How to Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Asked

how-to-forgive

Have you ever sensed the need to forgive someone who has harmed you? Forgiveness is easier when they apologize. But, what if they’re oblivious or unrepentant?

Lately, I’ve done some thinking and praying about how to forgive someone who hasn’t asked. Before we get to that, we have to be clear about why we would consider forgiveness in the first place.

Why forgive?

In the wake of being wronged, forgiveness is the last thing most people consider. We don’t want to sacrifice the sense of justice and control we receive from the anger we harbor and we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable or weak all over again.

There are many who scoff at the idea of forgiveness. But, as a Christian, it has to be different for me. So, why forgive. I can think of three reasons.

1. We forgive to avoid the sin of hatred.

Immediately after saying that [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:3-11″ display=”God blesses”] the merciful, the meek, and those who make peace, Jesus talks about the corrosive nature of hatred and how, ultimately, it’s [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:21-22″ display=”equivalent to murder”]. We must not harbor or nurture resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. It imprisons us. If we are to be the kind of people God wants us to be, we must resist the gravitational pull of hatred and choose to forgive. To condemn, to keep a record of wrongs, to harbor resentment, and to loathe someone is contrary to [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 22:36-40″ display=”God’s will for us”].

2. We forgive to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus never sinned. He never broke the law. He blessed, healed, taught, and loved. But, he experienced the jealousy of the religious leaders, the betrayal of his closest friends, and the brutality of the Romans. And, he went to the cross. This is stunning: his last breaths weren’t used to plead his case or to curse his murderers; in his final breaths [biblegateway passage=”Luke 23:33-34″ display=”he asked God to forgive”]. And he asks me to follow him.

3. We forgive because we’re forgiven.

I have wronged God too many times to count. But, because of his mercy, grace, and love, and because of Jesus, I have been forgiven. And, if you’re a believer, you have received the same. We choose to be [biblegateway passage=”Colossians 3:12-14″ display=”the kind of people who forgive”] because we’ve been forgiven.

Now that we know why forgiveness is on the table—and why Christians ought to pursue it—we can consider our question.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked?

In the midst of a recent conversation about a fellow believer who mistreated me in the past, Kelly asked me, “Could you sit next to that person and take communion together?” After a flash of defensiveness surged through me, I had to admit to my insightful wife that I could not. This person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. As far as I know, this person has no sense of wrongdoing or responsibility. This person is someone I have very little chance of seeing again. However, if I am to genuinely live my faith, it is incumbent upon me to forgive.

So, here’s the process I’m allowing the Spirit to lead me through by God’s grace. It’s what I’d recommend to you if you have a wrong to forgive.

1. Understand how you have been wronged.

Your mind, like mine, has a way of either maximizing or minimizing traumatic events. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear about what happened. Pray through the situation. What led up to it? What was the sequence of events? What was said or done? Write it down on a list or in a journal. Be comprehensive. Refuse to gloss things over or to reason away. You were hurt. Understand it for what it is. (And, this is a great time to own your personal responsibility for what happened, even if it’s ever so small.)

2. Pray for healing.

Once you’ve acknowledged precisely how you have been hurt and have felt the weight of it, you’re ready to allow God to heal it. The process may take ages; it may happen piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer. Or it might be instantaneous. That’s not the point. The point is that God is the only one who can remove it. And he will.

3. Eliminate residual hatred.

Your healing won’t be complete as long as you’re harboring one shred of hatred, resentment, or condemnation. If hate isn’t removed, it grows. Pray about it. Journal about it. Confess it to a friend (without gossiping). Do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.

4. Release the offender’s debt.

Finally, there will come a time when you must release the debt that your offender owes. They may never understand that they’ve hurt you. They may think you’re foolish. No matter. If they refuse to exit the prison you’ve unlocked, that is up to them. The point is that you’re no longer the one keeping them there.

For a myriad of reasons, it might not be advisable—or even safe—to communicate your forgiveness to your offender. That’s OK. You can offer forgiveness without personal contact. Write a letter and burn it on the fireplace. Head out into the woods and voice your forgiveness to the foliage. Give it a voice and walk away.

