Thanksgiving with a Side of Forgiveness

By Sharmon Coleman, Proven Way Executive Director

Who dreads Thanksgiving because of a particularly difficult person you have to spend time with around the dinner table?  I love the character Cousin Eddie in the movie Christmas Vacation. He’s the obnoxious relative that shows up uninvited to Christmas in his run-down RV, which he parks in the driveway with his wife, two kids & his dog, Snots. He’s an awkward, mooching relative in every imaginable way. We all have a Cousin Eddie in our families, and if you don’t, then you might be the Cousin Eddie!

Seriously, relationships are difficult, especially when you have to spend the holidays with people not necessarily of your own choosing.  How on earth do we wade through these murky waters? Forgiveness is a foundational ingredient to every relationship.

LESSONS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT FORGIVENESS

1.  Forgiveness doesn’t make what happened all right, it makes me all right.  Not forgiving would be like me taking arsenic and expecting the unforgiven person to die.  The Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:24, “Who will free me from this body of death?” He was referring to the Roman custom of tying a dead body to the convicted criminal so that disease from the decomposing body infected and killed the criminal.  When we don’t forgive, we tie the body of the person to us and it infects us with bitterness. Forgiveness cuts the rope tying them to us.  

2.  Forgiveness doesn’t always mean the relationship is restored.  Forgiveness does not mean that we let others continue to harm us physically, emotionally, or relationally.  Forgiveness is between us and God.  Restoration involves the offending person and requires his/her acknowledgement of the hurt and agreement to change so that TRUST is restored.

3.  Forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s an act of obedience.  If we wait to forgive until we feel like forgiving, it will never happen.  We choose to forgive as an act of our will. I’ve heard it said that just because a bird flies into your hair does not mean that you have to let it make a nest.  Once you’ve decided to forgive, if and when unforgiving thoughts and feelings arise, refuse to dwell on the them. This is how we live out 2 Corinthians 10:5 by taking our thoughts captive in obedience to Christ.  We do the right thing until we feel the right thing.  

4.  Pray for yourself to see the one who needs forgiveness like Jesus does.  We are all created in God’s image.  Every person, saved and unsaved, in some way,  reflects the glory of God.  No one was exempted from the offer of forgiveness afforded by His death on the cross. Ask God to help you see as He does.  John Burke’s book, The Mud and Masterpiece, is excellent to walk you through this process.

5.  Praying for the good of the other person speeds up the process.  When unforgiving thoughts and feelings pop up, start praying for the good of the person you have forgiven.  Ask God to heal their hurts, draw them to Him, and to feel His Presence.  Praying for your enemy softens your heart toward the offender.

6.  Remember how Christ forgave you.  Think of the worst thing you’ve ever done that you’d be horrified if anyone ever found out. Got it? If Christ could forgive you for that, how can we not forgive others?  All of us are jacked up and need forgiveness.  Remember, Jesus died for you when you were at your worst.  In fact, Romans 5:7-8 says that Christ died for us when we were His ENEMIES.  He didn’t die for us only when we had it all together.  Often our offenses stem from our expectations of wanting others to meet our needs and never let us down.  Forgiveness allows others to stop being crushed by expectations that were never meant for any human. All of my relationships vastly improved when I learned to never demand from others what only God can deliver.  Only God can meet our needs, so let others off the hook!

Why not serve a side of forgiveness this Thanksgiving season?  Forgiveness is a complicated dish, and we can’t serve it in our own power.  Ask God to pour His forgiveness through you to your Cousin Eddie.  I love Phillip, Craig & Dean ‘s song, “Friend Called Grace” based on the biblical account of the woman caught in the act of adultery.  The chorus says . . .    

        Let Me introduce you to a friend called Grace
        Doesn't care about your past or your many mistakes
        He'll cover your sins in a warm embrace
        Let me introduce you to a friend
        A friend called Grace

Grace makes serving the dish of forgiveness possible.  

Sharmon Colemman