By Wendy A. Clark
Recently, a woman approached me and asked me to forgive her for something that happened long ago. I was surprised and told her that I had long since forgiven her. I hope that didn’t sound arrogant. I meant that sincerely and gently. I have not harbored any bad feelings about those events long ago, nor thought unkindly of the people involved.
Years ago God gave me perspective on the conflict that she was referring to. Things that seemed “mean” were never really about me or people not liking me. They were about unmet expectations and confusion and fear of loss. Though I was doing my best at the time, there was much I didn’t see or understand, and I didn’t handle things as well as I might have had I been able to see and understand more.
Looking back, I would have been softer, slower, and kinder. I would have listened more and talked much less. I would have more easily let go of some things I was passionately holding onto and spent more time focusing on the people around me. I have come to understand that though the task may be important, it can wait for the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of the people and bring people to a place of unity. How we do something is always as important to God as what we do. God’s timing is always perfect, so we never need to feel like we’ve got to jump in and get things done right now or else.
God taught me so much through that difficult and even painful experience that I am thankful for having been through it. I learned God-inspired strategies that have shaped me into the person I am today and having resulted in many valuable friendships:
Let go and forgive quickly. Recognize that the unkind things people do are almost never about trying to be mean to you personally. They are more likely about the person’s own struggles, fears, and hurts. So refuse to be personally offended, and instead, take a step back, breathe deeply, and let go. Continue to surrender the other person and the situation to the Holy Spirit’s power and control.
Bless the other person. Don’t ever withhold blessings from another person or worse, speak curses, hoping for bad things to happen. Take every uncharitable thought captive, choosing to speak and pray blessings over that other person. Don’t just hold back critical words; replace them with kind words.
Choose to think the best of other people. When we experience disappointment and unmet expectations, the best strategy is to assume the best possible reason that the other person has disappointed us. Too many assume the worst and then act on that assumption. Instead, we need to practice assuming the best. We need to pray for the wisdom to discern minor offenses from serious ones, and be willing to overlook a minor offense with graciousness and mercy. If we have an on-going concern that makes it difficult for us to assume the best, then we need to speak to that person as soon as possible and be quick to listen and slow to speak.
These strategies result in charitable feelings towards the people around us and a generous heart while withholding forgiveness results in bitterness and hardness of heart. A generous heart attracts, calms, and soothes those around us while a hard heart makes people suspicious and anxious and causes them to pull away from us.
Here are some good passages to meditate on when trying to forgive, bless others, and build healthy relationships:
James 1:19-20 (NIV)
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Psalm 34:14 (NIV)
Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
2 Timothy 2:22 (NIV)
Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Romans 12:14 (NIV)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Mark 9:50 (NIV)
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”
Romans 12:18 (NIV)
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Romans 14:19 (NIV)
Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
1 Peter 4:8 (NIV)
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
Note: About a month ago, as I was thinking back on these events, the Holy Spirit reminded me of one person from long ago that I have sometimes still thought about in uncharitable ways. So I confessed my hardness of heart towards this person and prayed blessings over this person instead. I want to always be tenderhearted toward the Spirit’s gentle nudges, so that I never need Him to whack me over the head to get my attention. I pray that for you too.