Forgiveness is Not Optional

Candy Abbott

“Pray for me to be able to forgive my husband,” Kitty confided as she took a seat in a chair that our Sisters in Christ affectionately call “The Lord’s Lap.” Two other prayer partners and I stood over her. “Pray for my attitude,” Kitty added as we gently laid our hands on her head and shoulders.

Words formed in my Spirit, and I sensed a prophetic message coming—something new to me. When I opened my mouth to repeat what my spirit heard, my own voice startled me. It came out loud and authoritative—a booming, amplified sound—that originated not from my mind but from the very depths of my being. I was as eager to learn the profound truth I was about to utter as Kitty must have been. The message came haltingly, one word or phrase at a time, and I spoke it as it came:

“Forgiveness.”

“Is not.”

“A nice thing.”

What? I could barely breathe. That makes no sense!

During the pregnant pause while I stood there feeling like a fool with “Forgiveness is not a nice thing” hanging in the air, rather than interject some flimsy explanation of my own, I waited. The women waited. And then the Lord formed the remaining words in my spirit:

“. . . It is required of all who call themselves My children.”

I can’t speak for Kitty, but those words changed my life. Since that day, I began to see forgiveness as mandatory, not something I could take or leave based on how heavy or light the offense. Over the years, I have learned to forgive quickly and thoroughly, which is so freeing! People can say and do horrendous things, but the pain they inflict, intentional or unintentional, has no hold on me. Forgiveness breaks its power. To nurse a grievance and rehash it only serves to keep me stirred up and in bondage. Some things are easier to relinquish than others. On occasion, I may still wallow in the injustice for a few days—but the sooner I forgive, the sooner I am able to go on my merry way, unencumbered.

I had the privilege of working with a man known for his positive influence and ability to get things done. For two decades, I enjoyed working side-by-side with him. But then he changed. He suffered multiple health problems and nearly died. After surviving emergency surgery, he had a miraculous recovery and returned to work. But instead of his optimistic self, my co-workers and I quickly realized his personality had become, well, tyrannical. Critical and demanding, I felt the brunt of his verbal abuse day-in and day-out. So, every day, I had the choice to let his remarks wound me and keep score of the incidents—or forgive him often and thoroughly. After all, there would be more the next day, and the day after that. I couldn’t afford to let these things consume me or I would become bitter and tied up in knots . . . and what kind of Christian witness would that be?

Other co-workers felt the sting, too, and looked to me as an emotional barometer. “How is he today?” “How do you do it—how do you stay so relaxed and cheerful when it’s like walking on egg shells around here?”

I’d say things like, “Forgive is an action verb.” I put this and other positive sayings on cards and kept them in my desk drawer for quick reference. On occasion, I handed them out.

Never have I been so dependent on my Bible. In clinging to it, I discovered that I couldn’t forgive by my own determination. For it to be authentic, I had to be connected to the Vine and let the Lord do the forgiving in and through me (see John 15:5).

I prayed the Fruit of the Spirit for my co-worker (see Galatians 5:22-23). Every day for one week, I would ask the Lord to grow “love” in him . . . the next week, “joy” . . . the next week, “peace” . . . “patience,” etc. There seemed to be fewer incidents during those weeks—my co-worker seemed less confrontational. Others commented that the atmosphere had changed. Whether God was working in my co-worker, I can’t say, but by exhibiting these qualities, the Holy Spirit impacted my own attitude and perspective. If insults or barbs came my way, I practiced letting them roll off. After a while, these things no longer penetrated my peace of mind. It became “normal” for me to not take offense.

My co-worker didn’t ask to be this way. I doubt if he even knew how his behavior affected those around him. But even if he were the kind of person who took pride in being annoying and cantankerous, it wouldn’t make any difference. We all have faults and needs. I read something once that has stayed with me: “People who are the most obnoxious are the ones who need love the most.”

Seven Things to Keep in Mind When Dealing with a Difficult Person:

  1. Commit to forgive. If you are a child of God, forgiveness is not optional, nor is it easy. But it is beneficial. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).
  2. Forgive quickly. Don’t let the hurt and anger fester or you will be in bondage, giving power to others’ negative words or actions. “If you are angry, do not let it become sin. Get over your anger before the day is finished” (Ephesians 4:6 NLV).
  3. Stay in your Bible. Get a red-letter edition, and read the words of Jesus. Savor them. Let them breathe life and peace into you as you embrace the very mind of Christ. “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had” (Romans 15:5 NIV).
  4. Pray for those who irritate or torment you. Nothing will help you flip the switch from anger to compassion faster than praying blessings on those you’d rather smack in the face. Take it to the Lord in prayer. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44 NIV).
  5. Be kind. If it doesn’t come naturally to show kindness to a mean-spirited person, think in terms of killing him or her with kindness. When we practice forgiveness, we preach without words. The tone you set may even serve as a catalyst that will inspire other someone else to forgive. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV).
  6. Remember, it’s not about you. Forgiveness is not about you and your emotional pain. It’s about God’s sacrificial love and your willingness to apply His example to your life. As a child of God, you are required to: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [yourself], not looking to your own interests but . . . to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
  7. Forgive in God’s strength, not your own. To forgive as far as east is from west, you’ll need divine intervention. Connect to Christ at a root level, and let Him do the work. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:5, 10 NIV).

seasoned-with-salt

Candy Abbott is an author, publisher, inspirational speaker, and grandmom. But most of all, she sees herself as a “fruitbearer” as it is her life’s goal to exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) in all that she does. She began writing in 1983, around the same time she co-founded Sisters in Christ. Candy is a charter member of Southern Delaware Toastmasters, elder and deacon at the Georgetown Presbyterian Church, director of the annual Fruitbearer conference, founder of Delmarva Christian Writers’ Fellowship, and president of the Delaware Association of American Mothers. She and her husband Drew own and operate Fruitbearer Publishing, LLC. They have three children and four grandchildren, all in close proximity to their home in Georgetown, DE. Visit www.fruitbearer.com or www.fruitbearerevents.com.

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