The last Saturday in October (October 26 this year) is National Forgiveness Day in the United States, a day which all people of faith can honor, if they chose, and one to which even many people without religious beliefs can relate. For those of us who take seriously the words “Forgive us our sins as we forgive them that sin against us” (Matthew 6:12), the day is an opportunity to reflect on the need for forgiveness and how to make it a part of our everyday lives. This blog post gives some thoughts to start you on your own reflection on what it means to forgive.
Sometimes it’s possible to forgive and not really forgive. Just saying the words “I forgive you” or telling ourselves we have forgiven someone, or even forcing ourselves to forget the problem, isn’t really the same as actual deep down forgiveness. Saying “I forgive you” with a frown, or telling yourself you have forgiven someone, but still remembering and dwelling on the problem, is not forgiving. We need to forgive cheerfully. It’s said that “God loves a cheerful giver”. How much more could we say, “God loves a cheerful forgiver”.
We invariably know when we have truly forgiven because forgiveness brings peace and even happiness to the one who forgives. The pain caused by the word or deed that offended us may still be there, at least for a while, but it invariably diminishes once forgiveness is in place.
Refusing to be hurt or angry anymore and accepting another person despite what they have done to us should be a positive thing. Forgiveness may not be easy sometimes, but it’s right, and it is ultimately something to be happy about whether we are the one forgiving or being forgiven!
•Help to Forgive
The fact that forgiving others is seldom easy underscores a truth. Only you can forgive someone who has hurt you, but you may need help to do it. A fascinating survey conducted by the Gallup Organization found that 94% of those questioned said it was important to forgive, but 85% said they needed some outside help to be able to forgive. For those of us who choose to ask for it, help is available. Notice what Paul writes on this: “… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14). The important thing to realize here is that all the things Paul lists in these verses are fruits and gifts of the Spirit (see also I Corinthians 12, 13). If we are finding it hard to forgive something, we need to ask for the help that God clearly desires to give.
Sometimes it’s not others that need the forgiveness – and we may not realize it. Read the rest of this blog for more pointers on forgiving …
•Forgiveness and What We Don’t See
It’s relatively easy to ask God’s forgiveness for the sins and mistakes of which we are all too aware. But what about those errors of which we are actually unaware – either unaware of their significance or simply unaware of their existence? National Forgiveness Day is not just an opportunity to ask forgiveness for what we know we have done wrong, but also for those things we may be unaware of.
We are all blind to some of our own problems. That’s why David wrote, “But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). Every Christian who has known the truth for many years knows that, just like weeds, old hidden errors and new unseen ones continue to crop up throughout life. Usually we have to ask God’s help and to think deeply about this in order to see these things, but if we are willing to do it we can come to see what we need to see – as David also acknowledged: “Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part you shalt make me to know wisdom” (Psalm 51:6).
“Forgive my hidden faults” is a prayer we can all pray. Asking help to see and overcome those faults is another.