One would think that the more than a thousand expressions of appreciation from their church members at the time of Curt’s retirement would compensate for the hurt inflicted by a few. Trying not to dwell on the few, Cheryl daily perused an acrostic, F-O-R-G-I-V-E, that the Lord had given her to hold herself accountable for forgiveness. She readily shares it with us.
Face the past - Buried hurts yield unforgiveness and pain. When we admit that we have been hurt – intentionally or unintentionally – by non-Christian or Christian, we take the first step to begin the healing process of forgiveness.
Own the present - After admitting our hurt, we must realize the overwhelming necessity to forgive. We can say that God in his grace can help us forgive immediately and instantaneously, but for many of us it is a much longer process than we ever thought possible. However long the process, we must begin right now – no longer procrastinating, and stop the self-pity.
Read God’s Word - Hebrews 4:12 informs us that God’s Word is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword…; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. And 2 Timothy 3:6 reminds us that the God-breathed Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
When we realize its incomparable, comprehensive ability not only to challenge but also to comfort, how can we not resist turning to God’s Word for power when seeking to forgive?
Give praise - One’s heart cannot focus on unforgiveness when it is full of praise. James R. Bishop wrote in The Spirit of Christ in Human Relationships about a farmer with a vengeful spirit who would seek to get even by throwing a dead cat into his neighbor’s well. On one occasion the cat was washed out by the force of an overflowing artesian well. One whose heart is filled with the joy of the Lord is like that. Satan may attempt to inject bitterness and resentment, but the overflowing joy will keep the heart pure, the spirit sweet and clean.
Imitate Christ - Christ’s words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” (Luke 23:34) have resounded loudly throughout the years and around the world. He who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sins set the supreme example. Not only on the Cross but also at other times during his three years of ministry, Jesus demonstrated patience and forgiveness toward those who offended, denied, and betrayed him. As Ephesians 4:32 implies, we should, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Voice the positive - How often are we tempted to speak negatively about someone who has hurt us? How often are we tempted to crawl under blankets of pity and depression when God would want us to throw off the blankets, crawl out of bed, get on our feet, and start thinking contentedly and positively about our situations. The possible worst-case scenario is never as difficult as we, in our negativity, would see it. When we begin to speak positively, we start to think and feel positively.
Examine my own motives - When we have been hurt, especially while ministering to others, we should always examine our own motives. How easily we could take little opportunities, knowingly or unknowingly, to even the score! Sometimes even facial expressions could reveal displeasure toward a person or group. We must ask God to give us pure hearts of forgiveness.
If we would ask Cheryl today about her work on forgiveness, she would tell us that she can honestly pray for those who hurt them. She no longer sighs when she drives by the church. A wise friend had reminded her that the church was not the building but the people in whose lives she and her husband had so lovingly invested. She often prays for God to bless it. She is focused on other ways to minister. Has she reached the 70 times count yet? She is not even concerned about that. God has been faithful!
She often thinks of the best lesson of forgiveness she learned as a child in a growing church. She remembers the spring morning her mother tenderly told her of her Sunday school teacher’s sudden death. A drunk driver had crossed the median and smashed into her car while she was on her way home from a baby shower for a church member the previous evening. She was killed instantly, and her daughter, the mother of two small children, was critically injured. The drunk driver survived the crash with no injuries.
A few months previously, her teacher’s husband, Art, a recovering alcoholic, had shared his testimony of having recently accepted Christ as his Savior. He and his wife started happily serving the Lord in the church. Cheryl wondered, “How will the accident affect Art? Will his daughter live? Will he be mad at God?”
Everyone sat in stark silence the Sunday evening following the accident when Art stood to share what God was teaching him as a result of the accident. One of the first things he did after making funeral arrangements for his wife was visit the man in jail who was responsible for his wife’s death. He shared with him how Jesus Christ had transformed his own life. Granting the man forgiveness, Art realized that God had protected himself from causing a similar accident. The drunk driver, so stricken by Art’s forgiveness and God’s love, accepted Christ as his own personal Savior.
They buried Art’s wife in the cemetery by the church. Frequently, Cheryl looked over at her teacher’s grave and remembered the lesson of forgiveness that Art taught all of them. While working through the F-O-R-G-I-V-E acrostic, Cheryl often thought that if God could help Art face his hurt and forgive the man responsible for his wife’s death, God could help anybody face past hurts and forgive.