We live in a culture that tells us to “cancel” those we disagree with and hold angry grudges against those who wrong us.
A 2019 report in the Journal of Psychology and Aging found that holding grudges is dangerous to your health. Remaining in the state of anger is associated with chronic inflammation and other illnesses. The effects intensifies with age; in other words, the longer you hold a grudge, the sicker you get (page 113).
What Jesus Said About Forgiveness
Jesus talked about forgiveness a lot. He told us:
- Ask for forgiveness in prayer and forgive the way we want to be forgiven (Matthew 6:11-12).
- Whenever you pray, forgive (Mark 11:25).
- We ought to forgive 77 times–given the cultural context, this meant keep forgiving over and over again (Matthew 18:21-22).
- If you forgive, you’ll also be forgiven (Luke 6:37).
- There’s a correlation between love and forgiveness (Luke 7:47).
- His blood is the new covenant, poured out for the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 26:28).
And then Jesus modeled it in the most unimaginable way possible. As he was hanging on the cross, paying the brutal, painful price for all our sins, he was asking the Father to forgive those crucifying him.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34a)
I love TobyMac’s song, Forgiveness. If you listen to it, you’ll hear the same scriptural themes and references throughout the lyrics. As the chorus goes:
‘Cause we all make mistakes sometimes
And we’ve all stepped across that line
But nothing’s sweeter than the day we find
And we all stumble and we fall
Bridges burn in the heat of it all
But nothing’s sweeter than the day
Sweeter than the day we call
Out for forgiveness
So how do we teach our children about forgiveness, rather than holding onto those grudges?
In Chasing David, Rene points out four steps to forgiveness that David models for us.
But First, Context
Before I get into the four tips we see David follow, I wanted to share some context for this passage. This was after David was anointed to be the next king, but while Saul was still king. Saul felt threatened towards David and began hunting him, so David ran.
Various men started hiding with David as well, also on the run for various reasons. So they ended up in Ein Gedi, an oasis in the deepest desert on earth. It includes four freshwater springs and the densest tropical plants anywhere in Israel. Rene described it as, “A lush island of life surrounded not by water but by sand” (page 110).
Another thing about Ein Gedi is the massive number of caves. It’s the perfect hiding spot for a group of people that doesn’t want to be found.
So while David was hiding with his men, Saul chased him with 3,000 men, pursuing him to Ein Gedi. Saul ended up needing to relieve himself (he needed to go number 2), so he went into a cave–the very same cave David and his men were in! David had the perfect opportunity to kill Saul and become king right then, but chose not to.
This was an example of David modeling forgiveness.
David’s Steps to Forgiveness
See the bigger picture
David knew he’d become king. God told him he would. But David had respect for the current king, who God also anointed and gave authority to. He refused to take the throne, but instead trusted that God would follow through on what He promised.
David was considering the bigger picture. He entrusted his future and the injustice of his current situation to the only one who can really judge justly.
As Psalm 37:7-11 says, don’t fret when people succeed in their ways…refrain from anger…it only leads to evil.
It’s hard to step back and look at the big picture when we feel hurt, but it can help us step out from our perspective and see what else might be going on.
David very easily could have taken Saul out in that cave; Saul was in a vulnerable state. Instead, David cut off a piece of Saul’s garment to show him that he didn’t want to harm him. Despite David showing grace towards Saul, the king continued hunting David.
How is this beneficial?
Rene explained that by showing grace we demonstrate that God’s kingdom operates on different principles than the world (page 118). Our culture doesn’t expect us to show someone grace and forgive. When you consistently do this, people will notice.
Right around when I originally read this part of Chasing David, I heard a similar message on the Brant & Sherri Oddcast. I don’t remember which episode it was, but they were talking about how by showing grace and giving others the benefit of the doubt, it helps your heart, too.
For example, if a driver were to cut you off, instead of yelling and getting mad, if you make up some reason why what they did would make sense (maybe they were on their way to the hospital, for example), even if it’s not true it can help your own heart let go of the frustration and anger.
How do you show grace?
The directive, “Show grace to others,” can sound a bit nebulous. What does it mean? Rene explains, “Look for ways to love and bless your enemies” (page 116). He recommends you:
- Provide a positive outlet for feelings that could otherwise turn to bitterness.
