Sep 15, 2012

What I am learning about Forgiveness

I have written a lot about friendship over the years, it is something I am passionate about.  I've talked about how to make friends, challenged readers to be a better friend, and talked about drama and conflict.  Now I am talking about the inevitable outcome of having friends and having conflict: Forgiveness.
forgive: verb free or pardon from penalty; absolve; to cease to feel resentment against; to cancel an indebtedness of.

Why is it so hard to forgive others?  

Pride is probably the biggest obstacle to a forgiving heart.  Pride is defined at as "a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority". Though most of us won't admit to being prideful, the reality is that it is the most common character flaw.  For some of us, pride looks like haughtiness, being judgmental, egotism, or arrogance.  For others, it looks like selfishness, conceit and vanity.  Pride says "I need to get even, because they deserve it."

Another obstacle to forgiveness is self-protection.  If a person has a history of negative experiences in relationships, which could include abuse, neglect, abandonment, rejection, or someone taking advantage of them, they may have a low tolerance for any type of mistreatment or conflict in a relationship.  This might look like an over-reaction to a seemingly minor offense, followed by rejection.  Self-protection says "I need to stay away from you, because you have the power to hurt me."

Since I am writing about forgiveness, I have to admit to struggling with forgiveness.  For years I pridefully (ahem) patted myself on the back for not struggling with this issue, I wasn't a person who held a grudge or allowed myself to get wrapped up in long-term anger at another person.  Proverbs 16:18 says "Pride goes before a fall", while this has played out in a lot of different ways in my life, it certainly has played out in the area of forgiveness.  

Inevitably someone hurt me enough, broke an unspoken expectation one too many times, or betrayed my trust and suddenly I was holding a spiky ball of resentment.  Over the years I tried to get rid of it a dozen different ways, and ultimately I have found that it's not a matter of merely hiding the spiky ball or disguising it to look like something else, but rather, it's a process of gradually transforming it and sanding it down until it is no longer dangerous.

What you need to know to start the process:

1. It's NOT about them.  It's about you.
Oddly enough, it's true.  
If we look at the Biblical Principal of forgiveness this is what a few of those verses say: 
Mark 11:25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Matthew 6:14-15 14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Notice that none of those verses (or any of the others like them in the Bible) say anything like "Forgive them, when they ask for forgiveness" or "Forgive them when you get over your anger".    No, in fact, they all say "forgive, because God forgave." 
The other person doesn't even have to admit that they did anything wrong at all!  
We teach our children to apologize when they hurt another child, regardless if they intended to hurt them.  Even as we teach our children to apologize for their wrong-doings, we don't always take the same lesson to heart.  Consider: It takes an incredibly humble spirit to come back to a person you hurt and apologize, it's the 2nd hardest thing to do.  The first would be: forgiving someone without an apology.

2. Forgive and Forget? I don't have the memory of a goldfish.
  When a conflict has caused division, often we assume that forgiveness equals reconciliation or restoration. Let's be honest though, sometimes (such as cases of abuse) it's better if a broken relationship is not restored.  Often trust has been destroyed.  
  Remember, there are natural consequences for every action.  Forgiveness and wisdom must work together.  For example, if your child steals from you, you might forgive them, but you wouldn't leave your wallet in a easily accessed location.  
  It's like the old illustration about the boy and his father.  In the story, a boy had a bad temper, and his father gave him some nails and a hammer and sent him into the backyard to hammer a nail in the fence every time he lost his temper.  He started out hammering a ton of nails in the fence and gradually learned to control his temper.  The day he didn't hammer even one nail in the fence, his father told him to remove one nail from the fence each day he controlled his temper. Eventually he removed all the nails.  
  That day, his father took him by the hand and showed him the hole-filled fence, he said "Notice all of the holes in the fence from your anger. It will never be the same. When you hurt another person, it leaves a scar, just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there."
  It is nearly impossible for us to totally forget an offense against us.  Over time, the more we practice forgiveness, we can begin to forget the negative emotions linked to that offense, and begin filling those holes with love and grace.  Then at some point, you may recall that you were hurt, but not remember what the specifics were.
  "You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well." Lewis B Smedes
3. Forgiveness is about freedom
  While we think we are controlling a situation by holding onto the little spiky ball of resentment, in reality that little spiky ball is holding onto us, and is bringing it's friends, bitterness, negativity and anger which are weighing you down, stealing your joy and making you fearful.  In reality, while you stew in your bitter resentment, the other person may or may not be thinking about you at all.  So, in effect you are wasting your time, energy, mental health and allowing "the dark side" to take over your mind and body.
Like one 900 year old Jedi Master said:
  If we are afraid to forgive because we are worried we are giving them an "out", we will open ourselves up to bitterness, which leads to suffering (recent studies by psychologist Carsten Wrosch, show how bitterness can cause long-term, serious health problems like high blood pressure and increased vulnerability to disease and internal inflammation, which can lead to heart disease and hardening of the arteries)
  By not forgiving, we may become consumed by anger, hatred, and bitterness, which may even impact our other friendships.  Who wants to be around a negative, angry person? NO ONE.

