First, I have to say that I’m not always very good at forgiving people. Okay, honestly, I’m hardly ever good at forgiving people. I hold grudges. I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway, even when I know it’s wrong and the only person I’m really hurting is myself. But that doesn’t stop me from holding grudges. I wonder if that’s part of my personality—if I’m hard-wired to be that way. I only wonder, because it doesn’t always feel like a conscious choice that I’m making. It’s not like I got bad service at a store and I choose not to shop there again. It goes deeper than that when the issues hit closer to my heart.
Forgiving someone who has hurt me seems so unfair. It’s even worse when I’m still angry and upset about whatever happened. Those emotions run deep and I feel really nasty on the inside—and I don’t mean just the resulting stress-induced headache of bellyache. I’m talking about dark thoughts and even darker feelings that just eat at me and get me even more upset.
Though I wish I could, I can’t control the thoughts/actions/behaviors of others. I can only control those things in myself. Even when I feel like I’m out of control, I know that all I have to do is choose to be in control again. I get to choose what I do.
That’s part of what makes forgiveness so difficult. Choosing to forgive, I mean. It’s hard. Really, really hard.
For a long time, I believed that forgiveness was only possible if the offender was sorry. I also believed that forgiving people meant that I was letting them off the hook…that I was saying that what they did was okay…that I condoned their actions. I thought I had to feel good about them in order to forgive them.
Over time, I’ve learned that none of this is true. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Forgiveness just is. It involves letting go of the ugly feelings attached to whatever happened, and making sure that the ugly feelings don't come cascading down on you when you think about whatever happened. And oh boy is it difficult.
Sometimes I wonder if there are times when God doesn’t “feel like” forgiving people, but He does it anyway. Maybe He hears a confession and thinks, “Okay, okay. You’ve done this eleventy-bazillion times before, but it’s okay. I forgive you. Work on doing better.”
And did Jesus have good feelings, loving feelings, forgiving feelings when He was hanging on the cross? I don’t claim to know, but my guess is, maybe not. But that didn’t stop Him from asking God to forgive the people who put Him there.
Forgiveness was granted “just because.”
Gosh, He sure makes it seem easy. Maybe I need to work harder on following His lead…and I need to work on remembering that by not forgiving someone, I’m standing in the way of God. Real forgiveness means that I can’t hold anyone accountable to me to make things right. If I give someone’s transgressions (including my own, because I know I do bad things and I hold grudges against myself, too) over to God, then I am choosing not to have the responsibility and the burden of wondering what to do with it. By giving it over, it’s gone, and God then becomes the one that the person has to answer to. What a relief.
As always, I read something that seems to summarize it all:
Holy God, help me to remember that Your peace and healing are supernatural. They are deeper than anything a human can produce through work or willpower. Your way will bring me blessed freedom and a release of burdens. In Your name, I pray. Amen.