I forgive you. How could three words, four syllables be so hard to say? I'm sure there are some who would tell me: You do not know the pain I have suffered, you cannot begin to fathom what they have done to me, I didn't deserve to be treated the way I was treated, they don't even care that they have hurt me, and the list goes on. How could I possibly know what you might say in your defense? Well, I'm sure I have thought the very same thoughts...my list is longer...and I'm sure yours could be too.
I struggle with forgiveness. It is especially hard to forgive someone when they never ask for it and they are not sorry for what they have done. Or when they continue to hurt you or the people you love. You are finally able to forgive and than another situation arises.
There are many instances I could share but I will go back over twenty years. I was on my internship and I was looking forward to my youngest brother graduating from highschool. I had talked to my Pastor at the beginning of my internship letting him know when it was and he told me that when the time came we would work it out.
My intership Pastor did not keep his promise and in fact he told me I would fail my internship if I went home for my brothers highschool graudation. My internship was a huge struggle and challenge...I worked with a Pastor who had a type A personality. I am the opposite. I tried to live up to his standards...and I never could. I made mistakes and I was not a perfect intern. But I did the best I could in the circumstances I found myself in. I loved the people at my church and if they would have known, what was going on...they would have been devestated.
It took me a long time to get over missing my brother's graduation. To this day when I see pictures, my eyes fill with tears.
I forgave the Pastor a long time ago. He never asked for my forgiveness and I'm sure he would tell you he made the right decision in not letting me go.
I learned a long time ago the only person you hurt when you do not forgive is yourself. You begin to sink into slimey pit of self-pity and you become stuck in the sin of your unforgiveness. God asks us to do the unthinkable from our point of view to forgive. God commands us to forgive as He has forgiven us.
We can become chained to our bitterness and anger. We get so caught up in what happened to us in the past...we miss the gifts of the present. We keep a list of the wrongs that have been done to us and it becomes so long we cannot even begin to carry the burden of it around with us anymore.
I believe God commands us to forgive for our own good. We have a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness.
I recently found an article in Focus on the Family on forgiveness. I would like to share it with you.
Clearing up common misconceptions
by Laura Petherbridge
Angela knew she needed to forgive Leslie, but she didn't know how. After all, Leslie had betrayed their friendship by sharing conversations that were meant to stay private. But Angela knew that if she didn't get rid of her anger and forgive, the bitterness might consume her.
During more than 20 years as a speaker and teacher, I've encountered a vast number of people who are struggling to forgive someone. They understand the importance of forgiveness. But few have been taught how to do it. The cycle of bitterness and revenge continues often due to an inaccurate view of forgiveness. A number of resources explain what forgiveness is, but there is little that helps a person understand what it is not. And that is often the key.
1. Forgiveness is not a feeling.
If you are waiting until the feeling to forgive comes upon you, it's unlikely to occur. Forgiveness is an act of obedience to God, stemming from gratitude for His grace. And God knows that revenge, anger and rage can destroy us spiritually, emotionally and physically. Christ paid too much for His beloved ones to have them be slaves to anything, particularly hatred. He wants His children free. And a person is never free when weighed down with bitterness. When the cold shackles of revenge are tightly clasped around our wrists, it's impossible to lift our hands in praise to Him.
2. Forgiveness is not pretending you were not hurt.
Walking around with a painted-on smile when you are seething inside is not forgiveness. In Scripture we never see Jesus pretend. When He was sad, He cried (John 11:35). When He was angry, He turned over the tables in the temple (John 2:15-16). Someone has betrayed your trust, damaged your soul or caused a loss. It is OK to recognize and feel the hurt instigated by another's behavior.
3. Forgiveness is not condoning what the person did to you.
Many people hesitate to forgive because they feel as though the wrongdoer is getting away with the offense or that forgiveness will somehow condone the offender's choices. It doesn't. Instead, forgiving releases the wrongdoer from the debt she owes you and releases you from the bitterness.
4. Forgiveness is not trusting the offender.
After a betrayal, trust is not an automatic right of the offender. Forgiveness does not mean you immediately allow the person back into your life or heart. If someone is repentant and willing to work on restoring the relationship, you might be able to trust him again eventually. However, sometimes those who wound us shouldn't be trusted again. Though forgiveness should not be contingent on the perpetrator's repentance, a truly repentant person doesn't demand forgiveness or misuse Bible verses in an attempt to make you feel guilty. He humbly accepts complete responsibility for the sin and the consequences for his actions (Psalm 51), which may include giving you time to see evidence of his trustworthiness.
I have people in my life whom I have forgiven but I no longer trust because they have chosen to continue the same negative patterns that caused the offense or hurt in the first place.
5. Forgiveness is not relieving the person of responsibility.
A person shouldn't be "off the hook" from his or her responsibilities just because you choose to forgive. For example, a wife may be forgiven for placing the family in financial ruin with debt, but she should still be responsible for paying off the debt. A former husband may be forgiven for destroying his marriage with an affair, but he should still pay child support to his former wife.
Forgiveness doesn't eradicate responsibility. It's not unloving to hold someone accountable. Often accountability is the most loving thing you can do because it could lead to repentance.
Forgiveness — releasing resentment against one who has offended or hurt you — is rarely a one-time event. The pain doesn't necessarily disappear once you forgive someone. And those closest to us may hurt us repeatedly, requiring us to forgive multiple times.
The best way to step toward forgiveness is to admit that you need to forgive. Be honest with the Lord and ask Him to reveal any distorted thinking you may have about forgiveness. That often begins with discovering the difference between what forgiveness is — and what it is not.
This article first appeared in the November, 2008 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. Copyright © 2008 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge speaks and writes on relationships, spiritual growth and divorce care around the world.