Forgiveness is one of those elusive things in the faith that causes us to pause.
We know that we are called to forgive. For some offenses, it seems fairly easy and understandable. But for others (and especially with people who show no remorse), it can feel impossible. But, the more I learn about and gain experience with forgiveness, the more I realize the struggle behind the struggle is really about our misunderstanding of what it is and what it isn’t.
By definition, FORGIVENESS IS the act of ceasing to feel resentment against someone who has offended us. It’s a personal choice of giving up our claim for retribution against the offense by choosing to show mercy instead.
FORGIVENESS IS NOT accepting what someone has done to you as if it’s excusable. It is possible to relinquish your resentment or claim against that person without agreeing that what they did was acceptable. You are simply choosing to move on from it for your own wellbeing and that of others who it may be affecting by offering mercy.
If you are able to work towards accepting what has happened, protect yourself, and move on, it offers the best of both worlds: protection without the harmful effects of holding a grudge.
This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
So, how do you get your mind around forgiveness?
Accept that it’s a process
Forgiveness is not a one-time thing. It’s a process that can take time—often more time than we initially assume. It’s often called the “act” of forgiving, because it’s a moving action. It’s fluid. Something that isn’t a declaration, but works along a timeline.
The first step is getting yourself mentally and emotionally ready to forgive. You have to address the issue in your own mind before you can set the anger aside enough to offer forgiveness. Accept that the incident happened, how you really feel about it, and how it affected you. All of those are valid. Don’t beat yourself up when you continue to think about the situation that hurt you and still have strong feelings about it. Complete forgiveness is a long process. Show yourself grace.
It’s a personal matter
Forgiveness is a decision on our part that must take place in our own hearts and minds. Often, it’s an internal struggle that we need God’s help managing and overcoming. Because of the personal nature, we aren’t required to notify someone when we choose to forgive them. We are called to forgive, yes. But, the act itself can remain a private matter until we deem it appropriate otherwise. It’s an inner change of heart that the person we forgive will ultimately feel from us whether we make it a point to share that information or not.
It’s not a free pass
One of the hardest parts of forgiveness is the feeling that we are somehow doing a favor to the person who hurt us. But, it’s really not about that at all. Forgiveness is not the same as tolerance. Just because we forgive someone does not mean that we need to tolerate the harmful behavior, or place ourselves in a position of having it happen to us again. If you find yourself having to forgive a habitual offender, it’s time to gauge whether or not further boundaries need to be set, or how you can protect yourself from the same behavior in the future.
It’s a chance to learn and avoid patterns
Forgiveness obviously comes at the hand of something painful in our lives. It’s not a feel-good situation. But, like many things in our walk with God, some of the biggest learning opportunities come through our painful experiences. Seek God’s wisdom regarding the situation you find yourself in and ask for clarity in lessons you may need to learn. Do you need to establish boundaries around this person? Do you need to guard your heart more closely in general? Whatever the circumstances, know that you’ve been given an opportunity to grow. Take it. By starting to see the positive that may come from the negative, the process of forgiveness becomes easier to move through.
We are all human
As much as you were hurt—and it matters—try to also accept that the person who hurt you is only human. Granted, their behavior was wrong, and isn’t to be discounted. But, they are no less human than we are, and in need of mercy and forgiveness when it’s all said and done. Empathize if at all possible with the broken parts of the person who hurt you.
Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
Freedom to move on
Forgiveness draws a line in the sand around a situation. It sets it apart so that it can be dealt with. It gives us a point of reference from which to work. A point in time when we decided that we would no longer be held back by our own anger. A point where we decided that the future freedom was more important than any fantasies we might hold about changing the past or someone else. It’s a freeing of the situation so that life can move on in a new direction without it holding you (or other innocents) back in some way.
As I mentioned in my previous post on Aggressive Forgiveness, God shows us forgiveness in a proactive way. With an eager readiness to contend with the issue at hand. He gets ahead of it, so that He can essentially put it behind Him in order to focus on other parts of His relationship with us. What better model to follow than the One who created forgiveness?
Forgiveness takes risk, courage, and patience. Allowing God to work through us in it, and work in us through it, can change our future for the better.