We have often heard the saying, “to err is human and to forgive divine.” We need God to give us the grace to forgive ourselves and those who have hurt us, and to forgive God when our lives don’t turn out the way we believe they should. We must turn to God and His love and mercy to truly forgive.
God has forgiven us and wants us to forgive others. We see this in the Lord’s Prayer that we are to forgive those who trespass against us. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God has forgiven us and wants us to show mercy and forgive others. We are told in Scripture that “as we judge, so will we be judged.” To forgive is to open our hearts to God’s love. For that reason, the enemy wants us not to forgive. The world, the enemy and our own weakness fight against what we need to receive the love and grace of Jesus. It is not easy. We must turn to God and His love and mercy to truly forgive.
Why don’t we want to forgive? There are four main obstacles to forgiveness. The first is that we don’t think we need to forgive. After all, “we did nothing wrong.” The problem is the other person and not us. They are taking the situation and blowing it out of proportion. We come up with every excuse in the world that the problem is not us but someone else. The second obstacle, a major one, is that we simply don’t want to forgive. We are so angry we are “spitting nails.” The other person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. The problem? When we don’t forgive it is like drinking poison and thinking it is going to harm someone else! The third obstacle is we don’t take responsibility for our lack of forgiveness. We don’t realize as Christians we must go out of our way to forgive. Finally, we don’t forgive ourselves. We will go into detail on why this occurs.
We will examine seven key areas of mercy through forgiveness.
1. Forgiveness of self. The devil wants us to live in shame. The enemy takes great delight when we refuse to forgive ourselves because “we don’t deserve to be forgiven.”
Self-condemnation is the norm for those who fall in this category (which once was me.) The big breakthrough for me was when I surrendered my life to Jesus and He showed me the reality of Romans 8:1.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
There was a time in my life where I was condemning myself for my behavior. One year, at a Southern California Renewal Convention, I was feeling particularly horrible about myself when I was on the arena floor in Anaheim Convention Center listening to the song, “You are Near.” Many of you know this song, “Yahweh, I know you are near, standing always at my side. You guard me from the foe and lead me….” At the same time I heard the song, I saw in my mind one image after another of my feeding the poor, ministering to people and evangelizing and I heard God say in my head, “This is how I see you.” God was showing me mercy! He was loving me unconditionally and demonstrating exactly how He saw me. If we could see ourselves through God’s eyes we would always have a smile on our face. We would not worry about the future because the Father will be there with open arms welcoming us home!
2. Forgiveness of others. I once thought I didn’t have a problem in this area. Once when I was praying, the Lord showed just what a challenge I had in this area. As high as the ceiling from the floor, the Lord showed me the many people I had not forgiven. It is important to know that ignoring or forgetting those that have hurt us is not the same as forgiving them. One of the biggest issues for me was my father. He was abusive to me both emotionally and physically. I literally started shaking when he would come home. It took me years to come up with the courage to forgive him. God showed me clearly that for me to grow in holiness, I had no choice but to “honor my father and mother.” If my prayers were to be answered, I must have the courage to forgive.
Mark 11:24-25 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
This is the foundation for growth in holiness. All of us have been hurt, we all have people who have abused us in some way. What do we do about it? Certainly, we need to try to ask for forgiveness from whoever we hurt.
Often, we try to convince God that we don’t have to forgive, especially those who have abused us. Peter asks the question of Jesus that all of us think about at one time or another.
Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’”
We rationalize all the reasons we don’t have to forgive. We did nothing to deserve the way we are being treated. Jesus has forgiven us despite our turning our back to Him over and over.
One of the biggest challenges for me was forgiving the CEO of the company I was employed at for 14 years. He was a new CEO and didn’t like me immediately. I was senior vice president of sales of a Fortune 25 company and had been very successful. The previous chairman of the board and CEO and vice chairman loved and respected me. I was considered to be one of the top executives in the world. However, new CEOs like to build their own teams, and I wasn’t to be part of it. After a short two months with the new leader, I was fired. To say I was angry and hurt was an understatement. I felt God’s hand in the situation but I knew I had to forgive the person who fired me. The best I could do was to hold onto the Scripture where the Lord says, “vengeance is mine.” Therefore, I turned the individual over to the Lord and said, “have at it!”
I learned that it wasn’t enough just to “turn the person over to the Lord.” I needed to forgive the person from my heart. And, most importantly, I needed to pray fervently and ask for the love of Jesus to fill my heart for them. I needed to ask the Lord to see them through the eyes of God. Every time we have a challenge in forgiving people, it is an opportunity for spiritual growth!
3. Forgiveness of God. Most of us think that God is like us. If we are nice to Him, obey His commandments and nourish His people, then everything will be great. Not so! We think we understand God. We do not!
Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
There are times when you may feel abandoned and rejected by God. David felt this way in Psalm 88: 14, 16-17,
“O Lord why do you cast me off? Why do you hide your face from me? … Thy wrath has swept over me; thy dread assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in upon me together.”
I felt very similar when my daughter-in-law, pregnant with our first grandchild, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was angry with God! I said why do my son and his wife have to go through this suffering? I told the Lord, “give it to me.” I felt abandoned.
A few years later it was even worse, my only daughter, age 40, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. She had never smoked and had two small children. A few months later she thought she had cancer had spread and called to say goodbye. I was so angry with God that I couldn’t even think. I kept thinking, “I am a minister for you and your people and this is how you treat me?”
The Lord came to me and said He loved my daughter more than I can ever imagine and to trust Him. I began praising God and flew that night to New York where my daughter lived. Eventually my wife and I went to Albany Medical Center where my daughter was staying.
I finally found her and she ran up to me and said “they misdiagnosed me!” She still had cancer but it was not fatal. That was seven years ago! God is good! All the time!
4. The Blessed Mother and forgiveness. Mary will lead us to Jesus and peace and will help us forgive all those who hurt us. One of the most important prayers for us is the rosary. It will dramatically augment our efforts to forgive.
Pope Francis calls Mary, “the mother of forgiveness with her example of leading us to total surrender. She teaches us not to compromise and to love God completely!” “Let it be done according to your word.” “I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
5. Restoration of relationships. So many families have members not speaking to each other, often for years! Family feuds and major hurt are common. We had it in our immediate family when my daughter didn’t talk to my wife for years. It was much prayer and mercy that healed the situation! It was the mercy of Christ that healed our family and will heal yours!
6. Healing and forgiveness. All healing involves forgiveness in some way. Many times we need to forgive others, even ourselves, before the physical healing can take place. Often lack of forgiveness can occur for decades. Stop it now and be free!
7. Forgiveness and evil. The devil doesn’t want us to trust or rely on Jesus. He wants us to live in fear, defeat the purpose of our lives and negate or even destroy our ministries. We must use spiritual tools such as Reconciliation, daily Mass, the Divine Mercy chaplet, Scripture and the rosary.
When we learn to forgive, God’s mercy will flow through our family and ourselves!