Step 2: RELINQUISH the Offense to Your Heavenly Father
Step 1 in following Jesus’ example of how to forgive, is to sympathize with the offender (see last blog on “There but for the Grace of God go I”). But even though you have sympathized with your spouse, resentment can fester inside of you. So you must let go of your unforgiving spirit by giving it to God.
For many people this sounds good in theory, but not at all within the realm of reality. Their bitterness feels like a tumor that cannot be removed. And for some people, the bitterness has even become a good friend, and they simply don’t wish to say good-bye. Still other people have become the resentment: it is who they are. In these cases and others, the act of relinquishing the hurt and hate to God seems an insurmountable hurdle on the path of forgiveness.
But what did Jesus do when He faced the insurmountable?
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus looked ahead to His crucifixion – to the shameful treatment, the agonizing pain, and, worst of all, humanity’s sins being placed squarely on Him. Facing the unimaginable, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NIV). Clearly, Jesus let go of His own will, which shrank from what lay ahead, and surrendered to His Father’s will.
Are we supposed to do the same? Peter tells us: Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:21-23 NIV).
We are to imitate Jesus. Just as Jesus relinquished the right to retaliate and trusted His Father for the outcome, so should we. When you relinquish an offense, you need to send that offense somewhere. So follow Jesus’ example and release it to your heavenly Father. You must pray, “Not my will be done.”
Keep in mind also that Jesus taught that you must forgive “from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). This demands an honest appraisal of what is in your heart, of what you have against your spouse. Before you can surrender or give anything to God, you must be in tune with what is going on inside of you.
You may not want to admit it, but the reason you are having to work toward forgiving your spouse is because you have bitterness in your heart. Remember Paul’s words from Ephesians 4:31? He tells all believers to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
I used to think Paul’s comments on putting away bitterness sounded rather simplistic, but over the years I have seen that people have far more control over their emotions than I was willing to admit. God does help you forgive when you feel helpless to forgive, but other times He reveals to you the need to put away bitterness.
Paul knew what he was talking about. We can get rid of bitterness – if we want to. I have seen that the ultimate reason a lot of people are bitter is that they want to be bitter. They welcome bitterness because it energizes them. However, when they finally realize bitterness is contrary to God’s will, that it is self-destructive and ineffective in changing the other person, they can choose to stop. We all have a choice: keep manufacturing your bitterness, or choose to relinquish it to your Heavenly Father.
Are you ready to give up the bitterness in your heart?
Excerpts taken from The Language of Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs.