“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” ~ Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
Back in January, I shared that I select a “Word-of-the-Year” each year, and for 2019, my word was “forgive.” When that article was published, I committed to writing about what I learned in the December 2019 issue. I’m feeling exceptionally proud of myself that I’ve remembered to write this a full year later…. And now, I’m prepared to share with you all what I’ve learned about the word “forgive.”
And what I’ve learned boils down to this: I’ve got a lot to learn.
Forgiveness is a life-long lesson. It’s not something that will be mastered in a year. And in any given moment that you think you have it mastered, ha! Let’s just say that it’s quickly followed by a big ol’ dose of humility. Forgiveness is something that I’m going to be successful at one day, and then, I’m going to fail at it big time the next. Then, I’ll get it right again. But next time I need to forgive, I’m going to get it hugely wrong.
Perfect forgiveness isn’t possible for me. But in studying forgiveness this year, I sure am glad it’s possible for my Heavenly Father.
The other thing I’ve learned about forgiveness is that you can’t really understand it without an appreciation of grace. They go hand-in-hand. And that’s the beauty of it. I’ve done quite a lot of reading this year, and without question, the two most powerful books I’ve read to understand God’s grace were Crazy Love by Francis Chan and What’s So Amazing About Grace, by Philip Yancey. Both books had a profound impact on my understanding of grace and forgiveness.
I’ve also learned that forgiveness happens moment by moment. There are events and situations that I think I’ve long-ago forgiven, and then, something is said, and it triggers a wave of emotions. I have to forgive again.
One of my favorite truths I’ve learned about forgiveness this year is that God doesn’t forget our failures. When we repent and ask for forgiveness, He simply chooses not to remember them. There’s a huge difference. Our all-knowing God cannot forget, because otherwise, He wouldn’t be all-knowing. But Jeremiah 31:34b (ESV) quotes God—“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Isn’t that amazing?
But I want to share one other major thing that I’ve learned through my year-long study of forgiveness. It’s something that I’m working hard on to put into place every day—it’s the prayer to look at others through the lens of Jesus’ grace.
When I look at others, especially those who have hurt me or people I don’t trust—I see all the reasons I shouldn’t forgive. But beyond my need to remember how perfectly I’ve been forgiven and the grace God has given me despite my failures, I also have to pray for Jesus to let me see them the way He does.
When I pray that prayer, my heart grows softer. I see someone who may have hurt me, but who is hurting. I see someone who makes it so hard to love them, but I am given an understanding of how desperately they need to be loved. I see someone who is broken, but who is beautifully loved by our shared Creator.
And like forgiveness, that’s an exercise in prayer that I’ll be learning and developing for a lifetime. But God has shown me some amazing insights into others through that kind of praying.
So with all that said—I’m not ready to hang up my word of the year and say it’s mastered. Like my previous words, there are great lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn. Embracing a Word-of-the-Year has given me a focal point to study and grow in my faith, and most importantly, my walk with Jesus. So now, it’s time for a new word.
In 2020, my focal word is going to be “contentment.” My signature verses for the year come from 1 Timothy 6:6-8, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (ESV).
As we say goodbye to 2019, remember to forgive often. And as we say hello to 2020, remember to thankful and be content with the blessings you have.