Today is Forgiveness Day - a day in which it is recommended to end disputes and get along with one another again. Sounds so easy, doesn't it? Forgiveness is often anything but easy.
Though most of us theoretically understand the value of forgiving, misconceptions about forgiveness leave us with an internal struggle. During my years of recovery and seeking God, I have learned to combat these misconceptions. Knowing the truth about forgiveness empowers us to take those first steps into the forgiveness process. So today, I do not offer up a step-by-step plan in how to forgive, but I share with you some of what I have learned about forgiveness in order to offer hope for those who are struggling to enter the forgiveness process or feel stuck in the midst of it.
- Some offenses truly are unforgivable, yet forgiveness is possible.
I won't list what is forgivable or unforgivable because each person's experience and pain due to the offense is unique. By acknowledging something as unforgivable leaves us with only two options - 1) hold onto the resentment and not forgive, or 2) fully rely on the One that has no limitations and has experienced forgiving your unforgivable sins.
"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" Matthew 19:26
Coming to the end of ourselves and acknowledging our incapacity to forgive actually gives us the best probability of truly forgiving because we will rely on God rather than self to complete the transaction.
- Forgiveness is not condoning or dismissing.
If we give an excuse for or pass off the wrong or hurtful behavior as inconsequential or insignificant then is there really anything to forgive? In order to truly forgive, the process needs to be one of honesty. Acknowledging specific offenses and their effects provides a very tangible road to forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting.
The key isn't forgetting - the key is to not idolize the offense but instead enter a process of discovery... "What aspect of my pain will I entrust to God today? What is His perspective? What is possible if I respond in the ways He leads?" There is something very powerful about remembering - it provides a measuring stick for the depth of the pit in which we have been rescued, giving resolve, trust, and peace for current or future hardships.
- Forgiveness does not mean you must trust or reconcile.
There are those who would have us believe we have not truly forgiven if we are not showing trust for or have not reconciled our relationship with the offender. This is simply not true. Both trust and reconciliation are greatly dependent upon the actions and mindset of the offender and are a completely separate process from that of forgiveness. Some people remain unsafe. Forgiveness is more about what's happening between us and God.
- If resentments resurface, it doesn't mean you failed at forgiving the first time.
A dear friend of mine cried as she confessed, "I really thought I had forgiven him." She discovered the debilitating pain she was experiencing in her feet was likely caused by physical abuse she endured as a child. Prior to this discovery, she had forgiven this man, but now she felt angry all over again. New emotions are conjured up when a new offense is made, or if we make a new discovery or mature in our understanding of our past circumstances. This doesn't mean the forgiveness we had wasn't valid or true, it simply means there is a new offense that can be taken through the same forgiveness process as all the ones before it.
At one point I asked God, "Can you please just help me 'want to' forgive because right now I don't want to?" Breaking down my misconceptions of forgiveness helped me step more confidently into a willingness to forgive. I truly believe a full and abundant life was not possible for me without the process of learning to forgive others, and it has given me a much deeper understanding of God and His forgiveness for me.
Is this list in any way contradictory to the way you've viewed or understood forgiveness? What is challenging or helpful for you in this process? How can I pray for you or come alongside you?
If you would like additional support in your journey to forgive, please reach out! It would be my privilege to come alongside and support you. The first session is always free (click here to learn more and set up your free session). Another resource I highly recommend for this process is Celebrate Recovery (click here to learn more or find a group near you).