To forgive means ‘to give away.’ It means that the debt you are holding you are going to write off. Instead of holding on for that last dime you feel you are owed, you are going to let go and walk away, or let go and let live. It doesn’t mean that you have to be best friends with the person you forgive. Or even like them. It means you let go of your need to get something from that person, an apology, respect, or compensation. Perhaps you are owed that stuff, but hanging on means you are linked together with that person by what is owed instead of what is given. Christ asks us to forgive.
What does it take to forgive? How can we give away our rights to get what we deserve? We have been wronged. Or, perhaps that person has behaved badly and everyone should know it. They should be made to feel how badly they behaved! They took something from you and that’s not okay. They dishonored you and you want your self-respect back and they need to give it to you. The trouble here is that you are making yourself dependent on some other person to give you respect and make you worthy. You are looking to a (broken) human being for healing from your injury. That person may never be able to give you want you want. If you stand there waiting, you will be tied into that frustration and that angry feeling of being owed forever. So, what does it take to forgive? It takes letting go. Realize that wholeness comes not from people but from God. Let go of what you are owed, and turn to God.
Why is forgiving others so hard? Because it requires us to be vulnerable. We have to change the way we think of ourselves from debt-collector to love-giver. How can we love someone (or release someone) who has wronged us? It helps to de-personalize what they have done to you. What someone does is really about that other person, not you, even if you were the unfortunate recipient of their act. What they do speaks to how they feel about themselves, or how they live their life. And if they are having a hard time, isn’t your compassion a better response?
Often times, when we are wronged, it is because that’s what happens in the world. People hurt each other just because they lash out. It has everything to do with them, not with you. If they are hurting you, or have hurt you, isn’t it better to let go and choose life for yourself?
And even good people can cause a lot of trouble! People who try to do nice things can create big messes! If someone has wronged you it is possible that they had no intention of doing harm, they were just being themselves. If someone wronged you, it may be because you just happened to be standing there, and it has nothing to do with anything about you at all. So most of the time it is not even about us. It is about them. If we decide we are going to ‘make them pay’ that’s when it becomes about us, because that’s when we make it about us. And when we do that, we get in the way of our own healing, and perhaps the healing of the other person, too.
When we serve love, we serve the world God loves and the people God loves regardless if they deserve it. We try our best, anyway! We try to live honestly as the people we are, and we recognize we are not perfect. We are forgiven when we mess things up, on purpose or by accident. That is the example Christ sets for us, and that is what he asks of us.
Don’t the people who owe us ever get what they deserve? Maybe not. It’s not our job to decide what they deserve, that’s up to God. We don’t know what God is up to in their lives. But we must have faith that God is at work in them and in us. Trust God. God can redeem any situation, even situations that have caused terrible and deep wounds. God will grow love instead of anger and hurt, and you will get so much more than you ever imagined.
What if I’m not ready to forgive? That’s okay, too. Forgiveness is a process. And sometimes we never get there. Try to be aware of how you feel. Just try to be honest with yourself.
Why does Christ ask us to forgive? So we can get on with our lives! So we don’t get stuck in hating each other for not giving us the satisfaction of what we are owed. God wants us to release our grip on what other people ‘owe’ us, because when we let go of that, we are able to open our hand to receive what God has to offer.
What if I can’t forgive myself? Holding on to a grudge can sometimes be a distraction that keeps us from being honest about our own faults. Sometimes we are afraid to admit our faults because we think if we do we won’t be loveable. If God knows the real me, we think, then God will never love or forgive me. This isn’t true. God already knows who we are, it is we who are blind, not God. We do not see the wonderful being we are created to be in God’s image. So we must learn to must trust God’s good judgment at the time of our creation!
When we are free to see our own faults, we are also free to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. Sometimes it is we who are the transgressors, even though we spend a lot of time blaming others. Sometimes, we are partially at fault. Sometimes we are innocents. Regardless, we need to recognize what part we played with honesty and deal with it. When we do this, that is when we discover that our willingness to be vulnerable is a strength. God does not want us to be punching bags. God wants us to be strong and loving. God wants us to be as healthy as we can be, because when we are healthy, we can be a better help to others. So when we forgive ourselves, we discover strength in atonement with God. When we are aligned with God’s strength, when we ‘let go and let God’ we discover healing, and growth, and find that our service is an important part of creating a better world.
What if God doesn’t forgive me? God already has!