In instances, it might be necessary to communicate forgiveness face-to-face or in a letter. If you have that chance, be prayerful, humble, merciful, and honest. State the ways in which you were wronged, share about your journey toward forgiveness, and utter these three words: “I forgive you.” Then, walk away from what you’ve dropped and refuse to pick it up again.

5. If possible, seek reconciliation.

If it’s not safe to contact your offender, your journey is complete. But if reconciliation is a possibility, leave the door open and embrace it if it comes. A reconciled relationship is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. If you can sit beside that person one day and commune together once more, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I’ll let this disclaimer be my final word on the topic of reconciliation: Reconcile with care. Your brave act of forgiveness doesn’t require you to make yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim again. It’s OK if the relationship has to change or if you have to be careful to abide by wisely placed boundaries.

What about you?

Are you holding someone in your debt? Do you need to offer forgiveness?

Why Are You Hiding?

why-are-you-hiding

I got the dreaded call from one of my son’s teachers the other day.

“Mr. Carr, I have to tell you about something that happened at school. Owen yelled, ‘Shut up!’ at one of his friends in the middle of the quiet library. He didn’t want me to tell you or Kelly but I told him that I would.”

I was on to pick up Owen that afternoon and a curiously subdued fourth-grade boy climbed into the back seat of my car.

“I had a fantastic day, dad!” he volunteered.

“We’ll talk about it when we get home.”

When we got home we had a seat on the couch. I looked at him and asked about his day.  He began to fidget and his voice cracked ever so slightly as he began to explain.

“I had a fantastic day at first,” he began. “But then in library …” He paused. Then he continued with a request: “Dad, I want you to cover your eyes for this part. And, I’m so embarrassed that I’m going to tell you this very quietly.” I covered my eyes and then he began to confess all about what he had done in an inaudible whisper.

I uncovered my eyes, interrupted him, reaffirmed my love, and reminded him that we always want him to tell the truth. He proceeded, a little louder this time, to tell me about thing he had shouted.

Sin, Guilt, Shame, and Hiding

Quite some time ago, a man and a woman chose to do the one thing that they knew was forbidden. Their eyes were opened, the guilt of their actions pressed down on them, and, in utter shame and humiliation, they hid in a place they were sure their Father wouldn’t be able to find them.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Ever since [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:1-24″ display=”Adam and Eve chose sin and self”] over faithfulness to their Father, we have all struggled with the same pattern. Sin. Guilt. Shame. Hiding. When we sin, our first instinct is to hide in shame or to cover up what we have done. Then the Good Father—the one who is already well aware of all that has taken place and the eternal ramifications that would fall on his broad shoulders—comes looking and asks, “Where are you? Why are you hiding?”

Being Found (out) by the Father

It’s a strange thing, as a parent, to know that your child has to fess up about something when you already know all about it. You have to give him a chance to come clean and you pray that he tells the truth, that he lets himself be found. Once Owen told me the whole truth, and after pulling him in for a big hug and kiss on the forehead, I asked, “Buddy, doesn’t it feel good when you let the truth come out? You don’t feel so sad and scared inside anymore, do you?”

He had been found out. And, strangely, he was finally at peace.

In the aftermath of our sin and in the midst of our guilt and shame, when God comes looking for us in the garden in the cool of the day, a million things go through our minds. But, the one thing we need to do is to let ourselves be found. Being found may be a fearful thing. But, our Father doesn’t meet us with condemnation, guilt, and shame. He picks us up, embraces us, and makes it all alright.

What about you?

Are you hiding? Do you need to be found by your Father? Step out from behind your shame and let yourself be found.

Perfect Parenting

perfect-parents

Parenting is frustrating!

As soon as you think you have your kid figured out, he changes! You just begin to learn the rules and settle into a rhythm. You get into the groove. Everybody’s happy. We’re all getting along. Then, without warning, he changes everything up on you.

Rascal!

