If you were to skim the letters of the New Testament you would quickly surmise that the practice of forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian life. It’s a practice that all Christians are to engage in. Most people agree that forgiveness is a good idea. We become discouraged, however, when our attempts seem to fail and don’t bring the feelings we had hoped for. It’s not that forgiveness doesn’t work, it’s just that there were things you might not have been told about this life-giving Christian discipline. Here are three things you need to know to be able to forgive:
Forgiveness Is A Process
If someone bumps into you in a crowded mall or accidentally spills something in your home, forgiveness comes pretty easy. It can almost be instantaneous. We forgive them and it never really comes up again. Deep damage or more grievous wrongs might not be forgiven quite so easily. I’ve had several people confess to me that they feel guilty that they haven’t been able to fully forgive someone. They have tried, but the anger and hurt keeps coming back to their mind. I assure them that they likely have forgiven them, it’s just that they may need to continue forgiving them. Some damage has to be forgiven multiple times, even when the damaging act isn't repeated. Infidelity, betrayal, and damage to those we love are just a few of the things that may be so big that they have to be forgiven over and over. As you work through that sort of process you have to remember that you have forgiven, and you are forgiving. Stay with it. Ask God for endurance. You are doing the right thing, it’s just that some things have to be laid down several times before they stay down.
What Happened To You Matters
Some of us were taught that forgiving someone is when you tell them that what they did is no big deal. While some things are indeed small, others are not. You matter to God, and what happens to you matters as well. Forgiving isn’t saying that the wrong didn’t matter. It’s saying that the wrong mattered very much, but that you are choosing to lay it down and move on with your life. Forgiveness has to begin with an honest acknowledgment of wrong. It won’t always come from the person who has wronged you, but you have to be clear and honest about it with yourself. Only when the wrong is clear in your mind, can you choose to forgive it and set it aside.
Forgiving Isn’t Forgetting
We’ve all been told at some point to just forgive and forget. If you remember the hurt, we're told, then you haven’t forgiven it. But, that’s just not true. Some of the actions we forgive will ease from our memory, but not all, and that’s ok. We can’t make ourselves forget something. We can choose to not keep bringing it up or to not obsess over it, but we can’t choose to forget it. Memories of past hurts that have been forgiven bring less pain over time, but the memories may not go away completely. That's because the consequences of the damaging act may not go away completely. Forgiveness still has great power however, and we can move on with our lives with more freedom and more peace, once we've chosen to let it go.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s healing and incredibly powerful. If you have something that you need to forgive, talk to God about it today. If it’s really big seek help from a counselor, minister, or close friend. It may be the best decision you have made in years.