“My idea of forgiveness is letting go of resentment that does not serve your better interest, ridding yourself of negative thoughts. All they do is make you miserable. Believe me, you can fret and fume all you want, but whoever it was that wronged you is not suffering from your anguish whatsoever.”- Della Reese
Why is it so hard to forgive? Why do we feel as though by forgiving someone, we’re doing ourselves some kind of injustice? Is it really fair to just forgive someone who caused us so much pain? Don’t they deserve our hatred instead of our forgiveness?
It seems as though only anger is instant and well justified. It alerts us of danger and gives us the power to protect ourselves. Forgiveness on the other hand is something we couldn’t easily understand and seems to benefit the offender more than it would benefit us. But if such is the case, why even think about it? Could it be because there comes a point in our lives when anger is no longer enough to help us?
What Forgiveness Is Not:
1. Forgiveness is not about denial
One of the first things we must realize is that forgiveness is never about denial. To deny our hurt is to also deny that there is any need for forgiveness.
There are some people who find it easier to deny rather than to go through the whole process of forgiveness. They deem it easier to pretend as though nothing has ever happened, no one has ever offended them and they therefore have no responsibility anymore whether to choose forgiveness or not.
Denying however does not really take away the wound caused by the offense. It doesn’t take away the anger. The anger and the hurt just gets buried, concealed well from sight and hence, hidden away also from healing.
“When a deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive” – Alan Paton quotes
2. Forgiveness is not about forgetting
Forgetting is almost the same as denial such that they are both mechanisms for escape. While denial doesn’t even entertain the idea of getting hurt, forgetting finds no way of dismissing the hurt without also dismissing the lessons learned from one’s pain.
If you say that forgetfulness is all that you need to forgive, it’s like saying your wounds have healed just because you forgot you had them. Wounds don’t heal by forgetting. On the other hand, we need more awareness and consciousness in order to bring about the healing we desire.
“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”- Thomas S. Szasz
3. Forgiveness is not about remaining in an abusive relationship
To forgive someone is not the same as to restore one’s relationship to that person. It is not the same as remaining in an abusive relationship that causes us harm.
To forgive is to recognize an offense and to seek healing from the wounds caused by that offense. If we have truly recognized the cause for our wounds, we wouldn’t want to just forget about everything and continue in a relationship that only causes us pain. We can forgive but we are not obliged to continue trusting in the person who cannot respect us and give us the love we truly deserve.
4. Forgiveness is not about the absence of justice
Being able to forgive someone doesn’t mean that the person would no longer suffer the consequences of his actions. We may let go of our anger for that person, we may understand, but that doesn’t mean the offender can continue to enjoy our friendship the way he used to. The restoration of a relationship is very different from the healing of a wound that needs to be forgiven.
Justice is letting that person suffer the natural consequences of his actions in order for him to learn and make way for change. Even if we do not impose punishment upon them, even if we forgive, justice will still find its way. The first consequence is the loss of our friendship. The succeeding consequences are the loss of his other relationships if he continues to be the way he is.
The other form of justice benefits the one who is offended. How? By forgiving and letting go of one’s hurts, the offended renders justice unto himself. He becomes good to himself and does not remain unfair to himself by carrying all the emotional weight caused by the offense.
“Never does the human soul appear so strong as when it foregoes revenge and dares to forgive an injury” – Edwin Hubbel Chapin
What Forgiveness Is:
1. Forgiveness is seeking healing from someone who can give it to you.
The problem with unforgiveness is that it seeks healing from the same person who caused us pain. We think that with our anger, we can force the offender to apologize and to make up for all the wrong things he has done to us. But such a path of thinking only gives our power away to someone who is least capable of healing us. How can we expect him to change in a very short span of time and make a complete turnaround from being a villain to being an angel of healing?
What if he doesn’t change? Does it mean we’re already doomed in our pain? Does it mean our happiness depends upon his hands alone?
“Forgiveness is no longer expecting healing from the same person who caused you pain.”
It is not about denying your hurt; it isn’t even about forgetting the wrong done against you. But it’s in ceasing to ask something from someone who isn’t capable of giving you what you’re asking for.
