I saw this book at the library, and I reluctantly decided to check it out. I’ve been trying to move towards more sophisticated or academic works, as opposed to reading popular Christian self-help books. I looked at a few pages of Do Yourself a Favor…Forgive, however, and I figured that it may contain helpful advice on how I can forgive. Watching Joyce’s teachings on television has helped me in seasons of my life. I was also interested in how Joyce would interact with the biblical passages about God not forgiving us if we do not forgive others (Matthew 6:15; Mark 11:25-26), for I wonder how that can be reconciled with salvation by grace through faith, or God’s unconditional love.
Here are some thoughts about the book. They are not exhaustive, and I am sure that, after writing this post, I will think of things that I should have said. I do not plan on editing and re-editing this post, though! Actually, this is a pretty uncomfortable post for me to write, for it entails me revealing to the public my own flaws—-to be vulnerable, when I am not always comfortable being vulnerable, especially when there are trolls out there who love to throw people’s vulnerability back into their faces.
Anyway, here we go!
- On the one hand, the book was a disappointment because it contained the usual things that I have heard about forgiveness: that we help ourselves when we forgive, that we ourselves are flawed and need forgiveness, etc. On the other hand, maybe I still need to be reminded of those things, or to digest those things by hearing or reading them as they are laid out in a systematic format, and spoken by an authoritative voice.
- Joyce did include a few insights that were a bit eccentric, or interesting. At one point, she interpreted the concept of God not forgiving us if we do not forgive others in reference to people absorbing the sin that they refuse to forgive. Her father was angry and abusive, for example, and that was because his father was angry and abusive. In another place, she interprets Galatians 5:6, which refers to faith working through love, to mean that faith is activated by love, and she concludes that we cannot successfully employ faith in prayer if we are holding on to bitterness. I can envision one’s faith in Christ motivating a person to love, but I wonder how exactly Joyce thinks that love activates faith.
- Joyce referred to Proverbs 22:24, which says “Make no friendship with an angry man” (KJV). I had read that passage before, but it was especially meaningful to me when Joyce quoted it. I have wrestled with the question of whether Christianity requires us to be friends with everyone. On the one hand, there are passages about avoiding certain kinds of people, people who are divisive (Romans 16:17). On the other hand, I have often heard Christians say that we should love the unlovable, and that our love should be unconditional. Joyce says something to this effect in this book, and she encourages people to be concerned about their enemies’ well-being, and (if I recall correctly) even to do good to them, if there is an opportunity to do so. She talks about how God called her to show more love to her father, who had abused her in the past. At the same time, in quoting Proverbs 22:24, she does discourage being friends with angry people, for self-protection should play some role in the friendships that we make. How to balance all of these considerations, I do not know. I “balance” them in my own way, I suppose, but I have probably given certain considerations more weight than others. Sometimes, I have erred in the direction of trying to love the unlovable, even if that unlovable person is making me feel like garbage and is even alienating friends or potential friends from me, since that person’s obnoxious behavior (and my toleration of it) reflects poorly on me; at other times, I prioritize self-protection (particularly in terms of my feelings) over trying to love the unlovable. This can be good and bad. I do not think that I should be totally self-protective of my feelings, for I should be strong enough in the Lord to be able to withstand what comes at me, rather than expecting people (and social settings) to fit my model of perfection.
- The problem, for me, is not so much forgetting the past, even though that, indeed, is difficult. My problem is continuing relationships in the present. I have difficulty being in relationships in which I feel continually disrespected, or ignored, or belittled, or ridiculed. I have issues with insecurity, as well. Granted, memories of past experiences of these things do make me bitter, but, even if those memories were not as prominent in my mind, I would still be reluctant to be in those kinds of relationships. I guess what I am saying is this: my problem is not just that so-and-so WAS an asshole, but that he or she IS an asshole. This brings me to my next point.
- According to Joyce, there is a time for confrontation. That is uncomfortable for me, but there are Scriptures that back this up (I think of Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 18:15). Yet, Joyce also says that there are times when one should not confront but should simply let an offense go: Proverbs 10:12 and I Peter 4:8 say that love covers offenses. That brings me to my next point.
