Forgiveness. That’s a long dang word; I mean 3 syllables? What am I, a triathlete? Some days it is a really tender, inspiring idea that you just want to go out and get tattooed (in Hebrew) on your wrist; other days it is just a stupid word that means nothing relevant to living an actual life with other people who are dumb and mean and hateful and unrepentant and complicated and also, they have a foul smell.
I have recently discovered that I haven’t always been the most forgiving person. Weird, right? I had this revelation and it was a whole thing. I am sorry that it didn’t come 30 years sooner, because I could have been a lot better not only at forgiving others, but at realizing what it truly took for others to forgive me.
Forgiving people–it is just so hard. And I’m not talking about like when Caleb didn’t start the coffee pot one morning, although that was a really difficult five minutes for everyone. I mean forgiving people for the big stuff, the kind of stuff you gotta dig deep for; you dig until you hit what you think is rock bottom, and then you keep digging. It’s work. That’s forgiving.
I’ve heard it said that forgiveness is not for the offender so much as it is for the offended–and I think that’s true, to a point. Forgiveness frees you from bitterness but it does not free you from pain. Forgiveness is painful.
Forgiveness is heavy. When you agree to forgive someone, you are freeing them from the weight of their offense–but you are taking it on. YOU get to carry that weight. Some days it feels like way too much to bear, but you can’t just give it back and you can’t forget about it or put it down.
Forgiveness is ongoing. You can’t hurt someone and ask them to forgive you and move along by the next day. Every day, sometimes, you forgive; because you’re bearing a burden. And your anger burns, and old wounds slash back open randomly, and you wonder if there’s something wrong about you, or mean about you, that you can’t just forgive and forget and be gracious and think loving thoughts even though so much time has passed.
Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. Sometimes you don’t ever forget. But you don’t get to get even. You don’t get to set things right. You don’t call shots. You don’t always stay in a close relationship with the person who hurt you–and the restorative process differs from initial forgiveness because it does often require boundaries and rules. But forgiveness is radically unconditional.
Forgiving can be so illogical. It doesn’t make sense that you would agree to carry such a heavy weight for someone who is, in all scientific likelihood, going to hurt you again. It doesn’t make sense to forgive someone who does not deserve to be forgiven. Our own instincts may tell us to run screaming in the opposite direction of forgiveness, and no one would blame us for a single second. But we do it despite what worldly logic or the opinions of others tell us.
That’s not to say forgiveness is mindless. It takes more brain power to forgive instead of walking away; it takes serious intelligence to understand what you’re doing and why by choosing forgiveness.
And because it is a choice, forgiveness requires strength. Here’s a common saying I hear when it comes to forgiving others: “Oh they’re a stronger person than I am. I could never forgive in that situation.” What I often forget when I say that, is that strength doesn’t all come from me. It comes from God, through prayer, and through the counsel and encouragement of supportive friends and family. Forgiveness takes a mother-freaking village.
Forgiveness is healing. Healing takes time. Healing restores. Forgiveness starts the building process. No relationship is without conflict, ever. Sturdy friendships and happy marriages don’t just spontaneously occur because hardships never come along; but how you are able to understand forgiveness and work together through problems can make or break the bond between two people.
Forgiveness is having a soft heart where the world tells you to toughen up and shut down. Forgiveness is moving slowly ahead even though your feet are stuck in slurpy thick wet cement. The process is long and torturous. Let people help you. Pray for guidance. Peace will come eventually.
(Going full Jesus now:)
Jesus had so much to say about forgiveness but it never went anything like “Forgive, as long as requirements A,B, and C are met. And as long as you’ve made them feel terrible for 3 months first. Or you could get even and do to them what they did to you. That could cancel out the three months. And also as long as they have lost eighty pounds and seem really sorry. P.S. Have them sign this affidavit in their own blood. Then forgive. Unless what they did was unforgivable.”
No, instead, Jesus spewed crazy talk like “Forgive seven times seventy times or more if you have to,” (Matthew 8:21-22) and “If you cannot show forgiveness to someone in this life, you cannot expect to be shown forgiveness later in the next,” (Matthew 6:14-15), and the part of the Bible where He says “If you’re about to worship God but you got beef with someone, don’t even step to this altar; go settle dat beef first because ain’t nobody got time for crap,” (Matthew 5:24).
And let’s not forget that it was Jesus Himself who literally died to love and forgive even the very people who were nailing Him to a cross and spitting in His face. Most especially if you claim to be a Christian, there is no reason for you to ever become so bitter or hateful or ugly so as not to forgive another human being who God created and who Christ died for.
I am not above Jesus. Do I think that God doesn’t see wrongdoings and struggles? Do I think for a minute that He is not in control, or that I could do a better job? “God, did you not just see the thing?!! Here let me deal out instant punishments and just basically make it rain justice! Retribution for dayz!”
Lucky for all of us, vengeance belongs to the Lord. Punishments will suck, but they will be fair, and while we might not all roast in hell for the things we’ve done to others, we will definitely answer to God for our wrongdoings in this life. I don’t actually look forward to that. But I know that He is a God of mercy and grace, and He expects us to follow the example set by Jesus by choosing forgiveness and love–for the offended, the offender, and the Creator of them both.