In the last installment of this series of blog postings, we took a look at how important it is to confess and ask forgiveness, when you’re wrong. By the way, just in case it hasn’t occurred to you, you will occasionally be wrong — yeah, really. However, confessing and asking forgiveness is only half of the solution to family communication failures; the other half is the actual forgiveness.
Far too many families and relationships are plagued by the diseases of unforgiveness, grudge carrying, and revenge tradition. We get our feelings hurt or we don’t get what we want, and we decide that we are right and justified in “getting even”. It’s a powerful temptation, but if we intend to make our families and other relationships functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) we need to grow up and learn better habits.
First we need to leave justice where it belongs, in the hands of governmental authorities (for matters of crime—see Romans 13:1-4) or in the hands of God (see Romans 12:17-21). Revenge is not ours—ever, and even grudges are forbidden (Lev. 19:18). Never let the words, “But he did it to me first,” cross either your mind or your lips again. Do you believe in God? Then believe that He will take care of all wrongs at the right time, and do a much better job of it than we ever could.
Second, when confession, apology, and forgiveness is asked for, then forgive. Give it ungrudgingly for three reasons. Your own forgiveness depends on it (Matt. 6:12); don’t endanger your own salvation. It is the example God Himself has given us (Eph. 4:32); you wouldn’t want God to give forgiveness to you grudgingly, would you? And reluctant, half-hearted forgiveness sends a relationship-destroying message to the person seeking forgiveness; it says, “I’m not really sure I want to.”
Third, learn that forgiveness is actually possible; some people don’t think it is. Their error comes from a misunderstanding; they think that forgiveness means forgetting the offense, “forgive and forget”. Forgiveness, however, is not about forgetting the offense, but rather about treating the other person as if it had never happened. When God forgives; He treats us as if we had never sinned, had never been the Hell-bound sinners we were (if you are now a Christian), and had never become enemies. We, instead, are made heirs of Heaven. Read and think about Luke 15:11-32. And the wonderful by-product of this deliberate decision to treat the person as if it never happened is that before long our feelings really do change and we actually do start to forget. Wonderful family heal can come, all by acting better than we feel.
Fourth, don’t bring the offense up again in an unforgiving way. Don’t use past offenses as a way to win an argument or beat someone