4. Forgiveness is the hardest thing you will ever do, and do, and do, and do.
  The sad reality: You have to forgive every single day.  I'm not just talking about forgiving for new hurts every day, I am talking about forgiving for old hurts every day.  Until they don't hurt anymore.  
  Matthew 18:21-22 21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
  Yet again, the scriptures don't say anything about the brother or sister apologizing, it just tells us that Jesus wants us to forgive infinitely.  I know, better said than done.

5. Forgiveness is ultimately about letting go of the need to retaliate. 
  Realize that you are giving up your right for "justice" for you, not for them.  You are forgiving them because that is what is healthy for you.  You are forgiving them to be obedient to Someone who has forgiven you.  You are showing them love and forgiveness, not because you are less valuable than they are, but rather because you are both valuable, and neither of you are perfect.  Forgiveness is a process that takes time.
"Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past." Lily Tomlin

So, how do we forgive?

1. Acknowledge your fault in the conflict.  Take time to process with a friend, ask for help to see your part or maybe even take time to talk to the person you need to forgive (if you haven't already).  Unless you were a victim of abuse or a crime (in which case, you are faultless), you will undoubtedly find that understanding your part in the conflict will help you be more merciful toward the other person.

2. Get a larger world view.  Focusing on the here and now can cause us to think that our temporary issues are too big to let go of.  Watch the news, read the paper, get perspective on the scope of your problem in the bigger picture. Suffering is part of life, and yours might not be the worst thing that has ever happened.

3. Consider the other person's mental state.  Maya Angelou's story of being abused and raped by her uncle, who was later murdered by another family member, could have resulted in a bitter woman.  But she says "Although he was a child molester and abused me, I never hated him, and I'm glad of that. What I realized is that people do what they know to do -- not what you think they should know." Realizing that the conflict may have been triggered by something inside the other person, will help facilitate mercy and forgiveness.

4. Pray for them daily and forgive them every time they pop into your mind.  Capture those negative thoughts, don't allow yourself to make them into a villain, and instead try to see them through a positive lens.  If you were/are in a relationship with them, they must have positive attributes to attract you in the first place.  Focus on those.

5. Don't allow yourself to become a door mat.  Forgiving someone does not mean you will repeat the same mistakes with them.  Remember to stay strong, and understand your value as a person.  Just because they are forgiven, doesn't mean there are no natural consequences for their actions.

If YOU are the person who needs to be forgiven, it's on you to apologize and ask for forgiveness, it will make the whole process go more smoothly.   Even if someone forgives you, it is not a license to act as though nothing happened.  Prayerfully consider where you need to seek forgiveness, and where you need to forgive.

Now go, and start smoothing down that little spiky ball that's holding on to you as much as you are holding on to it. 

 Linking up with:
Fresh Brewed Sundays

Scripture and a Snapshot

The Sunday Community

Ordinary Inspirations


  1. What a powerful post on the importance of forgiveness. It really is something we do and have to keep doing to keep our heart clean. Thanks for linking up with Fresh Brewed Sundays.

    1. :) thanks for stopping by, and giving me a place to link up!

  2. Amen to everything you said. This is hard stuff, but oh, how we need/must do it.

  3. This is beautiful. Thank you!


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