The difference between refusing to forgive and struggling with forgiveness is huge.
refusal vs. struggle
The first, refusing to forgive, is open rebellion against our Lord. Jesus commands us to forgive. Jesus expects us to forgive freely, completely, and consistently. Our model for forgiveness is Jesus himself. We are to “forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13).”
The second, struggling with forgiveness, is simply part of the human experience. To grant forgiveness to those who have hurt us is not natural. It is, however, part of the supernatural work of transformation that Jesus does within all who follow him.
We may think that by withholding forgiveness we inflict pain upon the one who hurt us. Honestly, while we easily recall the hurtful words or painful action of others, those who hurt us may not have given their words or actions another thought. Withholding forgiveness hurts us, not the other person. Refusing to forgive has been described as drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick.
Forgiveness does not
Forgiveness does not require inviting the offender back into your life. While a full restoration of relationship is the ultimate mark of forgiveness, some hurts are so significant and the risk for additional hurt is so profound that restoring the relationship should never happen. Forgiveness is primarily for us, not for those who have hurt us.
Forgiving the wrongdoer does not condone or minimize the action. An honest assessment of the wrong committed is healthy. Call it for what it was! Admit how much you hurt and acknowledge the guilt of the other person! Then let go of your justifiable desire to get even. Release the reasonable desire to see the other person hurt as much as they hurt you.
4 Actions Toward Forgiveness
I have found the following four actions helpful when I have been challenged to forgive another person of some attitude or action.
- Admit that I am fully capable of saying or doing whatever it was that was said or done to me. We are all human. We all make mistakes. Nobody is always at their best. When I forgive I acknowledge that every human being, myself included, is “less than perfect.” I should treat others as I would want to be treated.
- Recognize the possibility that the person did not intend to hurt me. We judge others by their actions yet judge ourselves by our intentions. We say, “I didn’t mean it the way you took it!” I recognize that I might be mistaken in what I thought I heard or believe I saw
- Remember all that Jesus has forgiven in me. When I forgive another person I am following Jesus’ example. In doing so I am honoring Jesus and thanking him for the grace and mercy he has shown to me. I have been guilty of indefensible sin. I have ignored the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Yet I am freely and completely forgiven by Jesus.
- Remove myself from the center of the hurt. My joy is not dependent upon how other people treat me. I have been forgiven by Jesus. I am part of his family. I belong to him. He calls me his own. Nothing anyone says or does to me negates this reality.
I hope this helps with your own journey toward forgiveness. If you would like to dig deeper into the subject I would gladly meet with you one-on-one. Just drop me a note, give me a call, or ask me in person the next time we see one another.