- I find that, on some level, I can forgive things that irritate me. None of us is perfect, and I am sure that I irritate other people. Moreover, as Joyce says, it is unrealistic for me to expect things to go my way all of the time. Regarding some of the things that Joyce talks about in that book, however, I question whether forgiveness is even appropriate. Some things seem to me to be so bad that they should not be forgiven, and to expect people simply to turn off their anger like it is a light-switch is unrealistic. At the same time, I do believe that it is important to value everyone, even those who have offended or hurt us, as people with their own story.
- Joyce says that we should not expose people’s faults to others, for we would not want others to do that to us. Obviously, there are times when people should expose people’s faults to others, and Joyce would most likely agree: I think of cases of abuse. But I do agree that I should not slander people who have offended me. Even if I struggle with unforgiveness, I should still practice the Golden Rule, and remember that even those who have hurt me are people.
- Joyce says that God will not answer our prayers if we are holding on to bitterness, yet she says that God still loves us. There are biblical passages that she quotes: Mark 11:25, which says that we should forgive when we stand praying; I Timothy 2:8, which affirms that we should pray and lift up holy hands without wrath; Colossians 3:8, which mentions getting rid of malice. At the same time, she also says that, if we struggle with anger, then we should go to Doctor Jesus and he will help us. So can we come to God with our imperfections, or do we have to put anger away before or when we pray? Can I even do that? Plus, I can think of some pretty angry Psalms! Personally, what makes sense to me is, not trying to get rid of my anger totally, for I doubt that is even possible, but rather asking God to mold my anger into something positive, to make me more loving or empathetic, as I talk about here. That may contradict some of the Scriptures Joyce cites, though.
- A point that Joyce makes is that trusting in the sovereignty of God can redress certain negative emotions that we have. If we struggle with jealousy, for example, we can remind ourselves that we have our own place in God’s plan, and that God will bless us in God’s good time. We can trust in God and God’s love, without stressing out or comparing ourselves with others, in short. That’s fine, but Joyce also seems to suggest that our anger or unforgiveness can somehow obstruct this process. That makes me insecure, and it also brings me to my next point.
- As I read this book the past few days, I was in a rather placid mood, and so what Joyce was saying made sense to me. “God will only answer my prayers if I am forgiving? Well, I feel no ill will towards anyone right now! I’m good!” But, in my opinion, I would be remiss to rest my assurance or faith on how I am doing on any given day, for I do have bad days. I guess that my policy is to keep praying, whatever my state of mind is. Does God answer my prayers? Well, there are times when I look back and believe that God has answered my prayers, even though I was far from perfect when I prayed; I cannot prove that those were answers to prayer, however, for they can probably be explained without recourse to God. Right now, things are rather slow, so I have my doubts that God is answering my prayers. Joyce’s statement that God will not answer prayer if a person is bitter sounds rather plausible to me right now, whether or not it is true!
- When Joyce was writing this book, her brother, a veteran, died in a homeless shelter. On pages 181ff., Joyce addresses the question that was in my mind: “Why is Joyce in ministry helping people all over the world, and her own brother was living in a homeless shelter?” She talks about how she and her husband tried to help her brother, but he could not get his life in order. I am not sure what to say about her response, but she did identify the question that was on my, and probably other readers’, mind.
- Joyce is critical of wasting one’s years with bitterness. She laments that people let grudges disrupt the fellowship that they could have had with the people they refused to forgive. Speaking for myself, I wonder if I am really missing much, in that department. I have a hard time regretting not being in certain relationships. On the other hand, loneliness is not good, either.
- Joyce addresses the problem of evil and essentially says that God’s ways are not our ways. She doubts that God causes evil, but she believes that he can use it for good. She also says that belief in God, notwithstanding the existence of evil, at least gives her hope. I do not totally dismiss this. It depends on the context. If the context is a debate about the existence of God, then I can understand if an atheist would deem that spiel to be a cop-out. If a person has other reasons to believe in God—-personal, intellectual, intuitive, etc.—-then what Joyce says may make sense.