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No Magic Formula
How forgiveness affects us and our relationships

Forgiveness is freedom. Whether we are seeking forgiveness from God for our own sin or in forgiving someone for his or her trespass against us, in every offense we have a choice. We can hang on to the hurt, refusing to forgive, opening the door to bitterness or resentment or revenge. Or we can forgive and experience a powerful freedom.

Forgive and uh, what was that again?

Often I am asked, "Does forgiveness mean I forget?" This notion possibly stems from the belief that God forgives and forgets, taken from Isaiah 43:25: "I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more." But I don't believe that God "forgets" as we might think.

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103: 8-12)

When we ask God to forgive us our sins, He removes the condemnation that should result. He chooses not to hold our sin against us. We could accurately say that He "remembers our sins no more." God still knows all things—He always knows everything we have done—but He sees us as if we had never sinned.

Now, if you or I did not remember something, we'd say that we had forgotten it. Everyone knows the feeling of wracking our brain for that bit of information we used to know—a person's name, a phone number or where we parked the car. We may be convinced that the information is gone forever, but scientists say that our brains never lose anything (except in cases of injury). While we can't recall everything that has ever happened to us, it is still there somewhere in our brain cells.

So does forgiving someone mean we forget? Not at all. But I do believe that the One who made our brain is capable of renewing our mind, causing it to dwell on things that are good and pure (Phil. 4:8). After we have forgiven someone, we need to concentrate on what is pure and right and just. This involves an act of our will and faith.

A caller to my radio program stated, "I was betrayed and very hurt by someone. I went to this person as part of the healing. I've forgiven them but I am still hurting. How do I get over the hurt, even though I've forgiven the person?"

I don't believe the pain goes away quickly. It's a process. It's important to take the memory and pain of this person's sin—their betrayal of you—to Christ. Give it to Him, remembering that Christ died to break the power of this person's sin over you. Forgiving someone doesn't mean the memories and feelings won't come back. But every time they do, take them right to Christ.

Sometimes, our human nature wants to savor and hold on to the pain, remembering what the person did to us over and over and over again. But this destructive cycle will only beat us down. The memory and pain will come back. Instead of trying to deal with the pain yourself, give it Christ and let Him handle it. Always remember that it's a process.

Setting Boundaries

Along with forgiveness, after experiencing a betrayal, we need to establish healthy boundaries in our lives. Boundaries are not walls, which are used for self-protection or self-control. Out of respect for ourselves and others, boundaries are used to recognize our limitations and the limitations of other human beings.

The radio caller went on to say: "I go to church with this person and I'm being told I should relate to this person as a sister in Christ and act like I'm not feeling any pain."

This really concerned me. Forgiving someone doesn't mean putting yourself in a position to be vulnerable to that person again. We don't become a victim to show someone we love or trust them. If someone breaks into your home and steals from you, do you give them the keys to your house to show you've forgiven them? No way. Granting trust does not go hand-in-hand with your forgiveness. That would all depend upon how that person is responding to you.

I suggested to the caller that setting a boundary of a little distance from the one who betrayed her might be good. This boundary must be made out of self-respect, not out of resentment or bitterness. Just exactly what the distance would look like and for how long, the caller would need to ask God. If God would have her go back to minister to this person that is one thing; if other people are telling her what to do that is another. Sometimes people tell others what to do, but they are not the one in the pain.

Instead of questioning if you should let someone hurt you again, question if it would help him or her understand God's love. Is this really what God is calling you to do as an act of sacrificial love? If I am being used or manipulated, is it furthering the cause of God? Am I allowing myself to be victimized because of my own fear of rejection or fear of not being loved or accepted? While the answers are difficult to discern many times, we must seek wisdom to know how to respond to those who have hurt us.

You've got to let God heal this pain, through Christ, His way. Let God heal it and then pray for God to use you according to His will in that person's life. Don't force it. It's possible that in time you can minister to that person in some way. But let time heal the pain and let God direct your steps.

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