This one may take a few posts. Apologizing for something we have done is something most of us can do. Forgiving someone for something they have done to us can be incredibly challenging, so let’s take this slowly. As we begin to address the issue of forgiveness, we might do well to start by considering what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a choice, and your feelings may not agree with your decision. There may still be anger and hurt, and these feelings may be fully justified. It may take a long time for your feelings to catch up.
Forgiveness is not pretending you are not hurt. In order to truly forgive, you must acknowledge that you are hurt. Sometimes you may feel as if the slight is minor or that the person may not have intended to hurt you, but if you won’t even acknowledge to yourself that you’re hurt, you will end up just stashing the pain and/or disappointment in the junk drawer of your heart. It is easy for bitterness to take root in that kind of environment. Bitterness tends to leak out in passive aggression or an abrasive attitude.
Forgiveness is not putting yourself in line for continuing pain and abuse. Trust is given at first, but when that trust has been betrayed it can take time to rebuild it. I tell couples in pre-marriage counseling that trust is earned by the inch but lost by the mile. If a pattern of inconsiderate or abusive behavior exist, you can forgive while not putting yourself in the position to be mistreated and misused by the other person. Even when an apology is offered and forgiveness is extended, trust must be earned back – if it ever can be.
Forgiveness is not impossible. This may be hard to accept for some of you who have been hurt deeply, but forgiveness is possible. We who have been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus need to be awfully careful about withholding forgiveness from others. Forgiveness is an expression of God’s love in us, and Jesus calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45). We do not earn forgiveness by forgiving, but we forgive others because we have truly experienced forgiveness from the Father.
Jesus’ words always hit me right between the eyes —
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14,15 (ESV)
Let those words simmer in your soul a while…