When it comes to living out forgiveness, I find much confusion. There are two terms that help make sense of how to live out forgiveness in real time: an open heart and current reality. Forgiveness is not forgiveness until there is an open heart. Forgive and forget doesn’t work. (The term current reality will help explain that.) Treating the person as if the wound never happened isn’t real life.
So what works? An open heart. Forgiveness that is complete should bring the result of an open heart. The first trait of an open heart is that it can hear God. Where there is bitterness or wounds, these occupy a part of a person’s focus. It is as if there is one eye on God and one eye on the wound. That is not an open heart.
The ultimate goal of the open heart is to be able to see and hear God clearly. If that is happening and if there is obedience to the voice of God, healing will come to pass and the person will partner with God to bring life to a situation. Healing takes time. We are layered individuals (Is. 28:10). Many times, healing from wounds has to be walked out over a period of time. A divided heart is unreliable and may or may not get where it needs to go.
A secondary goal of an open heart is to change the imprint of the wound. Most of the time, a wound changes our view of God to a place where we don’t believe He cares for us or that He will protect us. Life is no longer safe and we then believe that we need to protect ourselves. Harboring unforgiveness causes us to question everyone in every situation in an attempt to protect ourselves from further pain.
If a person has walked through the healing process, he more accurately sees the bigger picture of God at work and how God’s hands may have been tied in an event. God is a righteous God. He cannot make the outcomes of bad choices “just go away.”
God can inject His grace and mercy to help a person heal or overcome. However, for God to do that, there must be someone who is open to Him who is inviting Him into the situation. Those who expect life in a sinful world to have no pain will be bitterly disappointed. We need to have a right view of God and of life to have an open heart.
This leads to the second term. Current reality. There is sin in the world. The outcomes of other people’s bad choices will land on us. The more we involve ourselves with other people, the more that will happen. (But the outcomes of the alternative—isolation, are also bad!). I don’t believe God wants us to take a beating needlessly. There is pain that leads to positive outcomes. Championship teams celebrate that kind pain as a means to their goal. There is a kind of pain that has no purpose that is simply the ugly outcomes of bad choices. It is pain with no purpose. No good to come along later.
In 1 Corinthians 7, when talking about a believer being married to an unbeliever, Paul asks the question, “For how do you know if you will save your spouse?” (v. 16). Paul’s conclusion is to let the unbeliever depart if that is what he or she wants. There is a time to cut your losses. There is a time to hang on because it is going to produce good fruit. Only God knows the difference.
That is why an open heart is so important. The only safe way to live is under the direction of God. Putting yourself at risk may not seem safe. It may seem totally foolish at the time. But God knows when and if a person will turn and walk in a better place. We don’t. The voice of God is the best measure of current reality … to help us make a decision that we will not regret.
If we have an open heart, we are in a much better place to assess current reality. We don’t start with the negative imprint of the past, but are free to say, “Yes” or “No.” We can see without a filter. If I am going to invest in a person, I want to know the answer to one question, “Are you willing to do what it takes to get better?” If the answer is “Yes,” I am willing to endure pain on the part of that person. If the answer is “No,” I am not willing to waste my time on something that will end badly. Again, an open heart can much more reliably sense the motives of the other person.
Current reality. I want to assess whether or not there is a chance for a good outcome. Of course, I cannot know the answer to that question and generally, even the person I am asking does not know if he is telling the truth. He doesn’t really know how he will respond in a future situations. Thus, the voice of God. Without it, we are totally vulnerable. How do you know? Only God knows.
I am willing to suffer for positive outcomes. That is called intercession. I am willing to be a prophetic voice and speak truth even where there will be no positive outcomes … if that is what God calls me to do. Speaking truth often means you will be hated for seemingly no good reason. Yet, God declares that speaking truth about Him is a worthy cause.
I am not willing to suffer on a fool’s mission. If a person comes to me saying he wants to get better but is not willing to let go of the thing that will cause him to continue to fail, I back off. Nor will I expose children or vulnerable people to one who is still caught in a sick place. There is a time not to forget.
Forgiveness does not mean I have to treat a painful event as if it never happened. The past is a clue to the present. I don’t expose children to an abuser, but I don’t write the abuser off as if change is not possible. I assess current reality. With an open heart.
The voice of God is the only reliable indicator of current reality, but where there has been significant pain, we often will need input from others. The layered nature of the deeper wounds means that others will see us more accurately than we see ourselves. An import part of developing an open heart is having trusted friends who are godly, who hear from God and who are able to speak into our lives.
An open heart recognizes that there will be pain in this life, but believes in the power of God to heal and redeem. An open heart does not fear pain (at least not at a high level!). Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). Once we have more confidence in God’s ability to redeem and to restore than we do for pain to dominate, we approach life differently.
This is forgiveness in real time. It’s messy, but it’s powerful. It brings transformation to us. As a tool of intercession, it brings transformation to others. In real time, there is a time to reengage and a time to walk away. More than anything, forgiveness done right gives us the confidence to face the future without fear. Are you walking in a powerful lifestyle of forgiveness?