In a world of opinions, strong personalities and relationships gone bad, it would be easy to hold resentments, and to reside in the swirl of who is right and who is wrong.
What does it mean to forgive?
Forgiveness can mean a variety things to many people. For some, forgiveness holds deeply spiritual roots, and perhaps implies a divine sense of the word that completely erases past errors. Therefore, forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply may seem impossible, or even wrong – – particularly if the person hasn’t apologized or changed. Some might wonder how to go forward to pardon an error when the other person hasn’t repented.
For some, substituting another phrase such as “letting go,” in place of “forgiveness” more accurately expresses the idea. The intent has less to do with the person who has wronged us, and is more focused on dropping unhealthy responses that can hold us back. Take it from me, whatever your feelings on forgiveness, it is healthier than living in anger and resentment.
For many, the saying, “forgive and forget,” comes to mind, but forgiveness doesn’t always require forgetting.
If we’re lied to, stolen from, treated with indifference, subjected to angry outbursts, maligned or in some other way hurt–forgetting the past and letting our guard down completely is probably not the wisest course. That sort of forgiveness may come across as an invitation: “I’m a rug. Wipe your feet on me!”
Forgetting bad behavior can make us vulnerable to repeated attacks. If a dog bites us, we’ll be wary of that dog in the future. That doesn’t mean the dog will definitely bite us again, but expecting that it won’t isn’t logical.
Forgiveness also doesn’t erase the consequences of bad behavior. A crime victim may “forgive” their assailant, but that doesn’t mean the jail sentence is automatically lessened – – even if the perpetrator admits wrongdoing and promises to change.
A gambling addict may stop going to the casino, but the havoc wreaked on finances doesn’t disappear with changing the pattern. If a person borrows money and never pays it back, their reputation suffers.
It’s similar for us and those who spitefully hurt us. Once relationships are damaged, even if it is a family member who eventually wants to reconcile, our forgiveness doesn’t instantly restore trust we once shared. Our forgiveness of past behavior does not require we forget and act as if nothing ever happened.
Counselors will tell you that the term “forgiveness” is defined as ceasing to feel angry or resentful. This meaning focuses on letting go of emotions that can cause distress. It’s the definition intended in most discussions on forgiveness today.
Letting go of deeply embedded emotions and resolving unhealthy resentment that can contribute to anger and guilt can be beneficial. That’s why the concept of forgiveness, regardless of the wrongdoer’s presence or attitude, has become so popular. Forgiveness, for your own benefit, is therapeutic.
In fact, forgiveness is necessary in letting go of anger. While anger can be a natural response to the experience of a friend of family member’s rejection, and anger can be healthy and help you move beyond sadness, if the anger is troubling to you or becomes overwhelming, forgiveness can help.
For many years, I have been miserable and angry about a major loss of a family member in my life–someone who was so very dear to me. It hit me out of the blue and I was frustrated, hurt, and consumed by thoughts of this person and our relationship. Then, at one point, I felt guilty for feeling so angry.
What I didn’t see then, was that in refusing to forgive, I couldn’t quite let go enough to move forward in peace. By holding onto blame and anger, I gave this person power over my very emotions. And let me tell you, these emotions made me miserable and were all consuming.
Sometimes, the hurt is so great, that you may feel forgiveness is impossible, unjust, or are angry at the thought of it, don’t feel bad, I did too. Perhaps later, you will feel differently–maybe you can find a way to let go.
While it seems impossible to live in the midst of forgiveness when shrapnel is flying about your life, it can be the only way to get on with your own life. You may hate what the person has done, and not be able to pardon their error, but you can still live in love. After all, “we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God.” I have sinned my entire life and yet, Jesus still opens his arms wide and welcomes me back into the fold. If He forgives me for my transgressions, then I am also compelled to forgive. If we can get past the pain, we can find peace to go on in Him.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
1 Corinthians 13:4 – 6 NIV