When I was holding onto my grudge, my prayers sounded like this:
“OK God. I really need Your help to forgive and move forward. I can’t stay like this! But I don’t like him because . . . (I’d spend a few minutes replaying my mental ‘tapes’) . . . so help me forgive him.”
I’d end my prayers more resentful than when I started.
#ForgivenessFriday aims to unleash forgiveness in people’s hearts. (Click HERE to read the beginning of this series.)
I’ve read that 80% of what we see lies behind our eyes. In my mind, my former friend was nothing more than the person who hurt me.
As if discovering that Santa Claus doesn’t exist, I became certain that the good person in my memories didn’t really exist.
I shrunk him to the size of my hurt. I knocked the humanity out of him.
I created a Reality Distortion Field (RDF). Star Trek made this term famous but I first discovered the term reading a book about Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. (Apparently many of Steve Jobs’ co-workers believed he could convince himself and others to believe almost anything with his mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, and persistence.)
Why would I work so hard to distort reality?
I created an RDF for two reasons:
1. It justified my bitterness
2. It helped me feel innocent
My RDF created one major problem: It blocked my compassion.
The more “guilty” I made him in my mind, the more “innocent” I made myself. I saw my offenses as one-time, “understandable”, minor offenses but his offenses as revelations of major, permanent character flaws. I felt zero compassion toward my former friend.
For three years my RDF was the suitcase that carried my grudge. In order to lay down my grudge, I needed to open that flawed suitcase.
Warning: Forgiveness is not for the weak. Confronting your deepest pain and developing compassion toward your offender is not a journey for the faint-hearted. What I’m about to suggest will require strength.
Why is developing compassion important?
1. Scripture teaches us to be compassionate
In Matthew 18 there was a man who saw an entire family as nothing but a financial debt. That was his RDF. In his mind, the family was nothing more than a number on the ledger sheet to this master. But when the master developed compassion, he suddenly forgave. Then the newly forgiven/freed servant went out and choked someone who owed him significantly less money than he’d just been forgiven. Why? The unforgiving servant didn’t see a person; he only saw an uncollected debt. Reality Distortion Field.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” -Eph. 4:32 (Notice compassion precedes forgiveness.)
In my quest for quick forgiveness, I wanted to skip compassion.
2. Developing compassion matures us
I asked Dr. Robert Enright, author of The Forgiving Life, “Can’t forgiving someone simply be an act between me and God? Why is compassion toward my offender important?”
Dr. Enright responded: “God surely can give us the grace to forgive, but if we look to Jesus Christ as our example, He struggled and suffered. When we do that, we mature as persons. Grace is not supposed to make us passive and receptive without maturation. It is the interaction of grace and struggle that brings out the beauty in a person.”
Developing compassion toward your offender forces you to wrestle with human brokenness while leaning harder on God’s grace. This does not mean you condone what they did. (I’ve recently read stories of incest survivors, victims of rape, Rwanda genocide survivors who’s entire families were murdered and yet each was able to develop compassion toward their offender.)
Where do you start?
The road to forgiveness begins at the foot of the cross. From here my offender and I share common ground. “In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another.” -Andy Stanley
Questions to help you develop compassion toward your offender:
1. What was life like for the person at the time of the offense?
2. What was life like for the person when he/she was growing up?
3. Can you see this person as a real, broken person full of meanness and decency, lies and truths, good and evil?
4. Can you see this person as someone God created in His image?
5. Can you see this person as someone Christ died to forgive?
6. Can you see this offense as something Christ is willing to forgive?
As you begin to develop compassion, it might help to repeat the following statement daily for the next week:
“Like me, (Name) has been emotionally wounded. Like Jesus had compassion toward me, I have compassion toward (name). I do not condone or excuse what (name) has done. He (she) is more than what he (she) did to me.”
Reminder: Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiving them doesn’t turn them into a close friend or a promising spouse. You do not condone what they did but they are more than what they did to you.
It’s easy to redefine the person who hurt you. I did. But we’re tricking ourselves into a “hurt and bitterness dead-end”.
Compassion precedes forgiveness. Compassion moves us from a wounded heart to a softened heart.
“When we forgive each other, we begin to see more clearly. We do not ignore the hurts, but we see beyond them. We rediscover the humanity of the one who hurt us.” – John Ortberg
If you know someone who is struggling to have compassion for their offender, will you forward this to them?
Click HERE for PART 6 of #FridayForgiveness