- Remind yourself that you have a destiny greater than an endless cycle of reciprocation and anger.
- Help your enemies see you’re serious about your faith in God.
- Declare plainly to the world that God’s kingdom operates on different principles than the kingdoms of this world.
- Draw people to Jesus, who modeled forgiving and blessing his enemies.
I think a big part of showing grace to others begins with trying to see the situation from their perspective. Maybe they’re having a really bad day or there are some sort of circumstances you aren’t aware of that would explain their behavior towards you. Even if you don’t agree with their decisions, seeing it from their perspective can help you show them grace.
As you do this, talk through what you’re feeling and doing internally with your kids, too. This will help them learn how to process their feelings and be gracious towards others as well.
It’s not a guarantee
Just because you show grace towards someone doesn’t mean they’ll change their behavior. Going back to David, he was gracious towards Saul, but the king kept hunting him. Your mercy towards others isn’t always rewarded.
It’s important your kids know that them showing grace towards someone else doesn’t mean everything will be magically fixed and amazing. The other person may choose to hang on to their anger and hurt, and you can’t make them decide to forgive.
Being gracious towards someone doesn’t mean you let them walk all over you. As David did, you can speak the truth. Confronting them may bring them to their senses. You don’t need to quietly suffer, feeling like your perspective isn’t important.
Bring the issue up and be honest about your side of it–it might help you and the other person start a conversation that can lead to forgiveness.
I was glad Rene included this step, too. As he wrote:
There is a difference between grace and gullibility. There is a difference between forgiveness and trust. You have to forgive people. The Bible commands it. You don’t have to trust them. Forgiveness, by definition, is given. It is not earned or deserved. Trust must be earned (page 120).
Going back to the example David gave us: he saw the bigger picture, showed grace to Saul, and spoke truth. But he also didn’t trust Saul. After their encounter at Ein Gedi, David and his men moved to a giant mountain with a plateau on the top that had a view of the entire land, so he would be able to see where Saul and his army were.
You can forgive someone and still take measures to protect yourself from future hurt (physical and/or emotional). This is an important lesson for our kids to learn, too. I want my kids to be quick to forgive others, but I don’t want them to put themselves in situations where they’re continually hurt by someone either. It takes time to build trust; you can be cautious without being angry or holding a grudge.
How do our Feelings Fit Into Forgiveness?
Sometimes we just don’t feel like forgiving someone. We are mad, hurt, and upset–and we can’t possibly see a way past it.
It’s okay to feel the feelings! If you read Psalms, you can see David feels emotions very deeply. He doesn’t pretend everything is easy–he’s honest about how he feels.
There’s a key piece here though: David doesn’t remain in the feelings. He experiences them, works through them, and moves on.
How do you do this? David’s method was:
- Focus on God.
- Run to the refuge.
- Replace anger with awe as an antidote.
If you read various Psalms, you can see examples of David doing this. He started by venting to God, then turned his focus onto God and ran to Him as a place of safety. Then he replaced his anger with awe towards God.
Forgiveness can change our feelings
Forgiveness can free you in unexpected ways. I recently read a story about Corrie Ten Boom forgiving a guard who was stationed at a concentration camp where her sister was killed:
It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives…“When we confess our sins,” I said, “God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever.”
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!”
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course–how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
“You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
And I stood there–I whose sins had every day to be forgiven–and could not. Betsie had died in that place–could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality.
Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
I certainly don’t know the pain and internal struggle Corrie Ten Boom faced when that guard asked for forgiveness, but I like how she responded. She knew she could choose to forgive, even if her feelings weren’t there yet. And she asked God for help doing what the world would find unimaginable.
Ask God for Help
When we don’t feel like we have the power to forgive, we can ask God for help!
And we can ask Him for help in teaching forgiveness to our kids, too. We can teach them that “canceling” someone isn’t the answer.
I ask that He helps me remember David’s example and gives me the words to explain it to my kids in ways that make sense to them given their personalities and development. I also ask that He helps me model this for them in a way that teaches them how to have healthy relationships and that are restored when either or both parties mess up.