And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
It is clear that our salvation rests upon our willingness to forgive others. God's justice is perfect. If we can forgive, we can be forgiven, but what we refuse to forgive He will refuse to forgive us. Honestly, I think that the refusal to forgive is the blaspheming of the Holy Spirit precisely because it denies His power to change a person and save them. How arrogant are we to believe that His grace is only for us or that, worse yet, His grace is insufficient to save even the most wretched sinner.
I have worked hard over the years to learn to forgive, and I share with you now several techniques that have helped me tremendously when struggling to forgive the sins of another.
1) Examine my own conscience.
When I struggle to forgive, I always begin by asking myself when have I done something like this to someone else. While I was struggling to forgive my stepmother for starving my father to death, I found it easier to forgive her when I realized that my past sins may not include bodily murder of another - but the consequences of my sins may have led others into spiritual death which is much, much worse. Who am I, then, to judge her for her failures when my own are so much greater?
2) Pray for help.
There was a time, shortly after the death of my father, when I needed the consolation of simply having someone spend time with me. I wrote a woman I counted as a friend and asked for her help. She responded by telling me that she could not afford to give me any money, though she had some food and clothes if I needed those. I was beyond hurt. In fact, I struggled for more than a month to forgive her for this before I turned to God in prayer to ask for His help. He was very swift in showing me my error.
For as long as the woman had known me, I had shared with her only two types of information about my life: my blessings and my financial needs. I had never called her to find out how she was doing. I had never asked her to go to a movie with me, or to spend time with me. I, in point of fact, had failed to be a good friend. Why on earth would she NOT assume I was begging for some kind of financial help when that was what she had come to expect of me through the way I treated her. I was ashamed. I wrote her and asked for her forgiveness. I've since tried to improve the way that I treat my friends, although I still need a lot of work in this area.
3) Study a crucifix.
If you've gone through these steps, and you still can't find it in you to forgive, go and get yourself a crucifix. Spend time studying it. Remind yourself that He's on that cross because of you. It was your sins that put Him there, and yet rather than condemning you He asked the Father to forgive you for you knew not what you had done. There was no cruelty spared of Christ. Everything that could have been done to a human being to humiliate, degrade, and cause pain was done. He was betrayed by those closest to Him and abandoned by those who had promised to always be there for Him. Yet, He forgave. So, too, can you.
4) Ask yourself: Is it worth losing Heaven to hold on to this grudge?
Christ couldn't have been more clear. We can't be forgiven if we won't forgive. Without the forgiveness of sins, we have no hope of Heaven. This person has already caused you a great deal of pain - are they really worth the loss of Heaven, too? Will you allow them to rob you of the greatest joy any one has ever experienced along with whatever else they have taken from you?
These are the steps I take when struggling to forgive, although not necessarily in that order. It always works. You can forgive whatever wrong has been done to you. Of course, you must first desire to forgive.
I will leave you with this final thought about the importance of forgiving others. Imagine that you had an antique mirror handed down to you from your great-grandmother. The mirror was your pride and joy. One day, it was accidentally broken. There is nothing you can do to repair the glass. If you scoop up those shards and clutch the broken glass tightly to you, the only thing that will happen is that you will be sliced to ribbons by the glass. The longer and tighter you hold on to that glass, the deeper and more painful the cuts will be.
The glass represents the injury we have suffered. The more tightly and closely we hold onto that pain, the more pain it causes us. Eventually our souls can become so wounded and crippled that we are unrecognizable. Worse yet, we run the risk of doing to someone else the very thing that hurt us because of the wounds we have suffered.
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