Do you anticipate an idyllic family Thanksgiving reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, or does the approaching holiday cause you to wring your hands in angst? Does this time of the year unearth painful memories for you? Do you find yourself in a protective stance, bracing against another holiday marred by unkind and insensitive remarks from one (or more) of your family members? If so, consider feasting on forgiveness this Thanksgiving.
Forgiveness is hard, especially for those of us who have been deeply wounded by someone we once trusted and loved dearly. Jesus was adamant, however. As his children, we are called to forgive. During his Sermon on the Mount, our Lord taught, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15 ESV).
Simon Peter, in an attempt to be magnanimous, suggested that instead of offering forgiveness three times, as the Pharisees taught, we should forgive our perpetrators seven times. Immediately, Jesus corrected his beloved disciple. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22 ESV). In other words, there is no limit to the number of times we should forgive.
At a particularly low point in my life, when a family member’s calloused remarks all but destroyed my self-confidence, I asked God to give me a valid reason for offering forgiveness. The Lord graciously answered my prayers by holding up a mirror in front of me. He showed me that I was languishing on the couch, recounting the offenses and remembering my pain, while the family member who hurt me was on the golf course, enjoying his life.
Furthermore, God pointed out that my deep-seated feelings of anger and resentment were controlling my life and stealing the freedom and joy that Christ won for me on the cross. My refusal to forgive was killing me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Plus, it was hurting my family.
I made a difficult decision: I chose to forgive. Did I want to forgive? Absolutely not. Did I feel like forgiving? Nope.
Forgiveness isn’t governed by emotions; it’s a choice.
I was incapable of forgiving the person who hurt me, and I told this to God. I leaned into the love of our Savior, asking him not only to heal my heart but to change me. Furthermore, I relinquished my need to have the final word with my perpetrator, whether through email, text, or imaginary conversations that allowed me to emerge as the victor. Finally, I asked God to bless the person who hurt me so deeply. After all, Jesus instructed us to bless our enemies, and at that point, this person was definitely my enemy.
As a result of this dark period in my life, I discovered the CARB steps of forgiveness:
- Choose to forgive.
- Ask God to change and heal your heart.
- Relinquish the need to have the final word.
- Bless your enemy.
Together, the first letter of each line creates the acronym, CARB. I now affectionately refer to these steps as the CARB method for overcoming a spirit of unforgiveness.
It was a process that took approximately two years. I initially repeated the steps of this process fifty or more times per day. Then, I found myself repeating the process only twenty-five times per day. And then it was less.
Eventually, my heart changed. Forgiveness stopped being a choice; it became my reality. By God’s grace and the healing power of his shed blood my heart softened. The blessings spoken on my offender’s behalf became heartfelt, and my love for him was renewed.
While we may need to avoid or limit the amount of calorie-laden carbs that we consume at Thanksgiving, we should NEVER stop feasting on forgiveness! I encourage you to give it a try.