Forgiveness. As a child I often thought forgiveness resided completely in the “I’m sorry” – “I forgive you” exchange, but as time has gone on, that has often fallen short…and rather empty.
In books and on the screen alike, there are examples everywhere of forgiveness easily extended and accepted – hugeee wrongs admitted and forgotten – bridges restored – life moving happily forward. You can see where it baffled me moving into adulthood how life/relationships aren’t that simple. It aggravated me that things didn’t just fall into line like that, “like they should” in my mind.
Over time, forgiveness came with more skepticism and questions than resolution and peace. Eventually it became something that I didn’t even know how to do. I remember distinctly wishing God wrote a handbook just on how to walk out forgiveness, because the fairytale way of just saying “I forgive you” wasn’t cutting it for those monumentous, life changing hurts. I realized my heart was having trouble getting the message of what my head knew I should do/say. I’d ask people and nobody seemed to know the answers either. One piece of advice did stick with me though. A wise woman once told me that resentment and bitterness were a dangerous place to be and she couldn’t have been more right. I went through and am still dealing with a major situation in my life where it felt impossible. It was that situation that brought on questions like:
“If I forgive, am I letting this person off the hook?”
“Am I sending a message that this is ok? That I’m ok?”
“Why is it my responsibility to forgive, and so easily, when they aren’t even asking for forgiveness or frankly deserve it if they did?”
“Why would God ask this of me, it seems unfair to always have to turn the other cheek – not stand up for myself – I feel like a doormat”
“Am I just supposed to fake that everything is fine and dandy now? Just pretend when I’m angry and broken inside?”
“Why does it feel like my feelings are the ones being ignored and disregarded”
Thoughts of feeling like God cares more about a person who hurt me more than me because I’m supposed to look the other way at how they hurt me and pretend it didn’t happen. All these thoughts and questions seemed unanswered and I found myself angry. Angry that I KNEW the “right thing to do” but didn’t want to. I felt rejected and forgotten by God and distanced myself a bit out of hurt and confusion.
Forgiveness isn’t a fairytale. It’s messy. It’s not what I was trained to believe it was. If you find yourself in this place – you’re not alone. I was right there in the muck with you. So much of it didn’t make sense. Here are the cliff notes of what I’ve learned in this area. Maybe I’ll go into more depth someday.
- Forgiveness isn’t for the other person. It’s for you – for your heart.
- Forgiveness is releasing the other person and their hurts for God to deal with – cutting off its connection to you and is ability to remain baggage on your heart – stopping its ability to continue hurting you.
- Forgiveness is freedom for you to move on and forward
- Forgiveness isn’t always reciprocated with people – sometimes there is never that storybook closure we all hope for with the other person.
- Forgiveness can come with healthy boundaries
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean the action was ok or right
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to continue relationship if it’s destructive or abusive.
- Forgiveness is sometimes an ongoing process – not a one time thing
- A lot of times forgiveness is something you do just on your own, to release the person and hurt when they don’t ask for it and may never. Saying out loud to God specifically what hurt you.
- Forgiveness demands God’s kind of love, grace and empathy because we can’t do it on our own. We need Holy Spirit’s help for that.
- Find your people to come alongside you and support you through it in truth – they’re a Godsend
- Forgiveness is a gift. A tool God’s given us because he loves us and wants us to be whole and free.
- Forgiveness isn’t a fairytale. It takes work and time. Usually it’s not instantaneous – at least for the big stuff.
On the flip side of things, I’ve learned to take a hard look at myself – to work on owning up to my mistakes and wrongs and asking God to show me where I may’ve hurt someone unknowingly or unintentionally. To let things roll off me a little more. To not take things as personally as I did – we are all people who come short.
I’m far from perfect at forgiveness – nowhere near actually, but I’m learning and I have the best example in how Jesus forgives me daily. Greatly I’ve been forgiven, so great is my capacity to forgive – and let me tell you – freedom and peace is a way better landing place than in the muck and mire clinging to anger and resentment. And who knows, maybe if we have a better understanding of what forgiveness actually looks like and how to do it, we wouldn’t be so jaded by the idea of it and be able to extend it more freely in the future.
Do you have any tips for how to walk out forgiveness? Share them in the comments!