Forgiveness does not start with the offender. It doesn’t start when he says he is sorry for causing you pain.
Forgiveness starts when you choose to forgive that person without any cooperation on his part. Forgiveness starts with acknowledging that it is within your power to forgive and to seek healing from the right people God sends your way.
“Sincere forgiveness isn’t colored with expectations that the other person apologize or change. Don’t worry whether or not they finally understand you. Love them and release them. Life feeds back truth to people in its own way and time.” – Sara Paddison
Quite often, we couldn’t recognize the support available to us because we’re only focused with the offender. When we decide to forgive, we take our eyes off of him and begin to see other sources of healing and even love. There is always help available for us. Even in times when we think nobody is there for us, God is always there, ready to comfort us in our darkest hours and guide us towards healing. Who else could know the path of healing other than Him who also knew pain? When Jesus suffered for us, didn’t he open the way for us to approach Him in our hurts?
Could anyone nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the LORD? – Sirach 28:3
2. Forgiveness is an act of mercy (towards self and the offender)
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7
What is an act of mercy? It is to give someone that which he doesn’t truly deserve. It is to acknowledge that power comes not from the one who receives but from the one who is able to give.
“He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has need to be forgiven.” – George Herbert
Everyone has faults and imperfections. It may be true that in our eyes, the offender has greater faults and deserves just punishment, but aren’t we all guilty also of sin one way or the other? If our perspective about sin is that it should always be punished, then we are only condemning ourselves.
Notice how harsh we’ve often been not only to others but to ourselves. When we give no room for people including ourselves to make mistakes, we give ourselves no room to breathe or to be loved. Justice is but the minimum requirement for relationships, but it is only in mercy and forgiveness where we can find the fullness of love.
“He who is devoid of the power to forgive, is devoid of the power to love.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.
3. Forgiveness is letting God, trusting both in His justice and His mercy.
When we forgive, we let go of a lot of our burdens, and this includes our desire to render to our offender what he deserves. Does he deserve punishment for his offense? Does he deserve mercy? Does he deserve a new opportunity to change? Only God knows.
If we concern ourselves about such things, we’d only be carrying a weight we couldn’t bear. All that we should care about is our healing, trusting that God would be the one to take care of the other things, including the life of the one who hurt us.
“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again.” – Dag Hammarskjold
4. Forgiveness is moving on towards freedom.
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” – Catherine Ponder
Forgiveness is freeing yourself from all the negative emotions that bind you to your offender, to your past, and to your wound. Without forgiveness, you would always be looking back to that time of pain and suffering. You would live your life as if all your days were days of anguish spent with the one who hurt you.
No matter how you want to, you could no longer change the past. We could only learn from it and hope that we become better people who are now stronger and wiser to face the new challenges coming our way. Our fate doesn’t stop with one tragedy. As long as we’re alive, we have the chance to move our lives closer to our desires. We can do something. We can set ourselves free and move on.
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes
We start to think about forgiveness when everything else we’ve tried including hate and revenge could no longer work for our good. Our health may have suffered. Our relationships may have been affected. Our dreams may have been put on hold all because we couldn’t let go of our past hurts.
The first step to forgiveness is not to deny that we’ve been hurt but to acknowledge how wounded we were. It shouldn’t stop there however. We should then seek for healing from those who are ready to support us until we’re able to start again.
To forgive is to be kind to ourselves and to all of those who truly care for us. It is to release ourselves from burdens God has already decided to place upon His shoulders.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s more difficult to continue living in a downward spiral of negative emotions where there is no hope for change nor redemption. The path to forgiveness is the more courageous path. It is taking one brave step at a time towards freedom and true happiness.
Heaven is forgiveness. Being forgiven. And being able to forgive. Forgiveness brings peace. Forgiveness unites us and builds bridges where we once built walls. Forgiveness allows us to lay down our burdens, our guilt, our anger. When we finally find healing and wholeness, we find forgiveness as well. Forgiveness is what we call as heaven.
“To forgive is the highest, most beautiful form of love. In return, you will receive untold peace and happiness.” – Robert Muller
The above article is an excerpt from my book MEND MY BROKEN HEART(read more…) .