Some time ago I purchased a new Bible which has brought life and vitality to both the Psalms and Paul’s letters. It was on using my new Bible that a verse in Ephesians jumped off the page and spoke to me. I also sensed that God wanted to speak more widely to those of us in leadership, through this verse.
And to the caretakers of the flock I say, do what is right with your people by forgiving them when they offend you, for you know there is a Master in heaven that shows no favouritism. [Ephesians 6:9]
Let me be honest, in leadership, nothing can hurt more than the comments and criticism of members of your own church, those who you are pouring yourself out to on a weekly basis. I am sure many reading this will no doubt have first-hand experience of such situations. The problem is I am not confident I dealt with this appropriately in my time of pastoral leadership.
I knew I shouldn't get angry with others, even when they made me ‘hopping mad’, so I simply bottled up the critical comments to process at a later date, but in doing so I caused damage to both myself and also to my relationship with God. You see, holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who ends up getting burned. Buried anger can leak out against others who've committed no crime against us, as well as colouring all our experiences, and ruining our ability to feel joy in many aspects of life.
So, following Paul's advice, we need to be the ones who initiate forgiveness and model the process for others. American pastor Rick Warren suggests if more people knew what real forgiveness looked like, they’d be much more willing to forgive instead of holding onto past hurts at an unhealthy level. Let me offer 6 steps which you may find helpful.
1. Recognise that no one is perfect. We will all get cross from time to time with people, and be hurt by others. It is natural, and should not be denied nor should we carry a sense of guilt about getting angry. It is what we do with this emotion that is important.
2. Stop repeatedly focussing on the person. By focusing on that person, you are allowing them to control you and giving them power. When you think about this person or event, you’ll get a lot of adrenaline, and this can become addictive. Instead, refocus on God’s purpose for your life, which is greater than any problem or pain you might be currently facing.
3. Don't expect instant results. Forgiving others will not be an instantaneous act, but rather a process over time that includes letting go of negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, and replacing those with positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviours toward the offender.
4. Remember, they too are a child of God. When we hate somebody, we tend to lose our perspective about that person. When we’re filled with resentment and bitterness and hurt, we tend to dehumanise the offender instead of seeing them as someone that God loves deeply, and for whom Christ died.
5. Pray for them. Pray for the one who hurt you; ask God to reveal his love to your offender. Doing so will help you to release any remaining resentment.
6. Forgiveness is good for you! When you forgive others, those nagging, negative thoughts will often go away, and research shows you'll experience less fear, anger, and depression, not to mention improved sleep, less physical pain, better cardiac function, and increased life satisfaction; it’ll change your leadership and change you.
The saying "Don't get mad, get even" is familiar to many of us; however, while we may deserve to retaliate, it will ultimately do us no good. There is a Chinese proverb which says, “If you’re going to pursue revenge, you’d better dig two graves” Jesus came to conquer the grave, so let us together model a different way in leadership, as suggested by Paul.