Forgiveness and Feelings (Lane)
Forgiveness and Feelings
by Lonnie Lane
Articles that touch on forgiveness seem to generate heart-felt responses from folks asking “How do I forgive?” and about what to do with negative emotions that won’t quit when you want to forgive. When enough people asked, it warranted another article on forgiveness. This person’s email expresses the dilemma others find themselves in as well.
Q. As I seek God in being able to forgive, I understand and totally believe our need to forgive. I desperately want to forgive. My challenge has been “how to forgive.” Do I push the thoughts of hurt and disappointment out of my mind and they will eventually go away? I know that as long as these thoughts are in my mind, that I have unforgiveness in my heart . . . hence my search for the missing link. One thing I know for sure is, that if we truly seek God He will NEVER disappoint us. So I am diligently seeking the answer of “how to forgive.” I hope you can give me some ideas as to the practical ways of going about this as I truly do want to obey the Father and forgive those who have trespassed against me. Any insights will be greatly appreciated.
A. I hear your heart in wanting to fully forgive. It may help to know that there are two aspects to forgiveness required in the Old Covenant: One is atonement (a blood sacrifice to pay for the offense); the other is restitution (payment or restoration for what was lost or defiled.) In ancient Israel they were talking about the loss of some thing or some one. We today tend to talk about forgiveness in more spiritual terms without addressing the issue of restoration.
In reality, Yeshua accomplished both for us. He took upon Himself full responsibility for His creation’s choice of independence from their God and for breaking the rules He Himself had made. And taking the retribution due to humankind, He sentenced Himself to death for our crimes. He paid the price for the transgression with His own life’s blood, and restored us to the freedom, peace, and wholeness that can only be had from being one with God.
But often we “do” the first (forgive) without getting to the second (peace). Does that mean we didn’t really forgive? Not necessarily. Here’s why. There are also two aspects of forgiveness on our part as believers: Our will and our emotions. We forgive with our will, not our emotions. We CHOOSE to forgive and to release the person who harmed us to the Lord. Forgiveness is a matter of making the decision to relinquish any anger or bitterness or desire for any revenge against the offending person.
We choose to step out of the place of judging the person and release them to the Lord, based on the fact that Yeshua said, “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:26) Since He died to pay for the “transgressions” against us, as well as for any of which we are guilty, to not forgive is to dishonor Him and the death He died for us, and, therefore, to forfeit being forgiven ourselves. That’s incentive enough to forgive. If we really are believers in Yeshua, we WILL forgive.
But our feelings can be separate and distinct from our choice to forgive. While it is true that we can fully forgive and be immediately released from all emotions that torment us related to a violation against us, sometimes we have to ask the Lord to help our emotions line up with our choice to forgive. We may have to pray for that for a while until they do. It is not a matter of waiting until our feelings about the situation dissipate. It’s more an issue of learning how to truly “let go and let God,” as the saying goes. More about that later.
What we may call “emotions” may just be God-given “feelings” that the matter is yet unfinished. Letting go of bitterness is not the same thing as still having a desire to restore homeostasis (balance) to the relationship or situation. Or at least to bring it to an equitable closure. But when things are left in their damaged state, we feel it, even if we have done our part in forgiving. The original provision in Torah provided for a return to normalcy or homeostasis. That would be God’s way.
In the Old Covenant, when someone wronged another person, as stated above, they needed to make it right with God, and with the person who was wronged. The two parts of being forgiven were: 1) an animal sacrifice was required before God to pay for the sin, and 2) compensation needed to be paid to the offended person by the offender. This could mean an “eye for an eye” or it could mean paying back someone even up to seven times what their loss was. This recompense was recognition that the offender had violated the other person for which they were required to restore to them or compensate for the loss they suffered.
Today, while we may forgive, this transaction is most likely just between us and the Lord. We go to God and repent for our part, or for our unforgiveness and/or bitterness if need be, and then tell the Lord we forgive the other person. We may even ask the Lord to forgive them as well. Usually the forgiveness transaction doesn’t reach the individual who hurt us, in which case, there is no resolution between us and the offending party. We forgive but the incident lacks closure. Even if we are able to extend forgiveness to the other person, if there’s no restitution for damages or recognition of our having been wronged, it may feel incomplete. It sounds like what our writer above is saying is that she isn’t feeling that there was any recognition from the offender that she was hurt, or how much they disappointed her. Often our pain comes from feeling that we want them to know how much they hurt and disappointed us. We may feel a sense of injustice that we could be hurt so badly and they seemingly skip easily away with no regard for or awareness of our feelings of pain.
So what I’m saying is, when we still have feelings after we have truly forgiven, the feelings we still have may be because there has not been the fulfillment of the way God defines how forgiveness is to work for the people of God which would include the second part: restoration, recompense or restitution. So since that’s not available to most of us today, outside of a court of law, what are we to do?
The only way out of that is to turn the pain, hurt and disappointment over to the Lord. Thank God He is there for us that way or we might never be able to be free of it. Salvation is, after all, primarily about forgiveness. Many people carry so much pain to their graves when they don’t know the Lord to turn to Him for help. But we who know Him can be entirely free of that kind of pain. HalleluYah! Giving our pain to Yeshua may mean accepting that what we wanted to happen, didn’t, and is likely not going to happen as we wished. We have to give up our expectations of what we wanted from the other person to the Lord!
We have to relinquish our plan for His plan! We have to accept things as they are, not as a failure, but putting our trust in our loving God for where we go from here. It’s the only way out of the emotional dilemma.
We all have a sense of what we expect reality to be, and what should take place, but it doesn’t always take place as we think it should. Even if what we expected was godly and righteous, we can be tormented by the “What if” or the “it should have” if we don’t surrender what we wanted to happen to the Lord so we can move on. Yeshua said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) People who hurt us don’t really know the pain they cause us. They can’t, just as we don’t know the pain we may cause others either.