What to do? As a parent, I strive to be perfect. But, I fail regularly. I know I do. I’m aiming for perfect parenting. But, I’m all too often reminded that this type of perfection is simply unattainable. This truth was swimming around in my head the other night when I stumbled across a thought that encouraged me.

Now, on a regular basis, I run into a thought, concept, article, podcast, or book that is so profound, so well-timed, or so creatively presented that I am permanently impacted. And, as many of my good friends know, it is difficult to resist the urge to share. They get stuff from me on a regular basis. The other day, it happened again. I read this fantastic article about perfection and parenting. I want to share it with you because it made a simple, elegant point that has stuck with me.

This is the point:

The only type of perfection that matters in parenting is perfect attendance.

None of us will parent perfectly, even for a day. I certainly can’t. I make mistakes. I blow my lid. I am selfish. I contradict myself. I get distracted. I am an imperfect parent. But, there’s one thing I can do:

Keep. Showing. Up.

I can show up every day, keep coming back for more. I can try, fail, adjust, and try again. Sometimes I’ll strike out. Sometimes, I’ll hit it out of the park. The one thing my son needs to know is that I’m going to be there every morning and that I’m going to try my best to be the type of man, husband, and parent I want him to be one day. I’m going to fail. He’s going to hear me apologize and ask for forgiveness often. But, I’m going to be there.

May we all be the type of parents who—although we may not have it all figured it out—get the award for perfect attendance. 

Broken But Useful

broken-but-useful

When I was young, our television quit. My Dad and I took the TV to the appliance repair shop in the next town. We dropped it off, drove home, waited a couple of weeks, picked it up, lugged it back into the house, hooked it up, and used it for a few more years.

Aside from making me feel old, this foggy memory illustrates something:

We live in a throw-away culture. 

If my television stopped working, I’d put it in the junk pile and head over to the electronics store to buy a new one. (I’d probably get a bigger one, too; don’t tell my wife.) You and I would agree that the time and money we’d invest in fixing a broken appliance would dwarf the cost of a new one.

It’s amazing what we throw away. People used to mend the holes in their socks and patch the knees of their jeans. They tinkered with the lawn mower until it began working. They rolled down the car windows when the AC quit. Today, it’s not that we lack the resources. We reason that fixing stuff takes too much time, effort, skill, and care. And, because everything we need is at our fingertips, it’s just much more expedient—and gratifying—to shop for something new.

And, I suppose, when we’re talking about electronics, clothing, appliances, or vehicles, that’s fine. 

But, what do we do with broken people?

Do we discard them? Or, do we invest in them? Do we shop for someone new? Or, do we renew our commitment? Write them off or embrace them? Ignore them? Or, draw nearer?

There are two types of brokenness

These affect everyone we encounter:

First, we are broken because of  the sin with which we struggle. Sin affects us all. We rationalize it. We compare it with the sin we perceive in others. We hide it. Keep it at bay. It breaks our relationship with God and with those we love. It consumes our time and takes our strength. And, by God’s grace, eventually it breaks us and sends us to the only One who holds the cure.

Given godly sorrow, repentance, and accountability, people who are broken by sin ultimately get an experience of God’s forgiveness, grace, and power.

Second, we are broken because of the trials we all endure. God permits dark days. He allows tests and trials. He guides us into valleys. He stretches us. He moves us past the margins of our strength and resources. And, he meets us in our brokenness, shining the light of hope and peace into our fear and upheaval.

Given time, faith, and ample amounts of courage, this type of brokenness is the distinguishing characteristic of a true servant of God.

What do we do with people broken people?

First, we understand that we are just like them. Then, we draw near. We offer accountability. We provide comfort. We bear burdens. We beat back loneliness with our presence. We shine light into darkness. We speak God’s truth. We restore. We remain for the long haul. And we help them discover their new place in service to God’s Kingdom.

The men and women who have been broken, only to experience the healing touch of the Father, are precisely the ones who are humble and hungry enough to be the most earnest and effective workers in God’s Kingdom. People can be both broken and useful. They’re not to be thrown away. They’re to be restored and released for the glory of God.

