As I read "What Happens When Women Pray" I was struck by the author's words. I was also struck by the words of scripture, words of challenge. As one church member pointed out, "this sounds conditional; it sounds like God will only forgive us if we first forgive others." Yep, that's exactly what it sounds like. And that's uncomfortable. We want forgiveness and we trust God to be forgiving and gracious, but are we really willing to do and be those things ourselves? The following words of scripture are definitely uncomfortable, especially if we're holding onto unforgiveness somewhere in our lives (as I suppose most of us are).
One of the more challenging pieces comes from the 2 Corinthians passage: "I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him[/her]". It's one thing to set aside ill-content and anger, it's wholly another to love such a person. But that's the goal, to experience such a profound sense of forgiveness that you are able to love again.
*A note of caution and compassion: the scriptural expectations of forgiveness have often been used to re-abuse victims. They are told to "forgive and forget" or to "turn the other cheek". These are neither helpful nor holy. I don't know of anywhere in scripture where "forgetting" is mandated with regard to forgiveness (aside maybe from debt), nor do I know of a place where God encourages us to move back into an abusive situation or relationship simply forgetting what has happened in the past. (For more on repentance and true healing with regard to an offense and not simply putting the onus of responsibility on the offended/victim/abused, click here or here.) "Turn the other cheek" has also been taken out of context in so many ways and used in destructive manners. That passage is not about submitting yourself to ongoing abuse, or allowing someone to pummel you, it's about honor and shame. It's about not having to one-up the next guy or prove yourself. (For an example of what that passage DOES NOT mean, see "Never Back Down" and you can be reminded of all the things we are mandated not to do. Also, for many, forgiveness is very hard and should not be expected right away. God does offer miracles of healing and restoration. God also uses time to teach us and heal us. So, be patient with others, encouraging even of baby steps, and patient, too, with yourself in your own journey of forgiveness.
And forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. ~Matthew 6:12, TLB
Your heavenly Father will forgive you if you forgive those who sin against you, but if you refuse to forgive them, He will not forgive you.
~Matthew 6:14-15, TLB
Listen to Me! You can pray for anything, and if you believe, you have it; it’s yours! But—when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in Heaven will forgive you your sins too.
~Mark 11:24-25, TLB
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake in order that Satan might not outwit us.
~2 Corinthians 2:5-11
1. 1. Ask God to bring to your mind that person who has grieved you and whom you have not forgiven.
2. 2. Ask God to forgive you for the sin of not forgiving that person.
3. 3. Now forgive that Person, asking God to give you the strength and ability if you need to.
4. 4. Now ask God for as much love as God wants you to have for the person who grieved you.
5. 5. Next ask God how you should confirm your love to that person.
6. 6. Wait in silence for God’s answer.
7. 7. Pray, promising God that you will do whatever God has told you.
8. 8. Go do it!
**All scripture citations and steps toward forgiveness come from "What Happens When Women Pray" by Evelyn Christenson. (HT: mom).