I remember being a child when I decided that forgiveness was something I would likely never understand. How can you condone or overlook the pain someone causes you? True forgiveness was an impossible idea to me. Why wouldn’t we immediately avoid and despise the people or situations that hurt us? I had no understanding of needing grace or forgiveness. To most hurt looks like manipulation, control, lies, abuse, feeling forgotten, rejected or betrayed. We have all felt these at one time or another in our lives.
My decision not to forgive over time became my suit of armor, my protection. It became part of my identity most days but especially on those tough days where life wasn’t fulfilling my expectations. I tried to forget and move on. My life did move forward, it progressed but I never really moved on. Through the ups and the downs my hurt never left me. It lurked in the corner of every room I entered. It stood in front of every person I tried to connect with. I never made the seemingly impossible choice to forgive and because of that over the years the hurt piled on.
Eventually my pain became debilitating and began to steal my ability to feel happiness. The literal inability to breathe when I knew I needed to try and trust someone became immediate and recurring. And soon I made the decision to simply not trust. It was easier and less messy. I began to see my entire world through a lens of pain and hurt. I believed that with people came inevitable deep pain and disappointment. It was palpable in every interaction. I had an immediate distrust with everyone including my parents, my husband, the barista making my coffee at Starbucks. Not only did my hurt not discriminate but it spread like wildfire leaving a pile of ashes in place of relationships and happy experiences. My self worth and value evaporated and bitterness took hold of my heart and mind.
We are often taught that the only way to be a “good Christian” is to forgive and forget. As if there is no hurt or pain attached. Like our pain isn’t worthy of acknowledgement or understanding prior to the required forgiveness. But we are human with a million different responses to pain in both tangible and intangible forms. The “forgive and forget” philosophy (to me) is inhuman and unnatural. We are programmed by nature to avoid pain, therefore forgiveness is hard, messy, undeserved and seemingly impossible. As a thirty-something year old woman, I now know this to be untrue. Even in forgiveness there will be imperfection and sin. Yet we can see that forgiveness is possible because we have been forgiven.
I knew the thing lacking in my life was forgiveness and that without it I would never fully enjoy my life. Even still I wasn’t ready or willing to forgive or ask for it myself. Things changed for me when there was nothing left for the bitterness, anger or pain to ravage. When I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the shell that I’d become I realized just how much I had given control of my life to my history, stubbornness and pride. And I had to take responsibility of my part in it all.
A very wise and dear person to me put it this way when I asked how could I possibly forgive, “I think of a time when I needed grace. The people who have hurt me are children of God just as much as I am. How would He feel knowing he forgave me but I refused to forgive them.” It took me a long time to mull over these words and fully digest them. And when I did this is what I learned.
Forgiveness is not a one size fits all event.
It looks different to everyone because the hurt varies. The depths of pain and damage are unique to each experience. We all process at our own speed of understanding. Figure out your way of acknowledging and processing your pain. Without acknowledgement of some variety there can be no forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t just for you.
The aim of forgiving someone is to reopen the door with hope of restoring the relationship. I may begin to let go but if I’ve extended my hand in an attempt to forgive and it is disregarded or unreciprocated there will always be a feeling of it being one sided. As much as one person can let go, two people forgiving one another and acknowledging the offense(s) leads to ultimate restoration.
Forgiveness is Grace in it’s purest form.
Forgiveness is not something someone comes to deserve. We are all undeserving and our hope is that people will extend grace to us. But grace like a forgiveness is a choice. Treating someone with grace is just one imperfect soul being gentle with another imperfect soul. Our ideas of perfection and expectation often cause friction and stand in the way of extending grace. Let go of expectation and perfectionism… there you will find grace and understanding, I promise.
Forgiveness is a VERB.
Forgiveness is a verb. Something we must choose again and again. In my experience forgiving someone doesn’t happen in an instant. It isn’t a momentary event that occurs and then it is over as if it never happened. The thing that hurt you may have happened in an instant but we’ve carried that pain in some cases for years. Give yourself time to be in a state of forgiving. Let forgiving become a series of actions over days or years (if needed) where with each decision to let go you restore a piece of yourself. Brick by brick deconstruct the walls that hurt built. There will be an end and the pain will have finality. When you are in the right place, you will know it is done.
Forgiveness is NOT an emotion.
Emotions lead you to the need to forgive. But forgiveness is not an emotion it is a recurring desire to be free. A desire that outweighs the need to hang on to the hurt you’ve endured.
My message here is a message of hope. I know that restoration and forgiveness are possible. For every precious morning that I am given I have chosen to be in a state of forgiving. I work every day to let go of the ideas of perfectionism and expectation that society and my experiences have taught me. Forgiveness for me is a struggle and something I am coming to understand more of each day. I will continue to be imperfect but I will persist. Whether you are reading this message with a broken heart or you are on the other side of restoration I hope you have found what you needed. I pray grace will find you where you are and that you will have a spirit of forgiveness going into this new year.
You are loved no matter what your hurt has made you believe. You are loved and cherished beyond measure because you are His.