By Tom Acey (An occasional guest blog exploring the discovery of the true joy in our lives for which we are intended)
This blog is part of my series entitled The Road to Joy, in which I have examined the nature of true joy, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and I have begun looking at the steps we need to take to experience this true joy in our lives. These steps were outlined in the book The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado, and they provide the perfect framework for what I call “awakening the joy within.” Each of these blogs will delve into one of these seven steps.
Forgive, Forgive, Forgive
Forgiveness is the linchpin of the seven steps for awakening the joy within us. Without it, and the accompanying step of loving unconditionally, there is no joy in our lives and, to put it bluntly, we are dishonoring our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, whose life here on earth embodied unconditional love and whose sacrifice on the cross bought us forgiveness and redemption.
We read about forgiveness a lot in the Word and in religious writings. But what exactly is it? It is not a feeling or an emotion; but an act of will that involves a conscious decision to act followed by conscious and continuous action.
Think about it: what did Christ tell us about forgiving? First, he told us that we must forgive those who hurt us by their words or actions seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). Second, he instructs us that before we criticize our “brother” we must look at our own behavior, i.e., before we seek to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, we must remove the log from our own. (Luke 6:41-42). Here are four reasons why we must forgive:
- Forgiveness is a fundamental pre-requisite to
receiving the spiritual gift of Joy. Put another way: without forgiveness in our hearts, we block out Joy.
- God forgave you completely and continues to
forgive whenever you confess your wrong/sin and
ask for forgiveness.
- Forgiveness heals / resentment kills.
- Jesus told us to forgive – even to forgive and
love our enemies.
Reason number 3 is particularly important, not only to our joy, but to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. We don’t like to admit it, but many or most of us carry around at least one or more resentments, usually against someone we believe has done us some sort of harm. The more resentment festers in our hearts and minds, the more harm it does to us.
By way of example, in the 1960’s a friend of mine who is a social worker took part in a study conducted by the U.S. Air Force. The subjects of the study were a number of airmen who were dying from cancer. The Air Force was seeking to discover if there was any common denominator for their condition. To nearly everyone’s amazement, they discovered that each of the subjects had been through a devastating divorce and had not been able to forgive their spouses for the harm done.
There are three important lessons to be extracted from the study results. First, as I said earlier, resentments kill. Second, it appears that the subjects were also unable to accept their roles in the divorces. And third, it is doubtful any of them had a relationship with Jesus Christ.
In his book, The Peacemaker, author Ken Sande, who is also founder of the organization by the same name that endeavors to spread peacemaking throughout the world, states what he calls the four promises of forgiveness. They are:
- I will not dwell on this incident.
- I will not bring this incident up and use it against you.
- I will not talk to others about this incident.
- I will not allow this incident to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
Notice that each of the promises involves a conscious and continuous act of will.
Spend some quiet time contemplating your life and any areas where forgiveness is needed. I suggest the following:
First, take a blank sheet of paper, fold it in half and make two lists on the page: one of people who have harmed you or circumstances where you have been harmed emotionally, spiritually or physically; the second list is of people you may have harmed and have not been reconciled with. [As you think through this exercise, consider such actions as withholding love as harmful]
When you identify someone whom you need to forgive or believe you have forgiven. Reflect on the four promises of forgiveness.
Spend time with God and ask Him for the will to forgive.
NOTE: If as a result of this exercise you decide to forgive someone, and particularly if you feel that there needs to be a reconciliation, be sure that you first get independent guidance from a spiritual mentor or counselor. Make sure that your actions will not harm the people you are forgiving or seeking reconciliation with, or others, including your family or yourself.
(This bonus guest blog was brought to you by Tom Acey of the Awakening the Joy Within© program. You can read Tom’s bio below. If you would like to read more of his compelling story, receive Tom’s weekly blog, and/or get more information about the Awakening the Joy Within©program and other programs from Joy Now, Inc, please visit www.livejoynow.com.