Forgiveness – a recurring subject in conversations with unrelated people over the past months. This has grabbed my attention for two reasons. Firstly, we live in a world that has forgotten the need, or the value to apologise. Remorse and accountability, traditionally triggered by a fine-tuned conscience, lie in ashes on the burnt-out altar of freedom of self-assertion and gratification. If you look carefully, you may still see an occasional little plume of smoke, testifying to the life and demise of those once valuable navigation points on the compass of integrity, that we used to know as conviction and regret.
Plainly put, forgiveness lies unused in a dusty heap, discarded with so many other ‘unfashionable’ life-preservers. I see the shape of ‘concern for others’ sticking out of the heap, and look, manners and empathy lie entangled in the junk pile too
The other reason talk of forgiveness has interested me, is because of my own journey of learning to forgive. I thought I knew all about forgiveness. In fact, if I’m honest, I found it so easy, I thought there was actually very little to know about forgiveness.
I was wrong. Unsolicited violation of my trust on an imaginable scale schooled me in forgiveness. The devastating truth was that I couldn’t forgive. Frankly, at first, I didn’t even want to, so inability didn’t really matter to me. I was unquestionably the injured party in the offences and this fact just added weight to my inability to forgive. The aggrieving parties did not deserve my forgiveness, and I had justifiably removed them from my life. So, that should have been that.
Only, it wasn’t. It might have been, had I found a way to turn off my love for them. A love that was so strong I soon found I WANTED to forgive them. The realisation was crippling because I already knew that in my own capacity, I simply could not. Since God already knew that, I spoke to Him about it. It wasn’t an easy conversation and turned out to be the first of many like it.
With God’s help, I was able to forgive. I would love to say it was instant, or that it was easy. It was neither. But, it was freeing. Soon, I found I could pray for those who had hurt me – for a genuine blessing on them. I wasn’t angry anymore either. Hurt? Certainly, but not angry. I walked in freedom for a few years, until God recently burdened me to tell those I had forgiven, that I had.
At first, I refused. I mean, I was free, and the absence of contact or relationship ensured no further risk of hurt, so I saw no value in re-opening doors that were better left shut. As with all rebellion against what God has laid on my heart, I felt no peace in my resolution. At last, I conceded defeat and sent two short messages, sharing that whether it mattered or not, I felt burdened to share that I had forgiven that which had torn two valued relationships apart, and that I wished them well for the future. As my sweaty fingers pressed the send button, peace and relief flooded my anxious heart and I felt truly free.
One of those messages got an immediate reply. The other has gone unacknowledged, and this has had no impact whatsoever on my heart. The reply, however, blessed my heart in its unhesitating gratitude and simplicity. There, it was done and I thought the matter was closed.
Then, a few weeks later, I came face to face with the respondent in a gathering which neither of us could have foreseen at the time of the message. More than four years after the offence, we faced each other tentatively – testing the mettle of real forgiveness.
I realised then, that the messages were never about me. They were about freeing those who were in broken relationships with me over their devastating words and actions. Over the past few weeks, God has confirmed this for me. I was free the moment I forgave with His help, but those I had forgiven were still bound, even if only in their own minds. There were no apologies, nor do I expect there ever will be.
These conversations about forgiveness have reinforced some hard-learned beliefs about forgiveness. Forgiveness is still vital, no matter how old-fashioned the world thinks it is. Forgiveness is not something you have to (or sometimes can) do alone – Matthew 6:14-15 “In prayer, there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.”
Forgiveness is a process that begins with a choice. I once read that unforgiveness is like drinking poison in the hope that your enemy will die.
Forgiveness is a gift no one deserves, so waiting until they/ you do, is pointless. Thankfully Jesus knew that, and it did not influence His choice to forgive me. My desire to forgive, is, I believe, an extension of that love and grace.
Forgiveness is the key to freedom. Whether you need to forgive someone else, or, sometimes much harder – yourself, the act breaks the power of the past and releases life into the present and future. If you are struggling with (un)forgiveness today – the choice is yours. It’s that simple. It probably won’t be easy, but you don’t have to do it alone. Despite the misconceptions of the world, it does not require you to rebuild a relationship with anyone who hurt you – it simply releases you. Both of you. Sometimes, relationships are restored, but not always. More importantly, forgiveness is not dependent on restoration. In fact, my personal belief is that unrealistic obligations to restoration out of duty may further impede forgiveness.
Forgiveness is probably more relevant today than ever before. The world is a mess, and without the life tools in that junk heap of safeguards of humanity to stimulate the process of forgiveness, many people mistakenly believe t to be impossible. Choose forgiveness today – if not for anyone else, for you. It won’t be easy, but I promise you – it will be worth it~