One of the most difficult things to deal with as a Christian, or as human beings in general, is that of the hurt that others inflict upon us. There might be nothing like it. The reason such becomes so difficult is that, normally, our emotions and the deepest parts of us get involved. That’s because relationships run deeper than the surface. And, thus, the deeper the relationship, the deeper it hurts when others wound us.
And you know what? There is no prescribed formula to help us deal with it. There are some principles to consider, but you can’t just give 3 or 4 keys as a band-aid (or plaster for my British friends) and everything will just be better. Pain is painful. Hurt is hurtful. There is simply no denying it. And many times it doesn’t disappear when we wave our magic wands.
Of course, we can push it aside, not think about it, not deal with it, and deaden ourselves to the pain. Or we can cover the pain with all sorts of other things – when it arises, we can head to the television to attempt to drown out the hurt or pick up some ice cream and eat half of the tub (or the whole tub). Or we could engage in graver things as well. But anything so we don’t have to deal with the hurt.
I suppose that is why something like divorce can hurt so very badly. I have not and do not plan on experiencing such. But I can at least imagine that for those who break apart the marriage covenant relationship, it is most painful for two people who are intertwined so closely, closer than in any other relationship.
And, so, when we are hurt (not just in divorce, but in any friendship-relationship across the body of Christ), we easily want to respond with any amount of negative emotions: sadness, depression, anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, fury, and a whole host of others. It hurts that bad and we want to react to the situation. And the thing is, the person who hurt us might be getting on with their life just fine with no knowledge of our pain. But we are still deeply stuck with the agony of the wound.
In my young life, one of the things that I have learned with regards to this area, and which keeps me in a place of wanting to let go of such bitterness, is remembering that I have done and continue to do the same to others. I’m probably better than most. How many times have I dumped on someone else – wife, son, family, friends, those in the body of Christ? The number is countless. And I can only hope that those whom I have hurt in my almost 32 years of life will remember these words that I want to learn to embrace more and more: [love] keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5, NIV).
Goodness, it is easy to keep a record of wrongs. So easy because it hurts so bad.
I am very aware that, for the one pursuing Christ, we are not called to allow bitterness or rage or anger or depression dominate. And I believe that we can walk out such a calling due to the new disposition that we have as new creations in Christ. He has done a radical work within. Such emotions can arise. To deny such would be pretty unwise. But they do not have to be our master. They do not have to dominate.
But as those who still have the flesh, who still live in a fallen world, who are still tempted with sin, we will walk down those paths and let such emotions have their way at times. And so I remain eternally grateful for mercy as gigantic as the mercy of our Father.
So the first thing I have to remember is that I have hurt people just as much, if not more, than those who have hurt me. I need your grace just as much as I think you need my grace.
Still, there is another great issue to consider when learning to deal with people who have hurt us: How do we forgive these people? I mean, we do read passages like this:
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 2:12-13)
Pretty challenging words – as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Extremely challenging words.
But here is where the hang-up comes. What if someone never asks for forgiveness? Are we, then, supposed to forgive?
That’s a tough one, one that I don’t pretend to have all the answers. And I would love for you share any thoughts that you might have. But let me share some things that I do believe are worth remembering.
The first is that you can only forgive those who ask your forgiveness. When someone asks forgiveness for how they have wronged us, if it is with true remorse and repentance, then it now becomes our responsibility to forgive. It’s now on us, not them. And to forgive them will call for just as much a work of God’s grace and mercy in our lives as it does in the person that has come to the place of wanting to ask forgiveness. We all know that, if the wound is deep enough, it will be hard for us to forgive. Simply saying the words, I forgive you, is a start. But we still have to walk out the forgiveness on a daily basis. But the door has been opened to forgiveness and reconciliation.
But that’s not always the case. Again, sometimes the person never asks to be forgiven. And here is what I have learned in my young life.
I believe that, if someone never asks for forgiveness, then there is no responsibility set upon us to forgive. You cannot forgive one who never asks for forgiveness. Yet, take note of this. I don’t believe that allows us to keep the door of bitterness or anger or rage open. Why? When someone has wronged us and has not asked for forgiveness, I believe our responsibility then becomes to learn to let it go and release that person in Jesus’ name to get on with their life as we get on with our life in God.
By no means am I saying it is easy. None of this stuff is easy. But we must move towards letting the other go, releasing them from the grip of deep-rooted bitterness. If we don’t, even if we never see them again, we will suffer our own pain of not releasing them. The wound will continue to fester and grow putrid. And the release in our lives will only come when we finally step into the liberating grace of Jesus to allow us to let them go.
And as we let them go, the responsibility can now fully rest with God to deal with it, as we are reminded in Romans 12:19:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.
But the thing is that, once we are liberated and release the person, we are not sitting around wondering if God has dealt with it. We are released ourselves and free from being emotionally entangled with the person or persons who have hurt us. And we get on with walking out what God has for us today.
To see full release come, it probably won’t do much to go say a little half-hearted prayer and get back to our favourite tv programme. It might call for deep mourning (Matthew 5:4) and maybe even some time away to deal with it. Time to reflect and refresh. And I actually mean praying in Jesus’ name about these things, since he is the one who can break deep-rooted strongholds.
Of course, there is the reality that we might see these people again on a regular basis – at work, within our church community, in our family, etc. If we never really see the person again, we can possibly move on more easily and quicker. But not necessarily.
If we continue to see the person, there are a whole host of practicalities to deal with, even one possible decision being that we physically move on to help both parties involved to be released. It should not be the automatic answer in all situations. I know we find it easier to exit stage left whenever conflict arises. But that might not be the answer, at least from God’s perspective. Sometimes we are called to walk through the valley of the shadow of death in our relationships, all to see true healing come.
So, removal from the situation might be the answer. But not always, and it should not be our immediate reaction. Sometimes forgiveness and reconciliation takes time to walk out. That is my experience. So we might be called to a lengthy time of perseverance here.
Listen, I can only again reiterate that I do understand the difficulty of both forgiving those who have hurt us who asked our forgiveness and then letting go of those who have wounded us but never asked forgiveness from us. Both of these are extremely complex situations that simply take time (especially if we continue to see one another). And we must know that we can only really deal with them by a work of God’s Spirit and God’s Spirit alone. This has nothing to do with pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and getting on with life. This must be a deep work of the grace of Christ.
But, as sons and daughters of the King, this is what we are called to.
And can you imagine the bride of Christ learning to forgive and release those who hurt us? Can you imagine the effect this would have on planet earth? Can imagine the resounding effect of the grace of Jesus that would be left ringing in the ears of humanity?
Ok, probably too big a vision for right now and dealing with the deep, personal wounds and scars of today. In the pain, we just want to work through it and move to the place of mercy that God has called us. So let’s move towards that, and we will live the bigger effect up to God himself. This is his ultimately.
We can make movement towards grace and mercy and forgiveness today. And it might even start with forgiving ourselves first before we begin to extend the same to others.