We must take it all to Yeshua who took our griefs, sorrows, pains and even our disappointments to the Cross where He experienced them all. We can keep them, we can hold onto them and rehearse them over and over, or we can believe He will release us from them if we give them to Him. While this may be a one-time supernatural experience, more likely than not, it may require another act of your will to not let the hurt and disappointment dominate your thoughts. “We (must) take captive every thought and make it obedient to Messiah.” (2 Cor. 10:5)
If you have given over to the Lord all your hurt and disappointment, articulating to Him the hurts and disappointments you are forgiving once and for all, you can then make a declaration (a choice!) that you are no longer in agreement with the hurt and disappointment. You can disown those thoughts connected to that situation, and not allow them to rule your life. You have the power in Yeshua to come out and stay out of agreement with those feelings. I’ve even done an about face so that I was turning my back on the thoughts I no longer wanted as I declared, “I come out of agreement with those thoughts and feelings and line up with what God says.”
Having made the choice to forgive the offending person, and relinquish those feelings to the Lord, you then need to stand on that choice and not let the devil whisper, “Poor little you has been so hurt…,” on and on. Do you see how allowing those feelings to continue will not get you to feeling better? They are lies that promise you comfort but bring you none. Good chance these thoughts are really coming from a demon but the thoughts and feelings seem so much like ours own, and we may think, “If only they would only realize how violated I was, how much they hurt me, I’d feel better.” Or we may want others to know how much we’ve been hurt. The need behind it is for someone to hear how much pain we’re in, to recognize how very disappointed we’ve been. It’s alright not to want to be alone in our pain.
The trouble is, even if someone agrees we were treated unjustly, it really won’t make us feel any better, because we’re very subtly believing we were helplessly violated and couldn’t change it, try as we might. As long as we think that, we aren’t in control of our own lives or emotions. Someone else is – the one who hurt us. They may be long gone from our lives, but so long as we still see ourselves as having been victimized, they still control us. And as long as we are looking for justification for our hurt feelings, this falls into the category of self-pity. And self-pity only looks in one direction. It looks backward and anchors us to the past emotionally. It doesn’t allow us to grow and it never fulfills the false promise of making us feel better or filling the void we’re so aware of. In other words, it’s a lie! Guess where that comes from?
What if Yeshua had listened to those voices? What if He had taken any other position other than “Father, forgive them?” We can choose to fully forgive and put the pain of the ordeal behind us because He did! If He lives in us, we can choose to be like Him. He has given us that awesome power and the grace to be able to make that choice. What will bring us freedom from the hurt and disappointment is making another choice, to be willing to let go of the pain and giving it to the Lord. HE TOOK THAT PAIN FOR YOU! He did it so you wouldn’t have to be absorbed in and controlled by the lies of the devil. He wants you to go joyfully and freely into the goodness of God, leaving what didn’t work out in the dust behind you.
The Word promises that “God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose,” (Rom 8:28). There cannot be any lasting hurts or disappointments for us who are truly His. Because He’s going to make good on it all, and He’s going to use it all to make us more like Himself, we can’t lose. The Sovereign Lord of the universe has declared Himself to be our Father. And He’s a good Father!
What’s more, He knows your hurt and disappointment. When what we want is for someone to understand what we’ve been through, the Lord does. He knows our pain better than we do. He’s there for us and He will send the Comforter to us if we are willing to be comforted by God, which means looking at it righteously. From God’s perspective. Sometimes God allows things to happen in our lives in order to prepare us for greater blessings than He could bring to us before. The wilderness is a great place to lose some extra pounds of flesh!
I have discovered two things about God’s dealings with us: 1) My deepest disappointments have turned out to be the ground from which He has allowed to grow the greatest blessings, even beyond my greatest imaginations, and 2) out of my most profound weaknesses He has shown His strengths in and through me.
It did require that I had to learn to think differently. When up against feelings of powerlessness to conform to the image of Yeshua, ask yourself where the cross is in this situation for you. Have you ever considered how the Man Yeshua had to take every one of His own thoughts captive? He was tempted as we are and is, therefore, willing and able to help you. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered….For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Heb 5:8; 2:17-18)
Our temptation may be to nurse that pain again. If the thoughts still occur to us, that doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. We can exchange those thoughts for praise and worship. If you keep doing that, soon satan will give up trying to hold you to the pain of the past. He won’t stick around to hear you praising God anytime he brings a painful memory to your mind. We can exchange those negative thoughts much more easily when we begin to thank God for whatever good was in the situation or relationship. Surely there must have been good in it or you wouldn’t be experiencing the loss or the hurt.
In times of loss or pain, actively choosing to be thankful for what blessings I have experienced, rather than sorrowful for what was lost, turns my perspective on the experience into an opportunity to know His love more deeply, and to appreciate more fully His suffering for me, as I consider that He experienced my pain for me so I can let go of it to Him. And if that isn’t enough, my experience of having found by God’s great grace His light in the midst of what was sometimes paralyzing darkness, now allows me to share what I’ve learned so as to help others like yourself to walk in that same freedom in the Lord. What I have said in this article and others about forgiveness isn’t just theory for me. It’s not just a good message. It’s my life. If there is any wisdom at all in what I’ve had to say, it was borne out of having had to walk it out myself with God. And I can testify that I have found my God to be faithful to His Word and to me in the midst of the tribulation. And so will you.
To sum it all up, Forgiveness means valuing His cross above our pain. It means extending it to others as well as receiving it for ourselves. None of us is worthy of so great a gift. That’s why it’s a gift! Peace!
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundationk, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.