Friday, May 31, 2013

The heart of forgiveness

It is easy to see the need to forgive hurtful actions. A person says something rude, carelessly forgets about something important or slights you, and you immediately are faced with the task of forgiving them. Without extending forgiveness there will be a wall between you and the offender. You will feel hurt while they will feel the burden of knowing they have damaged a relationship. No one wins and everyone feels like there is an elephant in the room. The burden is great but it is easily remedied by extending forgiveness.
This is basic. We were taught how to forgive when we were children. Just picture a small child in preschool. Little Sally is crying because Johnny stole her Barbie doll and won't give it back - typical boys. When the teacher is alerted to Johnny's antics she remedies the situation by reprimanding him and demanding that he return the Barbie to Sally. He does so reluctantly. The teacher then instructs Johnny to ask for forgiveness. Sally is instructed to accept Johnny's apology, hug and skip off into the sunset with glee. This is the kind of forgiveness we all know we should extend to each other. But there is a deeper forgiveness that is often overlooked and rarely put into practice.
There will be times you need to forgive someone's thoughts. They may never voice them, but negative thoughts can hurt just like negative words. The offended is left carrying resentment like a heavy weight. The offender doesn't even know the damage they have inflicted. This may seem hopeless. No words have been exchanged, no action taken, so how can forgiveness heal? This is where the power of forgiveness is on full display. The forgiver doesn't have to speak or make a ceremony of the process, they simply have to make the decision to forgive the person for the thoughts that are so hurtful.
This may seem too fundamental to work, but there is power in the thoughts we have towards others. Our thought life is so fundamental to our mental health and the health of our relationships that it can literally transform our outward life when we take the steps necessary to ensure that we are mentally whole and at peace.
The thoughts of others are so powerful that they can inflict real damage. It is hard to cover up our thoughts, and they are all to often displayed by body language and facial expressions that shine a light on the true feelings that lay below the surface. Unfortunately, we can't control what other people will think. We can only control how we will respond. We can be hurt and offended or we can extend forgiveness and acceptance.
To extend these thoughts of forgiveness and acceptance is as simple as telling God you forgive them and asking him to bless those very people who have hurt you. There is peace in blessing others. How can you be sour and perturbed when you are busy blessing and forgiving? The two cannot coexist.
God has forgiven us for not just the sins that are outward and blatant, but our deepest and most repulsive thoughts. He sees them all and forgives them all. He isn't selective. This is the same level of forgiveness he asks his children to extend to one another: believers and nonbelievers. We are to be a mirror, reflecting to the world the forgiveness shown to us and so desperately needed to be whole.

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