Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32 NASB)
I know that this verse is one that many Christians learn early in their lives. (I remember memorizing this verse as a child in Vacation Bible School.) I want to delve into the meaning of this verse a little.
How many times has someone done something to offend you or hurt your feelings? Have you ever had an argument with someone knowing you were ‘right’ yet you acted very ugly in trying to prove your point? Now I know the answer to both of these questions. I know that all of us have been offended time after time, even by those whom are closest to us. I also know that we all have been in arguments that we allowed our emotions to get the best of us. So what do we do now that these things have happened? How can we learn to handle these same circumstances when they arise again?
I believe the first step in reconciling the relationship that is being effected by the past is to be forgiving. Most of the time being forgiving means forgiving yourself. I have been told several times ‘I cannot forgive myself.’ I realize that forgiving ourselves is a difficult thing to do because we cannot forget our behavior. There are many times that I am plagued with thoughts of my bad behavior or the things that I have done wrong. The negative thoughts can haunt us with doubts about ourselves for a long time if we let them. God is willing to forgive us of all our sins, even the worst ones! We have to begin looking at ourselves with God’s eyes. He is able to separate us from the sin itself. He judges us based on who we are and not what we do. We have to work on doing the same thing.
The second step in reconciling the relationship is empathizing with the other person. When you have offended someone, try putting yourself in their shoes. While doing so, answer a couple of questions about the situation from the other person’s perspective. The first question is, “How would I like it, if I were treated the same way by someone?”. The bible tells us to treat others the way we want to be treated. We call this ‘The Golden Rule’. If all of us would stop and think about how we like to be treated, our relationships would be a lot different. The second question is, “What are the circumstances that are influencing the other person’s behavior?” Now, you might be asking the importance to the second question. When we understand the other person and attempt to connect with them, we can begin to see ourselves through their eyes. When we are able to see ourselves the same way the offended does, we become more compassionate toward that person as well as more repentant. This action creates an attitude of humility and gentleness.
The third and probably the most important step is forgiving the other person. An understanding of what forgiveness means is imperative. Forgiveness is NOT forgetting. Our brains are not designed to forget certain things. Forgiveness is NOT equal to reconciliation. Just because you forgive someone does not mean that the relationship is automatically reconciled.
Forgiveness IS choosing not to hold the other person responsible of their offense. Or in another words, separating the offender from the offense; as God does for us. Forgiveness IS choosing to be willing to work on reconciling the relationship. Without forgiveness, reconciliation is impossible. Forgiveness IS a gift. A gift is given based on the giver, not the receiver. Again, just as God forgives us!
How do we forgive now? I could write a great deal about this, but in this article I want to focus on just one aspect of forgiving. We must recognize our own hurt emotions and accept them. We cannot blame the other person, or we will not forgive. When we can accept our emotions, we then want to replace the negative, hurt emotions with God’s healing and His acceptance. His love for us is unconditional and is totally founded in His character. Once we get to this point, we can forgive.
The final step in reconciling the relationship is moving toward reconciliation. Many things can be written on this subject as well; which will come later. The process includes expressing your forgiveness, seeking their forgiveness, building boundaries, and agreeing on changing behaviors. I know I could add a great deal more, which I will elaborate in the near future.
Are we willing to exemplify Ephesians 4:32? Can we be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving? Following these steps should help!