Unforgiveness can be a sneaky thing. It hides in the shadows of your heart. You might not even realize that you are treating someone with less kindness than normal. You may try to justify not helping someone in need, not realizing that the root of your lack of empathy is unforgiveness.
I recently realized that I had unforgiveness in my heart. I was holding on to negative feelings towards someone that I worked with. I was not acting mean or rude to the person, but my thoughts towards them were not always kind. It began when I had expectations that they would help me with a project, but they disappointed me. I did the project without them and everything turned out fine. I thought that I had just brushed it off, that the disappointment didn’t matter. But months later, when they were asking for volunteers to help them, I realized that I was not as eager as I normally am to help. I realized that I had not been very interested in how their life was going and had avoided engaging with them at work.
Since realizing this, I prayed for them and for me. I prayed that God would help me to see them the way that he sees them and that he would help me to get over the disappointment and forgive them. I started to make a conscious effort to talk to them more and think more positively about them. Things aren’t perfect, but I think our relationship is starting to grow. I don’t feel negative emotions when I see them anymore and I am glad when things go well in their life.
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he looked down at the people who had mocked him, whipped him, and nailed him to the cross. They were in the process of physically torturing him and gambling over who would get his clothes when he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). It’s not like the soldiers torturing Jesus were asking for any forgiveness. They didn’t even believe that he was the son of God! Jesus didn’t wait until he had risen from the dead and come back in glorious splendor to forgive them. But Jesus forgave them while he was still in pain and while they were still in the midst of hurting him. It’s amazing that Jesus was able to forgive people as they were physically and verbally torturing him, while I had trouble forgiving someone months later for a such a small offense!
I think that God expects that kind of forgiveness from his children as well. He wants us to forgive people before they even ask for forgiveness. He wants us to forgive those who are still publicly shaming us. He wants us to forgive people while they’re bad-mouthing us on Facebook. He wants us to forgive people while our grief over what they’ve done is still fresh. He wants us to forgive them right after they did something behind our back. He wants us to forgive them when they are calling us names to our face. The bible says that “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, emphasis added)
How on earth can any of us hope to have that kind of forgiveness? I think it comes from remembering what God has had to forgive us for. The times that we’ve lied, times that we stole, times that we were angry with God, the times we disobeyed our parents, the times that we treated others badly. None of us is perfect and if we can remember the times that we’ve made mistakes and sinned, that can help us to have empathy for the person who is also making a mistake and sinning against us. When forgiveness is hard, we can pray for God’s help. He wants us to forgive and is happy to help us when we ask for it.
Even if you don’t think that you’re holding unforgiveness against anyone right now, it might be hiding where you can’t see it. I would encourage you to pray and ask God to reveal any areas where you still might be holding on to unforgiveness. You might be surprised (as I was) by what turns up. I hope that you will be able to experience the freedom that I had when I finally found that area and was able to forgive.