Forgiveness is probably one of the most difficult, and misunderstood, aspects of discipleship. Of course, as Christians, we know that theoretically we should forgive others as we have been forgiven. Be honest though–have you never thought, “Well it’s a good thing God forgives them because I can’t!” Be honest.
When we have been hurt, betrayed, or otherwise deceived, feeling angry is a natural response. It’s amazing how long and how tenaciously we can hang on to that anger. We can even make it a lifelong occupation. Initial anger is natural. Anger that hangs around can become a toxic guest, spreading its tentacles into all parts of our lives.
The other thing that can get in the way of forgiveness is pride–we were hurt! They need to apologize and maybe even grovel! Forgiveness can feel like weakness, like giving in.
Let’s be clear: forgiving someone does not mean that what they did was okay. It wasn’t–if it was they would not need forgiveness. In fact, to forgive does not even require an apology. Yes, an apology makes the forgiveness path easier to follow. Acknowledging a wrong helps to find a way to mend things, if there is a way. But we can forgive even if an apology is never possible.
Forgiveness is about letting go. Forgiveness is about letting go of anger, hurt, betrayal, and the need for revenge. Forgiveness is about letting go of the burden and poison that all these feelings can bring to our hearts. Forgiveness frees our hearts and spirits, and even our bodies, from the millstone that can grind us into dust.
Forgiveness is also about acknowledging that even that horrible person, or group of people, who hurt or betrayed you, are children of God. You may never restore the relationship (nor should you in some circumstances). You will not become best friends (again, nor should you in some cases). But you will acknowledge that, like you, they are wounded and broken and despite everything, they are loved by God.
Let me say it again: this does not mean what they did is okay. This does not mean that there should not be consequences for some actions. This does not mean you have to have a relationship with them. What it does mean is dealing with everyone with compassion and with dignity, holding on to the hope that we all have in the presence of God’s love. And that can be very difficult at times. That’s when we pray. That’s when we remember that Jesus lived and taught a love that had no boundaries–for any of us.
And then we pray some more. And we re-read those passages where Jesus talks about forgiveness. And read them again. Then pray again. And we seek out the wisdom of those who have found a way to forgive a serious hurt.
Some hurts are easier to forgive than others. Some seem beyond hope of forgiveness. It may take years to find a path to forgiveness. Forgiveness takes a lot of practise. In some cases, we may never manage it. If so, then we pray for the strength and faith to at least let go of the hurt and anger. And we pray for the strength to forgive ourselves and hand it all over the strong and loving arms of God, who will bear it up and carry it and embrace us in love.
Because in the end, that is what forgiveness is all about: letting go and handing it all over to God.