly because He’s trying to show you that He doesn’t need to rescue you. He’s fed you His strength through His Word and nurtured you with His love up until now so you could grow to the point to break through the chains yourself. He already answered the prayers that you’re praying now, in advance, because He’s been prepping you and building you up so you could break free since the day He rescued you. He wants you to see that the strength that He gives is the most powerful force imaginable. It’s stronger than your old addictions, bad habits, sins, or problems. He wants you to know for yourself that the strength that He gives you is so mighty it can overcome all the things that used to overcome you. Sure, He could jump in and rescue you again, but this time He wants you to walk confidently in the new strength He’s given you and break those chains off yourself. You’re already free because you belong to Him now. All you have to do is walk boldly and beautifully in the power and strength that He’s endowed you with.

The story of the elephant that my psych teacher told me ended with her not realizing that she could break free when she wanted to. However, our story doesn’t have to end the same way. Right now, you may feel like that elephant, bound by the chains you couldn’t shake off before you came to Christ. You may not have been able to shake those chains off before, but you can certainly shake them off now. You are more than a conqueror and you most certainly can do any and everything through Christ who strengthens you! Walk confidently in the new strength you’ve been given through your relationship with Christ and know that your chains will be broken the moment you realize you can break free.