Forgiveness is an action or process that sometimes we find ourselves struggling with. It is not unusual to become the victim of someone else’s harsh attitude or abusive behavior. Often our initial response is to retaliate or to harbor resentment towards our offender(s).
In past experiences, I have encountered women who have been abused by their husbands, people with deep resentment towards family members who have wronged them and victims of bullying in school or in the workplace. The question that they often ask me is how can they respond to their offenders in a positive manner? What does God want them to do?
Getting angry and harboring unforgiveness is an unhealthy response. Studies show that the bitterness of unforgiveness can increase stress levels, blood pressure and heart rates. As a result, unforgiveness can lead to depression, heart disease, a stroke or cancer. Perhaps being unforgiving is not the best answer!
Sometimes for the sake of trying to be a good person people may try to overlook a person’s bad behavior or minimize the magnitude of the wrongs that were done. By not allowing their offenders to face the consequences of their actions, often their offenders return to their inappropriate behaviors.
Therefore, forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean overlooking their behavior and absolving them from the consequences of their actions. In fact, overlooking bad behavior can lead to one staying in an abusive relationship or leaving their offender to think that their bad behavior is acceptable. Sometimes disciplining (i.e. calling the authorities on) someone can be an act of love and forgiveness because it forces them to get the help they need, especially in situations where they wouldn’t seek help on their own.
Forgiveness is the process of giving up your right to retaliate towards an offender and to cease from feeling resentment against them.
Psychologist Dr. Everett Worthington states that, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude. It means you become less motivated to retaliate against someone who offended you... and more motivated by feelings of goodwill, despite the offender’s hurtful actions... It doesn’t mean forgetting or pardoning an offense.”
If you are having a hard time forgiving someone, I would like to encourage you to do two things. First, make a decision in your heart not to seek revenge and to treat your offender with value. Secondly, try to replace any negative and unforgiving feelings toward them with thoughts and feelings that are positive.
For me, prayer plays an important part in this process. When I pray for the well-being of my offenders, God gives me the ability to change my attitude towards them.
The Bible says in Romans 5:10 “…while we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…”
If Jesus was willing to forgive us and love us when we were considered His enemies, why can’t we to do the same thing for our enemies?