There is no person in this world who’s never been hurt, disappointed, bullied or antagonized. Conflict is part of being human, and always will be. Conflict helps us grow, helps fix the dysfunctional parts of our relationships, and improves our social skills. Unfortunately, though, some conflicts can get so out of hand that they destroy relationships.
This is not how God wants us to relate to one another. He has called us to form fellowships in Christ, so that we may “encourage one another and build each other up.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11.
But how can we do this when there’s been so much hurt?
An example from my own life is my relationship with someone who has antagonized me for several years. They have never made an effort to mend our broken relationship, nor shown me an ounce of civility. However, because this person is family, I am unable to simply cut them out of my life.
For years I held a secret grudge against this person. At the time, I didn’t acknowledge it as a grudge. Instead, it was a subconscious list in my head, detailing all of their offenses. The list would flash in my mind whenever they’d do another mean-spirited thing. And my reasons for staying away from this person only continued to grow.
I thought that holding on to this “list of offenses” was protecting me from getting close to this person and getting hurt again. But the truth was, this “list” or “reminder” was doing more harm than good. It affected my inner peace and some days prevented me from acting the way God commands us to act–which is to be loving and kind towards one another.
I wanted to break free from these negative feelings. I wanted to stop being secretly angry with this person, and treat them with love as God calls us to. However, I was faced with a dilemma: how could I possibly be loving someone who is so hurtful, cruel and antagonistic towards me? I thought: “Can’t God just give me a pass on this one? Why should I waste my energy on someone who doesn’t deserve my kindness?”
Whenever I am faced with adversity in my life, I act courageously and tap into an inner strength that I wholeheartedly credit God for. I would then problem-solve and try to fix the situation. In this case, however, I didn’t feel the need try to fix anything. I thought that this was my antagonist’s problem, not mine.
But my inaction to fix this subconscious grudge was causing it to get worse. Every time I had to be around this person, my blood pressure would rise and I’d pray to God to alleviate my stress and help me find a way to deal. I kept waiting for a miracle, hoping that maybe God would change this person’s demeanor. But God helped me realize that the person who needed to change was me.
I had to get over my own pride; my own fear of getting hurt again; and my refusal to step outside of my comfort zone.
It takes a massive amount of courage and strength to forgive someone who isn’t sorry. But it’s not impossible. God will help you through it, and when you accomplish this difficult task you’ll become a spiritually stronger and more empowered person.
Some of the ways in which forgiveness can empower you:
- Restores your inner peace, creating a clearer mind that allows you to pursue your important goals.
- Demonstrates your spiritual maturity and self-sufficiency, thereby increasing your confidence. Only strong people who are secure in themselves are able to forgive. When you conquer something as difficult as forgiving your worst antagonist, you begin to see that you can conquer anything.
- Increases your mental and emotional strength. (Re-read the previous point.)
- It can potentially repair your relationship with your antagonist, and relationships are resources for networking and personal advancement.
How do you start? How can you begin to wrap your head around the idea of granting forgiveness to someone who hasn’t earned it?
Here are some steps to take:
- Shift your paradigm. Don’t think of forgiveness as something that you grant someone else, like a gift bestowed to the deserving. Instead, think of forgiveness as an act of “setting free” all the negative energies that are toxic to your life.
- View the offender as God would: with compassion. In truth, your antagonist is not your enemy; rather, it is the dark spirits operating through them that are your enemies. God loves all people because He created each and every one of us. He has a plan to use our existence for good, but when people deviate from His guidance and choose to follow their “own way” they become prey to the negative influence of this world. Consider that this might be the reason why your antagonist is mean and hurtful. Maybe they’re so consumed by darkness that they’re incapable of kindness towards you. Ask God to help you see this person as He does. At the core, we are all good, and we have potential to serve His kingdom.
When I began to view my “antagonist” as someone who was loved by God but just caught in a bad circumstance, I developed compassion and patience for them. I stopped thinking of them as a terrible person, but instead as someone who has suffered a lot and desperately needs to experience the goodness of our God.
- Think of your health. Holding grudges, even mild ones, creates stress and anxiety that increases your cortisol levels. High cortisol levels will weaken your immune system and lead to a series of other health problems. Not to mention, holding grudges disrupts your mental and emotional well-being.
- Reach out: Take this person by surprise and invite them to have one-on-one time to resolve your conflict. Plan a dinner or a coffee date. This act will surprise them and possibly soften their heart, creating an opportunity for you to demonstrate your character, through our Lord, Jesus Christ. This is also an opportunity for you to minister to this person. Whatever the outcome may be, consider it a testament to your maturity, courage, and God’s grace for you. However, if your efforts are rejected, see the next tip:
- Let go. When all else fails, just lift up the situation to God and set your worries free. Set your anger free. Set your pain free. Sometimes, people are so deep in the darkness that only God’s sovereign intervention will work on them. In this case, the best thing to do is forgive with all your heart and let go. You cannot make peace with someone unless they are at peace with themselves. When you reach this point you can feel confident that you’ve made things right with God. When all is said and done, He is the only one that truly matters.
I’d like to leave you with a verse that comforts me each time I feel as though I’ve lost a fight:
The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still. – Exodus 14:14