The Benefits of Forgiveness

Day 3 of 3 • This day’s reading


What About Repeat Offenders?

What if someone constantly commits the same offense against you? That’s a tough situation. It makes forgiveness much more difficult. However, it is possible. God calls us to forgive others even when they continually sin against us. The following passage from the book of Matthew teaches us about forgiving repeat offenders:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21–22 NIV)

Forgiving repeat offenders is easier said than done. But when God tells us to do something, we need to do it for the sake of our relationship with Him and obedience to His Word. Remember, forgiveness is for our benefit as well. It helps to heal our own hearts. 

Holding a grudge doesn’t make you strong; it makes you bitter. Forgiving doesn’t make you weak; it sets you free.  —Dave Willis, The Seven Laws of Love

Talking About the Problem

Even so, you need to take steps to protect yourself from being mistreated. You don’t have to expose yourself to someone who wrongs you on a regular basis. God didn’t say we must continue to allow someone to sin against us, but only that we are to forgive them when they do sin against us. It is up to us to set boundaries so the person doesn’t have the opportunity to constantly commit offenses against us. An honest conversation with the individual can be a good way to start. (Let me add this caution: if you are dealing with someone who has a history of violence and is physically abusive, I do not advise confronting that person directly about their wrongdoing. Never put yourself in a situation where you will be at risk of harm. Instead, utilize the help of professionals in the field of domestic violence.)

For example, suppose your mother-in-law insults you whenever you are around her. You forgive her in your heart, but the insults still hurt. You want the comments to stop so you can enjoy your time with your in-laws more. Making her aware of your feelings is the first and foremost step. You can go to her directly and explain how the insults hurt you and affect your relationship with her. Bring up how you feel, but do not give an ultimatum. Simply ask her to stop insulting you. You might be shocked at how many people are oblivious to their own behavior and the effect it has on the people around them.

We don’t always understand people’s motivations for their actions. Your mother-in-law may be putting you down because her own daughter struggles in her roles as a wife and mom, while you are thriving in those roles, so she is jealous. In order to make herself feel better about her daughter, she insults you about anything she can think of when you are around. Perhaps you go on a weekend trip with your close friends from college, and your husband takes care of the children while you were away. After you return, your mother-in-law tells you that you abandoned your young children at home. She may be thinking, “I’m glad my own daughter doesn’t do those girls’ trips and instead takes care of her kids. Even if she isn’t the best mom, at least she is there for them.” Not knowing her thoughts, your interpretation of her negative comment is that she generally disapproves of you as a wife and mother. 

Having a courteous but honest conversation with your mother-in-law to let her know you don’t appreciate her put-downs could open a dialogue between the two of you about her behavior and its effect on you. If people aren’t aware of a problem, how can we expect them to change? 

Setting the stage for the conversation is paramount. You might approach her by saying you want to talk to her because she is family, you love her, and you want to have a great relationship long-term, so you desire to improve your rapport with her. If she thinks you are criticizing or attacking her, it is unlikely she will open up. Instead, she will become defensive. Help her to open up emotionally by making yourself vulnerable too. Admit that you are hurt and you care what she thinks because she is an important person in your life. You will not be able to control her reaction, but you can do your best to set the conversation up for success.

Reflection Time:

Is there a gentle and loving conversation you need to have with a loved one so that forgiveness and healing of the relationship can occur? How can you set the stage for a meaningful conversation that will help and not harm the relationship? Go to God in prayer and ask for His guidance in the difficult conversations you need to have with loved ones. Ask for His help in healing these relationships.

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