The Hidden Strength in Forgiveness

Strength has always been an important characteristic to me. Growing up with five brothers tends to toughen you up, whether or not you want that. My three younger brothers and I made up a squad and I was the leader of the squad. As leader, I strove to be the fastest, tallest, smartest, and definitely the strongest one. Throw a ball? I’ll throw it farther than you. Climb a tree? I’ll climb higher than you. 

As I grew up, my brothers grew up and over me, becoming faster, taller, and stronger than me. My desire to be strong grew as well, morphing from physical strength to emotional strength. I would be the shoulder to cry on. I would always be there for my friends and family. I don’t have bad days. Are you stressed? Let me handle it. Are you grieving? I’ll sit there with you. Do you need help? I got your back. Me? I’m fine. I’m good. I’m strong. 

I realize now that my desire to be strong was, and still is, an attempt to cover my weakness. I don’t like feeling weak or helpless—I’m pretty sure no one does. But weakness is part of being human. So many bible verses talk about how God gives power to the faint (Isaiah 40:29-31), how we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), how the Spirit helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).

The process of forgiving others has been an area where God has taught me so much about strength and weakness. There have been four instances in my life when I have had to pray to God, asking Him to help me forgive someone who has deeply hurt me or someone I love. There have been other circumstances that were difficult or took longer than others, but these four instances cut so deep that I knew He had to work forgiveness in me. Forgiveness was so counter-intuitive to me in the middle of those times. I told myself it was good to hold onto my anger and hurt, that it came from a thirst for justice. That people would see how I had been wronged and be on my side. I felt in the right. I felt good. I felt strong—at the beginning. But holding on to unrighteous anger does something to you over time. It’s not immediately recognizable, like a tree may appear strong and healthy on the outside, but be rotting from the inside out, slowly but surely dying. I didn’t know what to do. I knew that holding on to my refusal to forgive was hurting me, but forgiveness felt like weakness, like I didn’t have the backbone to stand up for myself. I needed God to change my heart, to clean out the rottenness I had allowed to grow inside.

I have realized that it’s easy to allow thoughts of anger and revenge. It’s easy to hold a grudge. It’s easy to withhold forgiveness because that is part of our sin nature which clings so closely. But strength, true strength is forgiving others. It’s not comfortable. It’s not easy. We need the power of Christ working in us, changing our hearts and enabling us to forgive. 

Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Peter asks if he should forgive someone up to seven times, which he thought was going above and beyond, and Jesus blew his mind and said seven times seventy, essentially saying forgive and forgive again and keep on forgiving. 

As followers of Christ, forgiveness should not run out, expire, or come with strings attached. We should forgive first and foremost because God has commanded us. We should forgive because we hurt ourselves when we don’t. Finally, we should forgive because we can be assured that justice will be done. I leave you with Romans 12:18-21 “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”