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Essays on Faith: Is forgiveness a conscious choice?

When a friend confided that she and her sister hadn’t spoken for two years, I was astonished.

“That’s pretty drastic,” I said. “What happened?”

“When our mom passed away, only three years after our dad,” she said, “Beth and I had a lot of decisions to make. Although there was a will, it wasn’t specific concerning our parents’ personal items. We both had children who wanted a few keepsakes that had belonged to their grandparents. It should have been easy, but when we got together to divvy up, something went wrong; nobody could agree on anything.

“Amid arguments and tears and spitefulness, I threw up my hands and said, ‘You take everything! It’s not worth this!’

“I left and we haven’t talked since.”

“Have you thought about trying to make up with her?” I asked.

“Yes, I’ve thought about it a lot,” she said. “Our children hardly know each other. It’s disgraceful. But it’s been so long now, I’m not sure she’ll talk to me, let alone, forgive me. And, truthfully, I don’t feel very forgiving myself.”

When someone you love hurts your feelings or betrays your trust, you can consciously choose how to react. You can choose to harbor a grudge, lash out in anger, or retaliate.

Or you can choose to forgive.

But wait!

Forgiveness is not an option; it is a command from God.

I always thought of forgiveness as a conscious choice, a decision of the will, then I discovered that the Bible does indeed instruct us to forgive as the Lord forgives us. (Colossians 3:13).

Out of obedience to God, you must forgive, whether you feel like it or not. Luke 6:28 tells us: “Bless those who curse you and pray for those who wrong you.”

Consider what Jesus did — when He was betrayed, beaten, mocked, and disrespected, He chose forgiveness.

The problem is, if you do not forgive, then your prayers will not be effective.

Refusing to forgive puts up a barrier to the power of God in your life. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).

It’s perfectly natural for Christians to have questions about forgiveness. When you feel that you have been wronged, you may be angry or hurt. You are not overflowing with love, mercy and forgiveness for the person who has upset you.

However, although it’s normal to feel anger, it is not your job to judge the other person. Instead, you should pray for God to deal with the injustices, and then leave that prayer at the altar. You no longer have to carry the anger.

Carrying the weight of resentment or rage with you day after day can become difficult and burdensome, yet through the practice of forgiveness, you can let these burdens go. In prayer, you can release to God all grudges, resentment and unforgiving thoughts you may have held against others. You can ask for relief and willingly let go of any sorrows from the past so you may be open to the blessings of today.

One of the most powerful ways God’s love is demonstrated is through forgiveness. It is never a good idea to put off forgiveness. Holding on to resentment, even for a short time, depletes your energy, so you should refrain from doing so. Forgive readily. Forgive daily.

To have a heart full of hostility occupies your mind and keeps you in a state of misery. By not forgiving, you are giving the other person control over your life, allowing him or her to steal your peace of mind.

When you forgive, you open the door to both physical and spiritual healing. The mind and heart become peaceful. The body relaxes and reduces stress. When you choose to forgive yourself and others, you choose to be happy.

How do you know if you have actually forgiven?

A Christian woman named Corrie Ten Boom, who survived a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, said, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you.”

Although forgiving is a choice, a decision you make out of obedience to the Lord, there is also a reward for your forgiveness. When you choose to forgive, He sets you free from the anger, bitterness and resentment that previously imprisoned you. When you have experienced that freedom, you know that the work of forgiveness is complete.

At last, you are free to enjoy life fully. Your load is lightened and your burden lifted. It is a new day, a time to make a fresh start, a day filled with unlimited good.

Sadly, the person who chooses not to forgive is the one who suffers most.

Peggy Toney Horton lives in Nitro.

Essays on Faith may be submitted to

Funerals for Saturday, August 24, 2019

Barron, Dennis - 11 a.m., Airborne Church, Martinsburg.
Baylor, Elizabeth - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.
Bonds Jr., Patrick - 1 p.m., King of Glory International Ministries, Charleston.
Burgess, Corey - 5 p.m., Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Burns, Helen - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Inc., Grantsville.
Caldwell, Gary - 6 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.
Casto, Carroll - 1 p.m., Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor.
Casto, Roger - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.
Duty, Fred - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.
Fisher, Bernard - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.
Gwinn, Lloyd - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Habjan, Nathan - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay. 
Hall, Daniel - Noon, Witcher Baptist Church.
Hinkle, Ethel - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Hoffman, Bruce - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.  
Kinder, Siegel - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.
Kyler, Virgil - 11 a.m., Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Reedy.
Palmer, William - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston. 
Raynes Sr., Steven - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.
Truman, James - 2 p.m., Newton Baptist Church, Newton.
Turner, Keith - Noon, Full Gospel Assembly,  Huntington. 
Webb, Antoinette - 11 a.m., SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Oak Hill.
Wilson, Greg - Noon, Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.
Withrow, James - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.