to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong)
to stop blaming (someone)
to stop feeling anger about (something)
to stop requiring payment of (a debt that is owed)
Forgiveness is a tough subject to address. To properly deal with it requires drudging up old feelings, confronting ourselves (and others) with painful truths that have been buried. It can be like pulling the scab off of a wound and pouring salt in it. Painful. Something we’d rather not think about and pretend to have moved on. But what happens when the stain of not forgiving manifests itself in seemingly unrelated areas of your life? How do you reconcile past hurts, forgive yourself, and continue to follow God’s command to love others as yourself?
Jesus came to do away with the law. When asked about the Ten Commandments and other Old Testament law, He answered that the law hinged upon two things: to love your God above all else and to love your neighbor as yourself. If you have done these two things, you have fulfilled the law. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. We idolize our thoughts, feelings and desires above God. We don’t love and show mercy towards others the same way we would desire to receive love and mercy. Forgiveness is something we desire to receive for ourselves, yet we feel so entitled to withhold it from others. When we commit an offense, we were just human and made a mistake. When others commit an offense, they are inhumane and deserve to be punished. To be quite honest, forgiving others is hard!
I have wrestled with negative feelings about others for quite some time. I thought I had forgiven, but as soon as another offense came (and offenses will continue to come) I was catapulted through an emotional time machine back to the original hurts. I thought I had forgiven. I thought I had let them go. I believed I was walking in love. I was not. But I am no quitter and I am determined to get this thing called forgiveness right. It is required of me not simply because Jesus commands us to, but because the forgiveness is for me. It is necessary for my spiritual, emotional and physical health. It is necessary so that I don’t continue to make the same mistakes seeking a different outcome.
As I began working through forgiveness and shedding past offenses, I felt alone and unworthy. I was accosted with lies telling me that I was the only one struggling so hard with letting go. So I began talking about it openly with friends. You cannot conquer what you are unwilling to confront and openly expose to truth. Truth will make you free. I asked a handful of my trusted friend-girls about their experiences with forgiveness and it made me feel human again. In their truth and vulnerability I found commonality. I found answers to questions I was remiss to grasp and new perspectives on how to walk out forgiving others. I also realized that I was holding a debt against myself for not being able to just get over the things that bothered me. Forgiving yourself can be the hardest thing to do. So I wanted to share some of their responses in hopes that someone else is blessed and chooses to give the gift of forgiveness to themselves and others.
How do you deal with forgiving others?
A – It’s hard and I don’t know how to say I deal with it. It’s a one day at a time situation. I can say in time I’ve learned to forgive. I look at what I may have done in the situation. I also try to limit my interaction with the person. I forgive but forgetting is sometimes an issue as well. Depending on the offense we can be cordial but TRUST I’m guarded. And it may take a while for me to be able to be around you. I guess it depends on the nature of our relationship.
B – I really don’t think I forgive anyone. Period. Or have forgiven most people. I haven’t learned how to do that without feeling like I’m giving someone power. I know forgiveness is for me, but I haven’t gotten that yet.
C – I forgive people easily, I have tried to hold a grudge/stay mad but it never worked so I just move on. I feel it’s probably the power of prayer, meaning getting it out to God and speaking to friends about things that bother me then I move on.
D – I honestly wait until the initial hurt passes and then I’m ok with it. I’m usually very forgiving, but I never forget. Sometimes I’m too forgiving. I usually pray about it.
E – I think it is important to remind myself to be compassionate. When I am able to do this I am able to be more empathic, meaning, I am less judgmental and recognize that I too have hurt someone before and was in need of forgiveness. For me, forgiveness means grace. It does not mean we have to accept inappropriate behaviors, but it does mean we are really small in the grand scheme of things and are at risk of experiencing hurt by another as long as we continue to be relational beings. Forgiveness means to give myself permission to be angry, hurt, and stuck. It means I can regress in my journey and show self-compassion.
F – Not well! I am still working through a tremendous hurt as I type. My intentional reaction is to remove the person from my life. I talk to God, my husband and a close friend about my feelings. When those thoughts of hurt pop into my head I pray through it.
How do you deal with forgiving yourself?
A – Now dealing with not being forgiven, again as cliché as it may sound all I can do is pray and hope the person finds in in their heart to forgive me. I can apologize and admit my wrongdoing but ultimately once I’ve done that I don’t know what more I can do beside give that person space.
C – I don’t have anything I haven’t forgiven myself about, my motto is “this situation was going to happen, God wrote it before it happened” therefore don’t beat yourself up about it.
D – I try to go about life doing right by people so I wouldn’t have to forgive myself, but if need be, I ask the Lord for forgiveness.
E – I think the art of forgiveness begins with how we treat ourselves. I stopped striving to be perfect. I have accepted that I am going to make tons of mistakes. I am compassionate with myself.
F – Of course I am harder on others than myself, smh. I tell myself I should not regret any past decisions. The past is the past. I learned from the experiences somehow.
How do you know when you have forgiven someone?
A – I know I’ve forgiven when I don’t feel one way or the other about them. I don’t wish bad and can actually pray for them.
C – I know I have forgiven because I’m not mad and I’m not dwelling on it in my mind.
D – I know that I’ve forgiven someone when I am willing to reach out and talk with them. I have to go through the initial stage in which I don’t want to talk with or see that person for a while. But once that’s done, I’m good to go!
E – Sometimes there may not be a finish line. I think regardless of if I have fully forgiven or not, ensuring I am taking care of myself and whatever is affecting me throughout the process is the most important goal. I think in time, and in our own time, we will know when we have accepted and forgiven.
F – When the elephant is no longer in the room. When being around them is no longer awkward for me.
I want to close this post by thanking the ladies who so openly shared their thoughts and feelings with me. I realize how vulnerable you have to be to confront your thoughts on a topic like this and I appreciate each of you trusting me. One thing I want to leave you and myself with is something one of the ladies said that instantly “clicked” with me. It allowed me to be free of the need to get it right on command:
“ I think the level and intensity of our traumas will impact our process with forgiveness. I think even when hurt or pain lingers, there is a purpose behind it. It’s just up to the individual to make meaning of this themselves and choose to heal. Forgiveness does not mean we are fully free of pain and triggers.”