The Seven Things You Need to Know About Forgiveness
Making the choice to let go of debt and heal.
As I was waiting to board a flight recently, a woman with a pained expression walked by. “Mom, you’re talking about stuff that happened 30 years ago!” she said, tears forming in her eyes as her expression became distraught.
How often have we heard similar things, or said them ourselves? Forgiveness is hard. Very hard:
“So, what – I’m supposed to forgive the guy who got me fired just because he wanted my job?”
“Forgive my dad, after all the abuse and cruelty that ruined my childhood?”
“She was brutal, and deserves no grace. What she did was unforgiveable.”
A Wound That Won’t Heal
Betrayal, injustice, and vulnerability slash the soul. They can create a wound that won’t heal on its own. Yet Jesus said to forgive without limit (Matthew 18:21-22).
But, how do we do this? How do we do something so hard, so contrary to our very natures?
By doing what Jesus said. In a simple, clear phrase, He taught us what it means to forgive. “Forgive us our debts,” He taught the disciples to pray, “as we forgive our debtors.”
This is a metaphor of the marketplace, of finance, of a note that has gone unpaid. It would have been vivid in the minds of the Lord’s listeners. His disciples were men used to exchanging money. Men who sold fish. One who collected taxes. Ordinary tradesmen who knew the value of the Roman coins they earned.
Forgiveness means the cancellation of a debt. It means saying, in person or in your heart: “You don’t owe me anything. Our relationship is whole. Anything between us is over.” And saying that same thing every time we remember that former debt and feel pain and anger.
How Do We Do This?
But how do we do this? How, when we are owed so much, are we able to erase the full amount? Before I answer that question, let me say two things. Some reading this have been horribly abused, physically, sexually, or emotionally. The wounds you bear go very, very deep. Forgiveness is part of the process of healing, but there are other issues you must address. Seek Godly counsel as you consider how to deal with them, including professional help.
Also, I do not suggest that people are not responsible for the wrong they have done. If you need to confront someone or report them to the police or another authority, do that. You can forgive someone while seeking justice and protecting others they may hurt.
The Seven Steps
Here are some insights that have helped me as I try to forgive those who have (or who I feel have) trespassed against me. First, any wrong anyone has committed against me pales in comparison to my sin against the infinitely pure and good God of the universe. By nature and choice, I have persistently violated His will in thought, emotion, word, and conduct. If the Triune God can forgive me, can I not forgive those who have hurt me so much less than I ever have offended Him?
Second, I have wronged a lot of people. I want the forgiveness of those I have wronged. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that I, a fellow sinner, would extend forgiveness to those who have wronged me?
Third, I have let minor things become far bigger deals than they are. Things that are insignificant become dangerously magnified if you dwell on them.
Fourth, forgiveness starts with a decision: I decide that the offender owes me nothing any more. I cancel the debt.
Fifth, Sometimes I need to keep forgiving the same offense, often many times. In a quiet moment, the pain and hurt will unexpectedly resurface. Once again, I need to choose to forgive.
Sixth, I am the greatest victim of my bitterness. Smoldering rage, even if ignored or denied, is like a fire that weakens the structure that contains it. Put it out. Your soul cannot long remain healthy if the scalpel of your own hatred cuts into it time after time.
Finally, bear in mind that we cannot withhold the forgiveness God calls us to offer and expect to be used by Him as He would like. A man with a broken leg cannot run a marathon. Don’t love your spiritual disability. Fight it. Forgive.