Forgiveness isn’t easy. When someone hurts me, my natural reaction is not forgiveness. How can I forgive something this bad?
Have you ever heard (or asked) that question?
Forgiveness isn’t our first impulse. We’ve all been hurt, and “letting it go” isn’t programmed into our menu of responses. We want to fight back, to hurt the one who hurt us.
The common phrase “don’t get mad, get even” sounds clever, but there’s really no such place as “even.” Revenge only perpetuates a hurtful cycle. To paraphrase Ghandi, eye for eye and tooth for tooth leaves us with a world full of toothless blind people.
Hurt people—hurt—people. Jeff Lucas
Until someone stops the cycle, all we have is a bunch of hurt people.
Forgiveness means letting go of anger, resentment, and desire for revenge. We don’t just forgive because it’s the right thing (it is) or because Jesus commanded it (He did). We don’t even forgive because we’ve been forgiven (we have).
We forgive because it’s the only true path away from the pain. As difficult as it is, the only way to let it go is—to let it go. It’s hard and it doesn’t seem fair and we don’t want to do it.
I don’t think we really understand forgiveness. I think we tend to confuse forgiveness with other notions that make a difficult process even more difficult.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean …
forgetfulness. Sometimes people think forgiveness means they’re supposed to wipe away the memory of horrific pain or terrible wrong. But that’s simply not possible. Pretending to forget the unforgettable creates unhealthy denial, while refusing to remember may increase the likelihood that some tragedy will be replicated.
Forgiveness means none of that. It means intentionally releasing the pain, refusing to dwell on wrongs that limit possible futures.
approval. Nothing about forgiveness implies condoning or accepting wrong. Forgiving certainly doesn’t mean hurtful actions may continue or recur.
understanding “why.” We seem to believe that knowing the rationale behind a painful event will make it easier to forgive, but I don’t think that’s usually true. Pain is pain, loss is loss, and knowing “why” won’t change those difficult realities. The demand for a reason only causes us to cling to painful events that frequently have no logical explanation anyway.
weakness. The greatest coward can seek retribution. Anyone can react impulsively when they’re hurt and lash out in a knee-jerk desire to get even. Forgiveness requires significant strength and courage.
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It demands intentional patience, wisdom, and practice. None of those are demonstrations of weakness.
So how do we do this very difficult thing? How do we forgive what feels unforgivable? How do I do what I’m supposed to do when it’s so hard and I really don’t feel like doing it anyway?
Personally, I’m trying to learn to be a bit gentler with myself. I’m trying to reduce “should’s” that weigh me down with impossible expectations. Instead of telling myself I should forgive and then beating myself up when I fail, I’m trying to say, “I want to forgive, but it’s really hard. Please help me.”
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (The Lord’s Prayer) [Matthew 6:12]
It seems that a sincere desire to forgive is what I need to bring to the table. If I do that, I’m confident that Jesus will help me with the rest.
For you, what’s the hardest aspect of forgiving?
The person who refuses to forgive burns a bridge which he himself needs to cross.