Have you ever experienced a moment when a small offense creates a movie down memory lane, playing back all the times you’ve been offended? Perhaps you get into an argument with someone and as you isolate yourself to cry, you find yourself not only crying for the bad moment you just experienced, but you start remembering all the other bad moments you may have experienced with that person in the past.
Suddenly, you are not only upset at what just happened, but you are furious because of all the times this person has failed you. You calm yourself down and decide you will forgive and move on. However, a week or two ahead, you find yourself reliving the same pattern. And once again, memory lane includes all the times this person has failed you, plus the recent argument you had two weeks ago.
And so you wonder, have I truly forgiven if I continue to remember every wrongdoing? Am I wrong because it still hurts to remember? How do I get past this? Before you answer, let’s talk a little bit about forgiveness.
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS
To forgive is to stop feeling resentful or angry toward someone for an offense, mistake, or flaw. It is a journey that we have to choose. Forgiveness is saying, “Although you did wrong, I still choose to let it go.” Forgiveness is realizing, “Although you don’t even know you’ve hurt me, I can and will move forward.” Forgiveness is deciding, “Although you have offended me, this situation will not keep hold of my heart.”
Jesus followers know that as we forgive, our Father in heaven will also forgive us (Matthew 6:15). So, as believers, forgiveness goes beyond ourselves and into an act of obedience towards our Heavenly Father. It is to let go, and let God take over the circumstance. It is to bring the weight of the situation to the feet of Jesus.
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT
Just as important as knowing what forgiveness is, is recognizing what it is not. Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you are waiting for a moment when suddenly you feel like forgiving, or when the hurt and bitterness just melts away, you are waiting for the wrong thing. Forgiveness is not passive.
When we forgive, we should understand that forgiving does not involve excusing wrong behavior. It is by no means a suggestion that whatever may have been done to us was acceptable or okay. Forgiveness does not require a return to a situation or relationship that may not be good for us.
The choice to forgive should not be contingent upon receiving an apology or seeing evidence of remorse. Because it’s between us and God, our act of forgiveness, has little to do with the person causing the offense. Forgiving them doesn’t free them of accountability, nor does it imply our trust.
HOW TO FORGIVE
So how does one let go of pain and deep feelings of offense? Forgiveness is no easy task. The emotions run high when we are offended. And even more so when we feel hurt or betrayed. Thankfully, God is not intimidated by those emotions, as strong they may be.
The first step is recognizing how you feel. No matter how small the offense, recognize it, confess it, say it to God. Tell him the specifics of what pained you and why you might even feel like you shouldn’t forgive. Get honest and transparent. After all, God knows your heart anyway. Allow him to meet you in that vulnerable place.
Once you recognize and confess, ask God to help you. The truth is that God is forgiveness and without his help, it is really impossible to truly forgive. Forgiveness requires a heart change that only God can make. Try as we might, we can’t do that for ourselves.
And lastly, continue to take it to the cross as many times as necessary. This is because sometimes even when we want to forgive, we just can’t. We must constantly surrender that sentiment of unforgiveness. Peter asked Jesus, “How many times must I forgive?” And Jesus answered him, 70 x 7 (Matthew 18:21-22). Meaning, as many times as necessary.
There will be times when we must not only forgive a person multiple times, but we must forgive the same wrongdoing over and over, until we are free. Free from what? Freedom from feelings of vengeance and spite. Freedom from the trail of negative thoughts. Freedom from that all consuming bitterness every time we remember. The memory may not fade but it doesn’t have to be a burden any longer, and it will eventually lose its sting.
Bringing our offenses to the feet of Jesus will set us free, but what happens when we are offended by God? He is the one that can set us free from our inability to forgive but how, if he’s the one that has “offended us”?
We can feel as though God has let us down when we have an unanswered prayer, or when we feel like he blesses others more than he does us. Or maybe you’ve lost a loved one and can’t understand why God would allow that to happen.
When we don’t understand the character of God, then it will appear that he has “let us down.” But when we start to understand who he is, we can be reassured that no matter what circumstances we may find ourselves in, God is always working for our good. He is a good Father that desires the best for us. If we cry out to him, he will console us, he will listen to us and be by our side every step of the way.
Many times when we cry out, he will even reveal to us why we may be going through a circumstance. Other times he may not, but one thing he will surely do is give peace. Peace to move forward regardless of what has happened.
FORGIVENESS AND HEALING
As we choose to forgive, we must realize one more thing. Healing and forgiveness are two separate things. Although you’ve chosen to truly let go of the offense, the pain might remain for quite a while.
Someone purposely stepping on your toe is distinguished from them causing your toe to break. If someone steps on your toe, you may forgive the offense and be ready to move on. But if the toe is broken, there’s still a healing process regardless of the forgiveness that may have taken place. And to get on the road of proper healing, you may need surgery.
Jesus is the surgeon. Allow him to work within you, to heal you. But keep in mind, even after surgery and on the road to recovery, if someone were to kick that toe, or even press on sensitive areas too hard, it will likely still hurt for a while. Allow yourself time for healing. Don’t try to rush God through the process. And even if you broke your own toe, allow him to fix it. As in, forgive yourself also.
So back to the initial question, “Have I forgiven?” Only God knows the heart and whether or not you’ve truly forgiven, regardless of what it seems on the outside. Let him search your heart and restore it. Forgive others, forgive yourself, forgive God, and allow Jesus to heal you. Forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight, it’s a process. But it is also a choice. Choose to walk in the freedom that forgiveness truly is.