What does it mean to forgive? We all know we need to do it, and we keep hearing that we are supposed to forgive for us not for the other person. We forgive so that we don’t become bitter and so we can move on…right…I think we all know why we forgive, but it’s the what and how that really get us.
Everyone has offenses they’ll have to forgive, and many of us have been sinned against in ways that most people wouldn’t blame us for not forgiving. The world tells us some things are unforgiveable.
And I keep hearing that you forgive, but not forget. But again, what’s the difference? Every single time that I remember what happened, it hurts all over again, even when I thought I had already let something go.
What does it mean to forgive?
Christian psychologist Dr. Arch Hart says that “forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me,” and I think that is a pretty good place to start. Ir means letting go of the “eye for an eye” mentality and choose to allow God to deal with that person. Ok, that sounds good start, but I think it misses two essential things, especially if you have to continue to be in relationship with someone who has hurt you.
In my experience, one of the biggest components of really forgiving someone, is grief. We often tend to try to cover up how much it hurt or somehow water down the offense in an attempt to forgive and move forward, but a friend used to tell me that if you keep sweeping things under the rug, eventually you are going to trip.
When we grieve, though, we'll only make matters worse if we vent to the person who hurt us, and often even third party friendships will misdirect our grief by dramatizing or minimizing the situation. But God will never do any of this. Tell Him exactly how you feel, hold nothing back, even tell Him if you are mad at Him about it (don’t worry, He can handle it, I promise). He hurts when we hurt, and bask in that…He’s the one that can actually hear our hurts and pain and feel compassion but not be brought down by our emotions.
That brings me to the next important part of forgiveness. It’s not just about letting go of your right to hurt them back, but often it’s about letting go of them making it better. Especially when we are close to someone who hurts us, we often take our pain to them, wanting them to make that hurt better, and many times, they can’t or won't. In fact, the more we take our hurting hearts to them asking them to make it better, the more they usually hurt us.
It is here that the “forgive but don’t forget” thing is vitally important. God allows us to remember hurts to keep us from continuing to get burned. We have to remember what happened because people often keep repeating the same behavior.
Think of a people like fire. Flames can keep us warm, kindle our hearts, but there are substances that can ignite a fire making the flames out of control and if we stick our hand in the fire we will be burnt. If we confuse forgetting for forgiving then we will keep repeating the same mistake and eventually become a pile of ashes. We have to remember what caused us to get burnt. We often have to set healthy boundaries to keep from getting burnt and remember what substances caused the flames to get out of control; in this way we can still experience the warmth but remain safe. Then there are some fires that no amount of water or proper boundaries will contain, and in that case you always RUN! The Bible says to flee from devouring relationships, and sometimes that is what you have to do...it doesn't mean you are not forgiving, you are not trying to hurt them back, you are just protecting yourself.
Thus far, in learning to forgive, God has shown me that I must first let that person go to God. I let go of my desire to vindicate myself and give that person over to God. Next, I tell Him how much it hurts and where it hurts, and instead of asking that person to make it better, I must let God heal it. If they do change eventually and say/do the things I was longing for, it’s just icing on the cake, but it is not what I am holding onto to move on. And finally, I have to remember what happened so that I can learn from perhaps giving inappropriate access to my heart to someone who is not able to handle this delicate treasure. People are broken, but God can handle our pain and our pearls, and He is tender and trustworthy at all times.