I am the youngest of three kids, and I can honestly say that my siblings are my best friends. They are both incredible people, and they pursue the Lord with all their heart; I can’t imagine my life without their wisdom, their silliness, and their friendship. But growing up, we fought CONSTANTLY. I’m talking non-stop bickering, yelling, crying, and all kinds of maliciousness that comes with the territory of having siblings.

I’ll never forget storming up to my room after a fight with Josiah. I was fuming on the top bunk when I heard my mother having a little discussion with him downstairs. Soon enough he came up, opened the bedroom door, looked at the wall and said, “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

I looked right at him and yelled, “NO!”

The immediate reaction from him was to yell downstairs and say, “Mooooooommmmm, she didn’t forgiiiivvveee meeeee.”

I yelled after him, “Because he didn’t mean it! He was just saying those things because you told him to.”

What she said next is something I will never forget. She got right down on my level, and she said, very firmly:

“Hannah, it doesn’t matter whether he means it or not, forgiveness is a NON-NEGOTIABLE.”

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, iforgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32

It’s non-negotiable. It’s a command from God. In that moment, I realized that forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision. Forgiveness does not mean there will be reconciliation; I had to forgive my brother whether he was sorry or not.

Forgiveness isn’t a feeling; it’s a decision. Forgiveness does not mean there will be reconciliation; I had to forgive whether he was sorry or not.

The problem is, sometimes we don’t want to forgive. Sometimes people do awful things – whether on purpose or totally unbeknownst to them they hurt us – and we don’t want to forgive because somehow we feel that by holding onto that grief and refusing to forgive, we are serving them some semblance of justice. But let me ask this, who are you to dole out justice? Who am I? (Romans 12:19)

As the saying goes, “Unforgiveness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Instead of serving justice to this person or group of people, we end up poisoning our soul with anger and frustration.

When we keep drinking the poison of unforgiveness we begin to live in a state of bitterness. And that feeling of bitterness is much harder to break free from. In Hebrews 12:15, Paul describes it as a root. It creeps up on you when you’re not expecting it. It happens when that person’s name comes up in conversation, and a little pang of frustration or anger hits your heart.

You can recognize bitterness when no matter what a person (or group of people) says or does, you are seeing through the lens of the hurt they’ve caused you. But that isn’t the lens we are called to see people through. We are commanded to forgive as Christ forgave us! Meaning we need to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and bless those who have disappointed us.

This doesn’t mean we’re required to be besties with the people who hurt us, nor does it mean we ignore healthy boundaries. It DOES mean that we need to make the decision to forgive, not just once, but every day. If you still feel that pang in your heart, forgive them again. Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). Lay down your pain and your frustration at the foot of the cross, put it at the feet of the one who forgave you.

Set aside some time this week to ask God, “Who do I need to forgive?” You may be surprised.

By Hannah Arensen

Hannah Arensen is a missionary with Engineering Ministries International. A blogger and landscape designer, she is passionate about helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus. When she’s not in the studio, you can find her curled up with a good book and a cup of coffee.

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