What Forgiveness Really Means
There’s a lot of teaching about forgiveness. I’ve heard the “you must forgive” teaching and the “you don’t have to forgive” teaching. All of us have been through relationship trials some of us more than others. There have been many personal situations that I’ve been through with both family and friends where I’ve had to make a decision on forgiveness. To be honest, I’ve struggled with forgiveness for a long time. Growing up in church and being under a Christian perspective of forgiving for years, it seemed to me to take on this mandate that I could never seem to live up to. In my head I thought, ‘how can I forgive someone for hurting me so much while they get to carry on without punishment?’ I also didn’t understand how to stop the hurt and pain behind what they did. I didn’t know how to reconcile my need to vindicate myself and be heard with what I understood forgiveness to be. I was taught forgiveness means to forgive and forget. I was taught that when you forgive you just let things go and somehow everything magically goes back to normal. That all sounded great on paper, but in reality, my heart and feelings never measured up to that standard. It was like I knew what I needed to do, but some how that never linked up with whatever my heart and soul needed.
The Missing Links of Forgiveness
I’m going to be honest here. I believe that a lot of forgiveness teaching that is being taught is grossly mishandled. It leaves a lot of good people still hurting while allowing a lot of bad people to continue abusing. I’m still learning about it myself, but I’ve come to a partial conclusion that there are at least two facets of forgiveness that is often overlooked - the healing and the reconciliation.
When someone hurts you, you need to be healed. You will not get past it otherwise. This process of healing can actually be quite painful because whatever happened might have triggered some past wounds that never healed. Whatever the case may be, you will have to go to the source of your pain and work that out. This might require you to see a therapist or professional counselor. Other ways you can get healing is through journaling and meditation. Get to know yourself by asking some tough questions. Ask yourself how you feel and why you feel that way. This might take a while, but don’t let up until you get the answers. It will reveal the source of your pain. Oftentimes, the source of pain is from something that happened in your childhood. We learn a lot of lies and absorb a lot of negative thinking patterns as children. Whether it’s from parents and other adults or from our peers, the things that we encounter while our minds are still developing can shape who we become as adults. Sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves, re-shift our paradigm, and eliminate unhealthy self-talk. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the only way to truly make the connection to forgiveness and a more positive, healthy lifestyle emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And finally, asking the Lord to heal and repair my soul wounds was a breakthrough for me. Go to the Lord and tell Him everything. Tell Him how you feel. Tell Him what you need to feel whole again. Jesus is a burden bearer. He says to come to Him all who are weary and burdened and He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you and learn of Him and you will find rest for your soul. For His yoke is easy and His burden is light. (Matthew 11: 28) He’s not just talking about salvation for your soul here. He’s talking about everything that you’re going through. He wants to set you free.
This is a huge missing link when it comes to working through forgiveness. You must decide how you will proceed after the incident. I say, reconciliation is the vehicle by which forgiveness is carried out. With a plan in place on how you will move forward, it’s a lot easier to carry out your forgiveness toward that person. Do you still want this person in your life? Do you want to limit their access in your life? Or do you want to let them go altogether? If you choose to continue in a relationship with them, what are your boundaries? Have you clearly defined what those boundaries are to the other person? What will the consequences be if those boundaries are not respected? Have you and that person gone through a conflict resolution process? Are they willing to change their behavior toward you? Did you hurt them? If so, are you willing to change your behavior toward them? Answering these questions will help you determine what’s best for you moving forward. I’ll go in depth on what forgiveness is below, but it does not require you to remain in a relationship with someone.
Every human being deserves to be respected. In every relationship, feelings and needs should be mutually acknowledged and respected. Your feelings are as equally important as someone else’s. If they refuse to acknowledge or address your feelings, you’re in a toxic relationship. If that person is harmful to you, you need to act in your own best interest. It is not okay for someone to constantly abuse you, dominate or manipulate you and remain in your life. They are not healthy for you. If you can’t work out a peaceful and healthy resolution, then making peace with them not being in your life is the next best thing. You can be at peace with someone who is not in your life. You can still forgive someone from afar.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself!
Now let’s talk about what forgiveness actually is. Choosing to forgive is something you do internally that really has nothing to do with the other person. It doesn’t involve them at all. You make the decision within yourself and you carryout that forgiveness in the way that you think about that person, how you act around that person, and how you act toward that person.
The act of forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with what the other person does or doesn’t do. Forgiveness is all about you. By choosing to forgive, you bind bitterness from being a part of your life. If bitterness takes root in you, it will corrupt your entire system. Your body, your mind, and your soul. It will destroy your immune system. It will compel you to stew over unresolved feelings. It blocks you from getting further healing. If you ever want to do a detox or some self-care, try starting with forgiveness.
How do you forgive?
If we look at the example of salvation and repentance, it’s pretty clear what forgiveness truly is. When we sin, we’re separated from God. We choose to be in bondage of sin. However, when we repent, we choose salvation. The forgiveness is already there. When God sent Jesus to be crucified, the hard work of forgiveness was already done for all. We get to choose if we want to accept the forgiveness or not by repenting and committing to living in righteousness or remaining in sin. If we remain in sin we separate ourselves from a relationship with God.
Likewise, when someone does you wrong, you also should do the work of forgiveness internally. That way you won’t have to suffer with bitterness and also if they ever want to reconcile, you’ll be ready. But if they continue to act toward you in mean and hateful ways, they are separating themselves from you. They choose not to accept your forgiveness and they condemn themselves to not having you in their life.
Some people want to keep mistreating you and expect you to still be in relationship with them in the name of forgiveness. But when you look at the repentance and salvation example, that’s just not what forgiveness is. If the person who mistreated you refuses to apologize and change the way they behave toward you, then it’s okay to let them go in peace which is also forgiveness. Let them go. You do not have to stay in a relationship with someone who is abusive toward you, even if it’s a family member. Toxic people are toxic whether they are family or not. It’s okay to speak up for yourself and to assert your feelings. It’s okay to ask to be treated with dignity and respect. Every person deserves that, at least. And if they say otherwise, they are manipulating you.
Healing - Forgiveness - Reconciliation. I don’t think there’s an order to it, but these three all need to be taught/done together. This is how we move forward. Forgiveness is only a third of the process.