FORGIVENESS IS FREEDOM  — LET THE PAST BE THE PAST AT LAST

The movie Invictus portrays one of the most remarkable examples in the twentieth century of a man who shows us how to forgive. At the time Nelson Mandela served his 27 years of political imprisonment — he held the record for the longest serving political prisoner in the world. But perhaps even more remarkable was how he emerged from his crisis.  He told his people to forgive their oppressors, focus on the future, and build a new, united nation.  He championed a nation to rebuild, in spite of the devastating trauma of apartheid. His turning point turned an entire country around. Rather than revenge, he voted for reconciliation and the world won. Instead of a bloodbath that would have buried South Africa, an extraordinarily peaceful transition took place, one that eclipsed a major ethnic and racial war. Mandela said, “I am grateful to God who enabled me to play a role in this reconciliation and forgiving process.”  From this we can clearly see, there is no future without forgiveness. If you need evidence, look no farther than our troubled world such as: Syria, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Ireland, Sudan, Angola, Liberia, Somalia, Israel, and the Middle East, just to name a few. There is also so much forgiveness needed here at home, in our neighborhoods, families, and churches.

Talking about forgiveness; be it your offender, yourself, or even God is one thing. Following through like Nelson Mandela did, is something else altogether. But if there is no future without forgiveness, how can we afford not to talk about it?  Letting the past be the past is the genesis of the first call-in radio show in Colorado that focuses totally on forgiveness. Every day at 2 PM Mountain Time on KRKS 94.7 FM listeners call in from around the country to share their struggles, heartaches, and victories, hoping to heal and become whole through forgiveness.

The topic of forgiveness is not an easy one, because it is a matter of the heart. Are you forgiving completely, unconditionally, wholly, and entirely? That’s how Jesus forgives us. In fact, He makes it the very foundation of our prayer life, “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15 NKJV). You can follow all kinds of steps: meditation, right choices, or determination, but you will be working your forgiveness out in your own ingenuity. God says in Zechariah 4:6, “…not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit…” (NKJV).  You are able to forgive those who have sinned against you, only through His beautiful love, grace, and mercy. Beyond that, He also gives you compassion toward your offender, which allows you to see their pain that was imparted to you; and actually moves you to pray for them. That, my friend, is when you make it to the “big league” spiritually. Circumcision of the heart is the only real cure for forgiveness. It is painful, and without exception, the hardest thing I have ever been asked to do; Jesus understands, He “gets it.” He was sold out and betrayed by a kiss from someone he loved and trusted. He needed Judas to move Him to the cross, so why should any of us be different?

Forgiveness is not about feeling, but much like faith, it is a choice. Forgiveness is a daily commitment made over a lifetime that sets you free! You know you have truly forgiven when you don’t talk about the offense at all, to anyone. You must let it go in order to be released. When you want to point fingers, blame, or hold on to a grudge with both fists, you relinquish control of your future. My mentor, R.T. Kendall always reminds me, “You give up new beginnings and all those possibilities for the pain of the past, when you don’t let it go!” Margaret Stunt said it best, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.” The Dalai Lama said, “In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” Gandhi believes, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” An unexpected blessing emerges when you begin to forgive, some describe it as a peace they have not felt in their hearts for years!

Forgiveness doesn’t change history, but it sure makes living with it a whole lot easier. Social scientists are discovering that forgiveness may help lead to emotional and even physical healing and wholeness. Former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former missionary Elisabeth Elliot, have been promoting a $10 million project entitled, “Campaign for Forgiveness Research.” This established a non-profit corporation to attract donations that will support forgiveness research proposals. In 1998, the John Templeton Foundation awarded research grants for the study of forgiveness to 29 scholars. One of the primary discoveries in these studies is that the person who gains the most from forgiveness is the person who does the forgiving. The theme of total forgiveness, more than any other teaching in the Bible, is perhaps needed more at this present time than ever before. We will see God move in proportion to our total forgiveness of one another. So the bigger the offense, the bigger the blessing!

Forgiveness is apparently not just a religious experience.  But it seems to me that if the secular world is catching on to the teachings of Jesus, even though they are not acknowledging Him, then how much more should those of us who claim to be Christians embrace forgiving those who trespass against us. If non-Christians can find peace because it is better for their health, it really leaves no excuse for anyone. A news article in the Daily Express explained how Dr. Ken Hart at Leeds University was running the first course in the world on forgiveness. It was designed to help people forgive their enemies and let go of grudges. A grant from the John Templeton Foundation paid for the seminar. The premise of the course was forgiveness is good for your health; the idea that holding a grudge can lead to illnesses, including everything from heart disease to a cold because of stored-up anger, resentment, and stress.  Here are the 10 steps to freedom from that Daily Express article.

  1. Stop excusing, pardoning, or rationalizing.
  2. Pinpoint the actions that hurt you.
  3. Spend time thinking of ways in which your life would be more satisfying if you could let go of your grievances.
  4. Try replacing angry thoughts about the “badness” of the perpetrator with thoughts about how the offender is also a human being who is vulnerable to harm.
  5. Identify with the offender’s probable state of mind. Understand the perpetrator’s history while not condoning their actions.
  6. Spend some time developing greater compassion toward the perpetrator.
  7. Become more aware that you have needed other people’s forgiveness in the past.
  8. Make a heartfelt resolution not to pass on your own pain.
  9. Spend time appreciating the sense of purpose and direction that comes after steps 1 – 8.
  10. Enjoy the sense of emotional relief that comes when the burden of a grudge begins to melt away. Enjoy also the feeling of goodwill and mercy you have shown.

Nelson Mandela said, “Bitterness only hurts oneself.” How did this shining example of forgiveness control his emotions instead of allowing them to control him? He summarized it best, “If you hate, you give them your heart and mind. Don’t give those two things away.”  Imagine a world where the lifelong lesson of each day for every person is: Forgiveness is the greatest gift each of us has ever been given, and in turn, it must be given away freely in order to enjoy the true freedom it brings.

Stephanie Riggs is a veteran, Emmy award-winning, television journalist, and author, who anchored the number one evening newscast at CBS4 News in Denver for almost 13 years, and also contributed to CBS Sunday Morning, as well as 48 Hours. (Go to stephanieriggs.com to watch some of her work.) She currently hosts her own call-in radio show M-F at 2 PM. on 94.7 FM KRKS or listen online at http://www.krks.com anywhere in the world. To learn more go to Divine Calling with Stephanie Riggs Facebook and follow Stephanie on Twitter @sriggsdenver.

Reference: Pape, Susan. “Can You Learn to Forgive?” Daily Express 5 June 2000.

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