Someone I love and respect very much sent me a note the other day asking if I couldn’t write a post about forgiveness – perhaps, she suggested, my forgiveness of someone who had hurt my family and me deeply. To be honest, I had to press down my frustration like mouth vomit. The sensation passed quickly enough though I am gritting my teeth writing this. I usually write whatever strikes my fancy, not requests. However, I have had some requests on this same topic so, I will acquiesce.
Forgiveness is something with which I have far more experience than I wish I had. I’m by no means a Giles Corey type character, constantly put upon, but aggrieved often enough nonetheless. Much of my travels in life have been ducky, rolling slights off my back with ease. Occasionally, some cuts have been too deep to brush off, under, or away. It’s those times when I have to work out my forgiveness muscles. Like asking God to teach you patience, learning to forgive is not something you want to pray for unless you are ready to get a lot of practice. However, it is an invaluable lesson. It is also a lesson that necessitates explanation and clarification. Forgiveness is something one can do all by themselves. Reconciliation is not.
To preserve my mind, my spirit, and my heart throughout my life, I have had to forgive people who were ignorant, horrible, hateful, vengeful, petty, evil, or mislead; sometimes all at once. Thank God the only one I have had to rely upon to help me through the process is God himself. The people who I’ve found hardest to forgive are the ones who either don’t want to be forgiven, don’t feel they need forgiveness, did what they did on purpose and have no regrets, or who wish they could do more to hurt me. That’s a tall order. People have tried to support me by confiding that they would never forgive so and so for what he did or let go of what so and so said if they found themselves in my shoes. My father never spoke to me of forgiveness, only revenge, “Revenge is a dish best served cold” in other words, long after they have forgotten they hurt you, you wollop them with something devastating. On the other hand, my mom and I had many discussions about forgiveness.
My belief has been unwavering on the matter. Forgiveness is preservative. Forgiveness isn’t for the culprit; it’s for the victim. Anger, hatred, rage, hurt, disgust, they are each their own types of venom, and each poisons the bearer. It doesn’t do a darn thing to the person who wronged me if I hate him or her until my last dying breath, but it certainly affects and damages me. So, regardless of the pain, damage, or suffering a person has caused me, it is in my own best interest to forgive him. It is in my best interest because the longer I clutch, clench, or embrace my ill feelings toward him, the more it poisons me from the inside out.
Intellectually this reasoning is easy enough to follow and may even seem relatively simply done. It isn’t. It’s especially onerous when the person you find you have to forgive hurts you over and over and over again. It’s even more difficult when the person you need to forgive has hurt someone you love. It’s those instances when I have struggled most with unforgiveness. I have never been able to forgive in the midst of an attack. Real talk, I’ve sometimes had to have a cooling off period of more than a year or so to finally forgive someone who has hurt my children. But, one thing I know for sure is that no matter how much a person has hurt me, it doesn’t come close to the pain I have caused my heavenly father with my sin. My sins drove Him to sacrifice His own son for me. That kind of sacrifice I can not even imagine. Yet, since I have been forgiven, I must also forgive. It’s the least I can do.
Fortunately, God understands human nature and human relationships. While He has commanded us to forgive as we have been forgiven; He doesn’t tell us we must reconcile with people who are unrepentant or who would continue to do us harm. It’s relatively easy to forgive someone who has come with a contrite heart, begging for forgiveness and hoping for reconciliation. That kind of forgiveness you can be quite magnanimous about. I’m sure most of us have countless experiences like those. The most fraught situations usually revolve around people who are not sorry for what they have done to you. My “sorry” mantra for my children is, “Sorry means – I won’t do it again.” Sorry can’t be a get out of jail free card, it must be a meaningful expression of repentance and a sincere desire to stop doing what you did to hurt the person in the future.
It would be cruel for God to command us to reconcile with those who would continue to do us harm or to reconcile with those who don’t care if they have hurt us. Jesus was never a mat for people to walk over. He never sat idly by while people hurt those He loved. In fact, while hanging on the cross, He said only, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He didn’t say, “Hey disciples – go party at Pontius Pilate’s House!” Jesus always called his enemies out for what they did. He loved them, and so he acknowledged their sin in the hope that they would see it themselves. Forgiveness isn’t Private Pyle’s, “Sir may I have another” like something out of Full Metal Jacket. It isn’t an invitation for the perpetrator to hurt you again. Forgiveness is an opportunity for you to give back a portion of what God has given you, and in so doing, save yourself from the poison of unforgiveness. Forgiveness is breaking free.