Forgiveness. This one word elicits so many questions. How do you forgive? How do you know you have forgiven someone? Why do you have to forgive? Why can’t you just take your heartache and hurt and never look back? Does forgiving mean forgetting?
Forgiveness is a process. It is not easy, and it does not happen immediately. It is something that some of us want and others blatantly reject. But most certainly, it is something that many of us do not understand. It does not always come naturally for us because sometimes we get stuck holding onto things. We replay memories and conversations we would like to have with the person who hurt us over and over in our heads. Our minds become like an audio track on repeat. Forgiving someone IS difficult, and you can probably think of reasons not to forgive and why this person does not deserve your forgiveness. I am sure if you told me what happened I would agree- they don’t deserve forgiveness. But here’s the thing… they may not deserve forgiveness, but you deserve to be free.
Forgiveness has little to nothing to do with the wrongdoer. Forgiveness has to do with the one who has been wronged. Forgiveness is for you. Forgiveness sets you free. Free from your pain. Free from your past.
Forgiveness means no longer needing anything from the wrongdoer in your life. You no longer need the wrong to be made right, an apology, an explanation. The wrongdoer and that hurt no longer have power in your life. You forgive because you are hurt, because you are wounded, and because you want to be free.
From my experience, it seems a lot of people are resistant to forgiveness because they misunderstand what it is and what it isn’t. These misconceptions and mistruths can keep us locked in bitterness and resentment that threaten to take over our lives and relationships.
What is the truth about forgiveness? The truth is…
Forgiveness does not excuse someone’s actions or imply that what she did was not a big deal. Forgiveness is a big deal so by forgiving someone you are “saying” to her that what she did was so significant that only forgiveness can set you free. If something weren’t a big deal, then you wouldn’t need to be free from it. Forgiveness involves acknowledging and admitting the depth of your pain and the parties responsible for that pain.
Forgiveness is not a means to avoid conflict. True forgiveness does not involve stuffing your feelings or ignoring your hurt in an effort to keep the peace. This is denial, and it never works. Saying you forgive someone as a way to brush pain under the rug only plants seeds of resentment that later strangle the life out of your relationships.
Forgiveness is not tolerance. I can forgive you and even wish you well in life, but your behavior may have reached the point where I can no longer tolerate or accept it in my life. We can forgive things that we can no longer tolerate, and we can tolerate things that we never forgive. The first brings healing while the latter only brings continued hurt into our lives.
Forgiveness does not wipe out the need for justice or consequences. You can forgive someone and still allow him to experience the consequences of his actions. Forgiveness does not wipe out the need for justice, and the presence of justice does not automatically create a spirit of forgiveness. You are giving that person continued power in your life if you are waiting for justice to occur before you begin the process of forgiveness. He is determining whether you are free, not you.
Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiveness is a process that happens within you- it is intrapersonal- and it is not dependent on the other person. Reconciliation is interpersonal- it requires two people. Reconciliation requires forgiveness on your part and a commitment to and demonstration of behavior change on the other person’s part. You can have forgiveness without reconciliation, but you cannot have reconciliation without forgiveness and change.
A life of un-forgiveness is like a life kept in bondage, and forgiveness is the key to the locked door. You are hurt and angry, and you have every right to be. What happened was unfair and unexpected, and it would be so easy for you to hold onto that hurt and anger like a shield of armor. You cannot force yourself to forgive if you are not ready, but you can slowly loosen your grip on all that pain and let Light begin to enter into that dark place. That Light brings the healing, strength, and courage you need to begin stepping out of that prison of hurt. Forgiveness does not change the past; it separates and frees us from our past.
That person may not deserve forgiveness, but you deserve to be free.
In what area of your life do you need to experience freedom today? What hurt would you like to begin letting go of?