Some people don’t deserve to be forgiven. They are horrible. Some people have done the most atrocious, evil, evil things. They deserve hell.
Yet Jesus tells us to forgive so we can be forgiven. It feels like he might be crazy to ask this of us until we remember he was on the cross dying and called out a forgiveness prayer for his murderers. Who is this man?
But at any given moment, none of us are deserving of forgiveness. And yet, from the moment we ask God for it, the work is already been done. Just like that. The grievances are separated from us, never to touch us again, as big as the space between East and West.
And yet most good people I know, Christian or others, find it terribly difficult to let go of past hurts and forgive. They rehearse and rehearse, pressing the thorn of pain deeper and deeper into their flesh every time they remember what’s been done to them.
When we press the pain of a wound into the skin of our minds again and again, we are preventing God’s forgiveness and healing in that area. More importantly, we prevent ourselves from being forgiven by God for our own trespasses.
Rehearsing the wounds other people have inflicted upon us is not justice upon them or the wrong done to us. Remembering the hurt and feeling anger toward the person for it does not make them wrong, no matter how long you remember what they did. And releasing them to God and forgiving them does not mean that the events never happened. It simply takes you out of the Judge seat, which was never yours in the first place.
Let’s chat about a couple forgiveness myths here though. This gets a lot of people.
Forgive and forget is not in the Bible. Nope, it’s not a real thing. It’s not Scripture because it’s not possible. Forgiveness also does not mean forgetfulness because if I forgot every time someone bullied me or stole my money, I would be bullied and broke every day of my life. Memory is a gift so I can protect myself, but forgiving is also a gift I give myself to help me heal from the negative impact of the event and the emotions involved.
Which brings me to anger: anger is a red light, an emotion to indicate something is wrong. It is not something to be experienced on a long-term basis or it will rot and turn into resentment and bitterness, which are toxic for not only your soul and your relationship with God and the people you love, but also your physical body. (Don’t believe me? Check out this research from Stanford University.)
The writer of Hebrews said bitterness “defiles many”, no longer leaving you the luxury of keeping the pain all to yourself. Basically, when you keep resentment and bitterness in, you poison everyone else’s water too.
The person you forgive does not need to know you are forgiving them. You do not need to call them or write them a letter with all their feelings in order to make it count. Forgiveness is more for you than for them. I had to forgive a person who was dead whom I had never met, but who had a profound negative impact on my life, and this was the hardest act of forgiveness I ever had to do. It took me about a decade to move through all of the emotions, but I stuck with it.
All this said, forgiveness does not mean dying. Jesus died for the sins of the world so you do not have to. If you are in a relationship that is abusive, forgiving your partner or child does not require you to continue to endure pain or life-threatening situations. If you are able to leave the situation safely, your safety is of the utmost importance. You can forgive outside of harm’s way.
Forgiveness is not a one-time, one size fits all, event. We don’t just say “I forgive you” and move on. For most people, especially when the wound is especially huge or when the person is still offending or hurting us, forgiveness is first a journey and second a heart posture. It is the willingness to continue forgiving and letting go. Like I told you earlier, it took me about a decade to forgive a dead family member. I used to wish hell for him, and now I don’t. Now his life just makes me sad. That’s big.
Sometimes the person you have to forgive is yourself, and maybe this will be the hardest thing you ever do. It’s crazy but forgiving someone else is expected. We expect people to hurt us, at least it’s not as surprising. But we always hold ourselves to this standard. When we hurt someone else, we are shocked. “I can’t believe I would do that.” So then we hold ourselves accountable as penance. Nope. This is not going to heal you or prevent you from acting that way again. We can’t shame someone into transformation, not even yourself. So if you want to get better, you have to stop having a higher standard of holiness than God and let God’s forgiveness into this place, yes, even this unmentionable hurt. No one’s sin is bigger than the blood of Jesus.
If you’re kind of like, ‘Thanks for the motivational speech/guilt trip, but I have tried to forgive and it doesn’t work,’ something that helps me forgive is when I can see it. It helps me to write down the offenders and offenses and actually see the pain disappear, either by flushing it or lighting it on fire or writing it down and tearing it up or erasing it. The visual helps me to see the injury outside of me, leaving me. It’s not a cure all. Sometimes the pain comes back, of course, but this seems to accelerate the healing and separation process. Other people have told me this can be helpful too, so it’s not just me.
Last thing I’ll say is, There is something even bigger than forgiveness and that is blessing. Forgiveness is just bringing the score from negative 110 and to zero. It’s not keeping an account of the wrongs. It’s big, but even more than that, when we get to the place where we not only let go of the grudge but can also ask God to bless the person and do good things for them, then we are in an awesome place. This is how I know I am truly “over it”, when I want good for the other person who hurt me.
I know this is really hard stuff. I have been a victim of some pretty gross and nasty stuff. But I’ve also been a perpetrator of hurt and abuses. I am not off the hook. I am not better. I am undeserving of a clean slate, yet I have one. So I have to offer the same mercy I am continuously offered, or I don’t get the right to it. This mercy God gives us has a caveat, that as long as we let it flow through us toward others, we can have it. But if we hoard mercy, then we don’t get it. We don’t get the point. Let’s get it – it is free, after all.
She who has been forgiven much, loves much. –Jesus