Forgiveness is not...
Before we talk about forgiveness, we have to clear out some wrong beliefs that have built up over the years. Otherwise, many of us are going to hear what Jesus is calling us to do, and we’re just not going to do it.
[Listen to Pastor Andy give the sermon version of this blog post by clicking here.]
Next time, we'll explore what Christ-like forgiveness is. But for today, let’s talk about what it’s not…
Christ-like Forgiveness does not make you a Welcome Mat for destructive behavior and toxicity.
Forgiveness does not mean that when people trample on us, we just take it, because we’re Christians, and Christians forgive.
That’s so far from the truth.
If someone in our church community wrongs us – Jesus lays out the process for us in Matthew 18:15-18 – we go to the person, and we let them know.
Jesus' words are for working things out in a community of shared faith, but the principles remain helpful for situations where we don't have that common ground.
We’re HONEST: we don’t dance around it, or make it seem like it’s not a big deal if it is a big deal.
We’re SPECIFIC: we say, "you did this, at this time, and this is what that did to me."
We’re TIMELY: we don’t wait for months to go by before we bring it up.
Because if we’re honest and specific and timely, that gives the other person the opportunity to own up to it.
But we can’t forgive what we don't acknowledge.
Christ-like Forgiveness also doesn't mean that we stay close to toxic people and toxic environments.
We don’t have to allow people to keep dumping on us.
We can establish boundaries and consequences.
The Apostle Paul told the early church:
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.
Did you know that you can reach a point with someone where you don't have anything else to do with them, and God is good with it?
Some people are warped – and you can’t get through to them, even with the help of other people.
They don’t own up to it when we bring it up.
Instead, they make us feel bad for bringing it up.
They tell us how this is our fault.
They tell us that we deserve it.
They heap up shame and condemnation.
They don't stop.
And Titus 3 gives you permission to put safe distance between yourself and a toxic and destructive person.
Do something with me...
Take both of your hands, and interlock your fingers.
When our lives are deeply enmeshed with a toxic person, it’s impossible to forgive them.
Now, separate your hands from each other.
When there is distance between you and a toxic person, there’s enough space for you to gain wisdom and healing about the situation.
There are some people that you can forgive after there is a safe distance between you and them.
But here's the thing... you'll need to take that space and time to decide if it's ever going to be a good idea to reconnect with them.
You can forgive them - and at the same time - keep that distance. Some relationships can't ever go back to what they used to be.
Some of us need to keep talking about this, because we have questions and specific scenarios that require wisdom and another set of eyes. If that's you, I’d recommend reading the book Safe People.
I would love to know that there are some folks out there who bought a copy of this book, and invited other people to get a copy, and meet up for regular conversations about what they're learning, and to support and help each other find life.
That would be so healing and good.
And if you're thinking - "Someone get that group started" - you're right, and that someone is you!
Something else we have to talk about…
Despite what you may have heard, forgiving is not forgetting.
The person who made this image, “Christ’s Messenger,” don’t ever take their advice.
Jesus calls us to forgive, but you’ll never hear him asking you to forget. Because many times, forgiving is remembering.
If we remember, then we can acknowledge: that hurt, that was wrong, I don’t want that to happen again.
If we remember, then we are careful not to put ourselves in that situation with that person again.
If we remember, we know that some people have a track record of harmful behavior, and we need to watch out.
Now… is remembering allowing bitterness to fester and grow?
Do we nurse a grudge?
Of course not! That's not the way of Jesus.
But many times, in order to forgive someone, you need to remember – or it will happen again.
One last thing we need to talk about…
It's all too common, and all too likely that some of us are in a situation where we are being abused.
If someone is harming you physically, or sexually, or psychologically, or spiritually, or emotionally – whether the abuse is with their body or their words…
If someone is denying you the things that you need – like nutritional food, or they are keeping you poor…
If someone threatens you about what will happen to you if you tell anyone…
You are not safe, and your first step isn’t forgiveness.
Your first step is to find safety.
Some of us have received some really warped advice about Christ-like forgiveness.
People who are abused have been told – by Christians – to stay in the abusive situation, and to submit themselves to the other person.
And that couldn’t be further from what Jesus wants for you.
If a Christian ever told you to stay and submit - they were wrong.
Imagine your kids, or a nephew or niece…
If they were being abused, would you recommend that they stay and submit? (Of course not! They’re your kids, and you love them.)
Well, you’re God's kid, and he loves you.
So do what you would recommend for a child:
If you're living in the East Bay of California and need advice, the folks at Triumph Together are some really great people to talk with. They'll point you in the right direction, and they'll be compassionate and discreet.
So let’s remember what Christ-like forgiveness is not…
We are not a Welcome Mat.
We’re not available to toxic people.
Forgiving is not forgetting.
We don’t seek forgiveness before safety.
What is resonating with you? Offer your comments below.
Next time... we'll talk about what forgiveness is.