Every since I was young, I struggled with wanting to be accepted by those around me. This led me to act in a way that was focused on pleasing others. It led me to be taken advantage of. It led to me struggle with trusting others.
You may not be able to relate exactly to this, but chances are by the time you’re reading this, you know what it feels like to be lied to, abused, controlled, forgotten, rejected or in some other way wounded by someone you loved and trusted. I have yet to meet a person who has made it through life without facing one of these wounds. Or maybe you’re the one who caused the wounds. I have been that person too.
Because we understand what it feels like to be hurt in this way, we also know how truly challenging it can be to offer forgiveness. I’ve been there. Part of you wants to forgive them because it’s the “Christian” thing to do and the other part wants you to never forget what happened in hopes of one day getting back at them. I’ve been there too.
I grew up with two brothers and let’s just say I wasn’t the best brother towards them. Anytime they did something that upset me, all hell would break loose until we were even. I basically took “an eye for an eye” as my motto. I was never going to forgive them for what they had done. If it was with anyone outside of my brothers, I wouldn’t tell them what had happened. I held on to too many burdens in hope that I one day I would grow strong enough to carry them.
As I grew up, I tried to teach myself to forget the past. It sort of worked. I think it’s ironic that after you carry a burden for a while, it does not feel like a burden. It became a part of me, that I wouldn’t let go. I mean, it was what helped shape me into who I was. Sometimes thoughts would arise and I hoped they would just go away, or maybe I could just go away. Some things, I did forget and in some ways, I did disappear.
The longer I held on to my burdens, the more I allowed history to repeat itself. I was looked as the boy with the burdens and secrets and problems even when no one knew about my burdens and secrets and problems. I looked at myself that way too.
I’ve used to hate the way forgiveness was talked about in church. I was always told that it was “something you’re supposed to do because you’re a Christian”. The truth about forgiveness is that it is not a natural response and it isn’t for the person you’re forgiving. It’s for you. We must learn to forgive if we ever want to live a life full of joy and allow our wounds to be healed.
The word ‘forgive’ in Greek is aphiemi, which literally means to send away. So forgiveness is a refusal to continue carrying this offense and instead, a decision to send it away. I’ve learned that even when it’s hard to forgive, I’m actually choosing between living burdened and living free. I’m choosing between standing still and moving forward. And ultimately, I’m choosing to reflect the grace I’ve received and pass it on to those who have wronged me.
The New Testament contains countless stories of what forgiveness. You could choose when Jesus is hung on the cross and cries out to God saying “Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” or any of the miracles Jesus performs. But the most famous by far is the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke 15:11-31.
In a nutshell, the story goes the younger son goes to his father and demands his portion of the lot that will come after the father dies. The son goes far away and squanders his portion in reckless living. The son comes back to the father who is already waiting and demands a feast to be prepared because his son is home and the father forgives him. The older son becomes upset because he obeyed the father and never received anything, but the father tells him to be happy that his brother has returned. That’s the surface of the story.
We’re often the younger son who is begging for forgiveness from God or the older son who complains about being a good boy and not getting anything. But I do not think we are the father who forgives nearly enough.
As I wrote earlier, forgiveness is not for the person being forgiven but rather for the one forgiving. That may sound arbitrary but when you think about it, without forgiving those who have wronged you, you squander your whole life away in agony or resentment. No one should live this way.
Forgiveness is the most vital and most misunderstood step in creating the life we dream of living. Due to widespread misconceptions about what forgiveness is, and what it is not, the subject can trigger great resistance in even the most tender-hearted people. However, once understood, forgiveness will free your heart, soothe your spirit, and change the trajectory of your entire life.
Forgiveness is the release of persistent negative thoughts and feelings that you harbor about yourself, someone else, or past events. It’s the rejection of continued bad behavior. You are responsible for your personal care and safety, both emotional and physical. When someone harms you, they have demonstrated who they are, so believe them. Thinking they are different than their poor behavior is your poor judgment. Regardless of how many times the bad thing actually occurs, the first time it’s their fault.
I mean imagine how the prodigal son story would have gone if the father had not forgiven the son. The son walks up only to be dragged away by the servants. He cries out in anguish, pleading to work with the pigs or anything the father would have him do. But the father walks away. The older son enters the picture only to laugh at where the (former) son is now. That’s the end of the scene.
Obviously, that’s not the story in the bible, but I think we hold this narrative anyways. Sometimes, people are unwilling to forgive because they believe that the other person doesn’t deserve their forgiveness. This thinking is flawed. No one suffers from your non-forgiveness more than you. You may think you shackle another in chains of non-forgiveness, but you bind only yourself. It’s not about the offending person. It’s all, and only, about you. Forgiveness benefits the forgiver.
But what if you’re not at a place of forgiveness? That’s fine, but we should be making progress towards forgiving. In the same way that we are called to not be stagnant in our faith, we should not just expect a grudge or the like to disappear. We have to work on preparing ourselves to say “I forgive you”.
This is my way of forgiveness: I begin with the understanding that by holding onto non-forgiveness, I am harming myself, and by letting go of heavy negative thoughts and grudges, I free up space for new experiences of love, inspiration, success, and connectedness. I try to remind myself that forgiveness unties the chains that hold me hostage and prevent me from moving on. I acknowledge that I cannot take the actions of others personally. I pray and pray and do some more praying. Often times I notice that the reason I can’t forgive is because I haven’t expressed my thoughts and emotions with God. I look at why I am hurt and try to realize that I cannot hold onto non-forgiveness and uphold my commitment to love myself and those around me. Sometimes I’ll write out whatever comes to my mind. And then I find the best way to tell the person that I forgive them. But I believe you must be humble in forgiveness. If I have the mindset that I am forgiving you because I’m the better person or I’m more holy, I have only created a bigger problem inside me: pride.
How you forgive is not important, only that you do it. Only your freedom matters.
My challenge for whoever is reading this is that you would take these next few moments and think of those who you haven’t forgiven. Think of those who you are not able to forgive. And then work towards doing so. It is not an easy process, but I guarantee that you will feel free.