Why? Because God is a loving Father. He is in the business of redeeming all kinds of brokenness. He doesn’t just discard us and move on to someone new. He doesn’t get frustrated and walk away. He remains. He doesn’t turn his back, ignoring us until we give up and leave. He commits. He loves, forgives, heals, restores, and calls us to greater service than what we could have asked or imagined before being broken.

What about you?

If you’re broken, take heart. If you seek him, allowing him to do his work, there are great things ahead.

If you’re tempted to discard someone who is seeking God in his brokenness, reconsider.

Eight Words that will Save Your Marriage

eight-words-that-will-save-your-marriage

When I was a kid, I decided I wanted to be really good at a lot of things. There were two causes for this. First, I’m sure I wanted to be able to impress people. Second, I enjoy learning. So, I set out to learn how to do stuff—random stuff. I learned to play guitar. I learned Spanish. I learned how to juggle. I socked away a bunch of trivia. I took apart and reassembled small appliances. I learned how to cook. Random, fun stuff.

As an adult, my passion for learning hasn’t diminished. In fact, it has grown. As I’ve matured, I’ve also learned there are some things I’m simply not good at.

Recently, I was reminded of this by my wife.

Now, I love marriage! I’m blessed with a wonderful wife. But marriage, unlike almost anything else, has the uncanny ability to display weaknesses. For some, like me, this happens on a regular basis. If you want to know what you really look like, stare at yourself in the reflection of your spouse. Sure, while I believe marriage is a mirror for weaknesses, it’s not all bad news. Not at all! A good marriage is also a much more powerful magnifying glass for your strengths. (I’ll probably write about this soon.)

So, what’s this thing that I’m not good at, this weakness I too often display? It’s my inability to say eight simple words. What are they? Here are the first two:

“I’m sorry.”

I stink at saying, “I’m sorry.” I’m a master at letting hours pass before I muster the gumption to say those two words. In our early years of marriage, I simply wouldn’t apologize until I had gone over the situation dozens of times in my head and fully and completely owned what I did. Then, and only then, would I apologize, but only specifically for what I was sure I had done. It was infuriating to my sweet wife. At times, I’ve caused her way more frustration and pain than what was necessary because I was unwilling to own and apologize for my infractions.

Of course, “I’m sorry,” are only the first two words. Words three, four and five are:

“I was wrong.”

In happier moments, I have joked with Kelly that I’m bad at saying these three words because I am usually right. (I’ve never said this in the middle of a disagreement. I’m no fool!) The sad thing is that I’ve actually thought and behaved as if I’m incapable of error. It is so difficult to fess up, even when I know I’m wrong, because I am wired to defend myself, to prove that I’m right, or at least that I’m not wrong in the way I’m accused of being wrong. I hate to be wrong. But sometimes I am. There’s no hiding it. I’m always at least partially to blame, possessing plenty of material to own up to.

But, it’s not just enough to say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” There are three more words:

“Please forgive me.”

Even when I’ll acquiesce and take responsibility, I still tend to harbor a sliver of pride and self-righteousness. So, there’s one more step to take. And, I’m not very good at taking it. There’s something in me that resists taking this final step because, in essence, asking for forgiveness makes me vulnerable. To ask for forgiveness is to humbly approach someone you’ve offended, to ask to be returned to a place of favor, and to request to be released from the debt that has been accumulated. It’s an extremely humbling step to take. But, it’s imperative. It simply can’t be left out.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” Pride is the sin that lies at the heart of my struggle to apologize, admit my errors and ask for forgiveness. Plain and simple. I can be way too proud. When I’m wrong, I have become better at apologizing more quickly and more sincerely. And, when my actions truly do hurt, I have learned to pause, let my initial urge defend myself pass, soften my heart, and confess that I was wrong. And, because I don’t want either of us to harbor any resentment, I’m working on asking for forgiveness rather than expecting it.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me.” These eight words can save your marriage. They’re saving mine!