I don’t know exactly when it happened, but during some season of life, a few of my body parts decided they weren’t happy with their birth assignments and would relocate and reinvent themselves. My face, which had occupied the same spot for six decades, suddenly slid south and became a second chin. My thighs negotiated a release from the cellulite, collagen, and connective tissue holding them in place and gradually migrated downward, transforming themselves into nicely padded ankles. My waist virtually disappeared, later to reappear as an expansion of my stomach. All this gave new meaning to the word “transfigured.”
Examining my reflection in the mirror, I was thinking about how my body parts had let go when the popular phrase “let go and let God” popped into my head.
As Christians, how do we let go and let God, especially when it comes to forgiving those who have harmed us? Does “letting go” mean we pass the baton and give up trying; or we passively wait on the sidelines for God to take care of the problem?
Since Scripture tells us that life is a spiritual battle, inertia isn’t an option. We’re called to fight the good fight of faith (I Timothy 6:12). Therefore, we have a responsibility to do something about unforgiveness before it further fractures our hearts and creates division in our relationships with people and God.
While most of us would prefer to learn from the past rather than to live in the past, it’s still tough to let go and forgive the husband who committed adultery. The friend who indiscreetly shared our secrets. The alcoholic mother or abusive father who left us emotionally and physically scarred. A sister-in-Christ who gossiped or spread lies. The sibling who was a bully. They hurt us … deliberately, deeply, repeatedly.
Sometimes we believe that we’ve forgiven them until something unexpectedly triggers a flashback. It seems the brain has a mind of its own when it comes to remembering and replaying heartaches that we’d like to forget.
So, how do we let go of the pain? By letting go of the people who are causing it. And how do we let go of them?
If you forgive others their trespasses (slip-ups, deviations from the truth, errors), your heavenly Father will also forgive you (when you slip up, deviate from the truth and make a mistake).” —Matthew 6:14
The Greek word used here for forgive means “to release.”
The Lord’s prayer makes it very clear. If we release others from their mistakes, our heavenly Father will also release us from ours. If we don’t release others, neither will the Father release us.
By forgiving those who have wronged us, we grant them a pardon and abandon any claims we may have to feelings of retaliation, justification, or entitlement. We dispense mercy and set them free from guilt or blame. Being empowered by Christ, we are able to forgive them, release them and liberate ourselves from the chokehold of agonizing memories.
We have been given freedom in Christ; but this isn’t freedom to satisfy our sinful nature. It is freedom to serve one another. “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor (husband, friend, mother, father, relative, sister-in-Christ) as yourself. …Walk by the spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13-16)
In Colossians 3:12-13, Paul spells it out for us. “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so should you do also.”
Forgiveness isn’t based upon whether or not recipients deserve it…or even accept it. The truth is that none of us deserve it. We’ve all missed the mark. But when we forgive others we are choosing to extend the same grace to them that God gives to us.
For those of us intent on walking in the Spirit, forgiveness is a moment-by-moment, step-by-step decision in which we refuse to put our self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares is right for us and good for others.
It is the ultimate release, which is why Christ said, as He was dying on the cross, “Father, forgive them” … just before He let go and let God accomplish His perfect plan.