I recently blogged about the possibility of forgiveness as an event. As it happens, I’ve also come across notes that I wrote on this subject a couple of years ago. Here they are with only minor edits for readability.
Forgiveness is something that I’ve struggled with quite a bit as an adult. I’m generally an easy going guy, so many offenses roll off of me. It takes a lot to get me angry, but when I get really get angry it can take years to push through. If I were to run into a particular former boss, or an ex-girlfriend I probably wouldn’t come across as easy going. There are a couple of things that are helpful for me to keep in mind though. I do have to remind myself of these things.
First, I’m the one that’s negatively affected by my holding on to the offense. Lack of forgiveness is how people end up becoming bitter & hard hearted. That boss I mentioned laid me off 12 years ago, even if he still remembers there’s no way he’s as upset by it today as I am. I’m the loser here, by holding on to something in the past I’m limiting what I can see right now. Put another way, I’m the greatest benefactor when I forgive.
Second, forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness is for my own benefit, to free myself from the animosity of harboring anger towards another. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the other person. I can choose to remain friends with the other person or not, independently of the choice to forgive. If I choose to break the relationship, it doesn’t mean I haven’t forgiven them. I have forgiven the ex-girlfriend, but I will not give her another opportunity to hurt me. A really powerful example of this for me is punishment for crimes. Forgiving someone for committing a crime doesn’t mean that they don’t get punishment. If everyone involved, victim, attorneys, judge & jury each forgave them, it would still be appropriate and just for them to receive and serve out a sentence. We don’t forget the crime, but forgiveness releases us from it controlling our thoughts.
Third, forgiveness isn’t an event, it’s more of a process that may need to be repeated. I forgive, gain a sense of peace, then days or weeks later (sometimes years later) I’m somehow reminded of it and my temper flares like it just happened… I have to forgive again, from start to finish all over again. I’ve forgiven both the boss and the girlfriend dozens of times, and yet writing this I’m reminded of the injustice and need to do it again.
My first three points are anecdotal. My fourth & final point is that its part of God’s plan. In Matt 6:14-15 Jesus says that we’ll be forgiven as much as we forgive others, and if we don’t forgive then we won’t be forgiven. Paul exhorts the Colossians to “bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances…” in 3:13. Knowing this, its reasonable to believe that God will help us with forgiveness. In fact I think this is part of His plan, for us to work together in community and learn forgiveness against one another while leaning on Him. I see this as somewhat like exercise, the more we forgive the easier it gets to let go of offenses.
The notable exception to all of this is forgiving God Himself. That’s a category unto its own and I’m probably no help there. I do believe that its appropriate to pray through your relationship with God at all times, even in anger. Forgiving God for perceived offenses is pretty tough. I’ve only dealt with it once and honestly don’t know how I got through it.
If you’re interested in reading about this, try The Art of Forgiving by Lewis B. Smedes. This is his 2nd book on the subject and it really helped me during the summer after a particularly difficult layoff. Pay attention to which book you get though, Smedes first book on forgiveness (called Forgive and Forget) was terrible. I didn’t connect with it at all.
I think my third point above (repeatedly forgiving the same offense) needs more exploration. Sometime soon I’ll tie this together with my previous note and reach a conclusion. This is something that I’ve considered for years, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that soon.