Now that I have your attention…
No, it’s not that word, but sometimes the two are found in the same sentence when the whole idea of forgiveness is brought up in conversation.
This past week has given me ample opportunity to ponder just how easy it is -or isn’t- to make the choice to forgive. It is a choice, and one that regardless of your faith-walk, can be difficult to make. If you’re anything like me, you may find it difficult to forgive immediately, especially if the offense seemed deliberate. There’s a period of ruminating over the details, the thought process behind what was said and/or done, and of course re-telling your tale of woe to anyone who will listen, which, by the way, just adds another layer of forgiveness that you’ll have to dig through at a later date.
Why do we find it so hard to forgive immediately? My thought is that in our human minds, we think we’re letting the person off the hook and essentially saying, “Oh, it’s okay. No worries; it’s all good.” We believe that we’re agreeing with our offender, that it was okay to say or do whatever it was that hurt us. We don’t want to let go that quickly.
Sometimes too, it’s because our heads haven’t caught up with our hearts. Many times I’ve wrestled with letting go of an offense and just laid it before God with the truth in my heart at the time. “I’m choosing to forgive so and so. I’m forgiving from my head because I know it’s the right thing to do. I’d rather stay angry for a bit longer, so I’m counting on You to get it the 18 inches to my heart. I’m just not feeling it yet.”
I think those kinds of prayers are perfectly acceptable. God already knows that you’re not in a place of total release, but He honours your intention. He knows it’s your heart’s desire for it to become sincere and He’ll walk you through it.
“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
It’s true. As long as you are thinking about the person and stewing over what they did, you’re not really living the life you were created for. Unforgiveness creates a bi-product of bitterness. Bitterness ages your appearance, drains you of your energy, and quite honestly, you’re not that much fun to be around. Meanwhile, the person who has commited this great injustice is going about their merry way, and trust me, they’re not giving you a second thought.
I recently took a friend to see the movie, The Shack, which provided unparalleled examples of pain and forgiveness. At the time, my friend was going through a nasty divorce and was hurting badly from the betrayal and loss. After the movie ended, we grabbed a bite to eat and discussed the premise of the movie. She was still shaking.
“How could he forgive?” she railed. “I don’t get it. How could he forgive the guy who murdered his daughter?”
“I know,” I replied. “But look at what the unforgiveness was doing to him and his family.”
The main character, Mack, for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, was slowly dying in his own bitterness and taking his family down with him.
“So, what I’m to understand,” my friend continued, “is that I have to forgive my husband? Hell no. I hate him and I don’t WANT to forgive him.”
Well actually, in that case, it would be hell yes. Living with that kind of anger and bitterness to me, would be like hell on earth. I’m not particularly fond of my friend’s husband at the moment either, but I do know from my own experience, that forgiveness removes the power for that person’s actions to continue to hurt me.
Some people mistake forgiveness with forgetting, and, others still will say, that if you can’t forget, then you haven’t truly forgiven. Here’s my take on it: When I forgive someone, totally release them from any perceived offense, they are no longer held accountable. I am essentially saying “You owe me nothing. I choose not to hold you in offense any longer.” That doesn’t mean that I have to forget what the person did. In some cases, I may have learned an important lesson about that person’s character. Imagine putting your hand on a hot iron. (I don’t have to imagine this–I did it twice-yes twice- as a kid) I have learned that the one of the characteristics of an iron is that it can get very hot and can hurt me. It would not do well for me to forget this lesson. I don’t like getting burned. Likewise for people whose character has a tendency to burn others. Forgive them, pray for healing for their own brokenness- sure. But forget? Even the bible warns us about not being like a dog that returns to its own vomit. (Proverbs 26:11)
We don’t have to be hostile towards them, but we may have to set healthy boundaries that say, I would feel safer with you outside my circle of influence. At some point, it may be okay to let that person close to you again. You’ll know, but if that day never comes, that’s alright too. And, perhaps one of the most important things to know is that you don’t necessarily need to forgive them face to face. If the person asks for forgiveness, the choice is yours as to how you want to handle it, but a lot of times, the person we need to forgive doesn’t even know that they’ve hurt you, so approaching them to offer forgiveness may cause confusion and open the door to more drama. The One who cares the most about the condition of your heart is your heavenly Papa anyway, so feel free to keep it between the two of you.
As for my mentioned week of forgiveness opportunities, my list was almost as long as the week. But God.
One thing I’ve learned is that I hate the feeling of unforgiveness on the inside. It steals my joy, kills my peace, and saps my energy. Letting go of offense feels like taking off a heavy, stinky coat, and the relief is almost immediate. I like to consider it “sticking it to the enemy” when I choose not to fall for the trap that he has set for me.
“Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner” (unknown)
Forgiveness is a gift. It may be a gift to someone who doesn’t deserve it, but then again, wasn’t God’s forgiveness of my offenses a gift that I didn’t deserve?
Yes and amen.