Photo: Bethan Shaw of Again We Say Rejoice Photography
Author: Sarah DeLotelle
I’ll be honest, I struggle with forgiveness. Withholding forgiveness from my offenders makes me feel powerful, justified, and in control. It often seems like my only weapon against my transgressors. But in time, what once made me feel powerful – begins to wield its power against me, my sweet sense of justification turns sour, and my method of control starts to control my heart.
Andy Stanley defines forgiveness as, “the choice to erase someone’s debt”. When we’ve been wronged, there is a sense of burglary; an individual has robbed us of something we feel we deserve. We then feel as though that person owes us something. Forgiveness identifies what has been taken, and then chooses to erase the debt.
The Bible tells us to forgive others – not because they deserves it, or because they ask for forgiveness, or because we feel like forgiving. But, because we ourselves have been so gloriously forgiven.
Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
You can read more about why we should forgive others in Jesus’ parable about The Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:12-35.
Now that we’ve talked a bit about what forgiveness is, let’s explore what forgiveness is not.
1. Forgiveness is not ignoring the wrong that was done to you
There’s a difference between ignoring a debt and canceling a debt. Choosing to walk through the process of forgiveness is vulnerable and requires courage. It means allowing yourself to feel and grieve real losses. It may mean returning to old wounds that you’d rather keep buried. Wine, brownies, and reality TV can all feel like a more palatable solutions to our pain, but freedom is found in facing and working through our past. Forgiveness starts with recognizing what has been taken from you, grieving that loss, and then choosing to erase the debt.
2. Forgiveness is a choice not just a feeling
If we wait till we feel like forgiving someone, it may never happen. When it comes to forgiveness, our emotions follow our choices. When I was a freshman in high school, a popular boy said something negative about the way I looked to a group of his friends. I was devastated by the comment. I was in such a formative period of my life and his comment confirmed all of my insecurities. I burned with anger towards this boy for years. How dare he rob me of my confidence! How dare he mold other people’s opinion of me! Every time I thought about this boy I would get a lump in my throat. Eventually, I chose to forgive him. I chose to forgive him every time he or his comment came to my mind. I even began to pray for him, which was one of the most counterintuitive/challenging things I’ve ever done. It was months before I didn’t feel the lump in my throat anymore, but in time I actually felt feeling of forgiveness towards this guy. I didn’t feel the need to tell him off, or see him suffer, or wound him the way he had wounded me. Eventually, my emotions followed my choice.
3. Forgiveness is not contingent on an apology
Some people will never apologies or feel remorse for the wrong they did to you…forgive them anyway. Forgiveness frees the perpetrator but it’s also frees you. Last summer my family went adventuring through the UK for ten days! Words fall short in describing my delight over this place: the castles, the emerald hills, the lingering voices of Shakespeare, Lewis, and Austen! On one particular day my family was traveling by bus through the Highlands of Scotland. I was soaking in the scenery when a rude bus driver harshly reprimanded my sister for putting her feet on the seat. He looked as though he was going to physically yank her feet from their perch! I was filled with rage! How could he talk to her like that? Who did he think he was? For the remainder of the bus ride my mind filled with all the nasty things I could say to him, all the ways I could cut him down, all the verbal daggers I could plunge into his belly…I know, my heart is really ugly sometimes. When we arrived at the bus station, I realized that I had missed it…I had missed the Highlands. I hadn’t taken in any of the scenery because I was seething with unforgiveness. Why had I given that man so much power over me? My refusal to forgive him didn’t hurt him, it hurt me! I once heard, “Choosing to not forgive someone is like drinking poison and hoping that the person who wronged you will die.” I gave that bus driver a crazy amount of control and power over me; influence that was misplaced and disproportionately given. Withholding forgiveness comes at a high cost and I’m simply not willing to pay the premium anymore!
In summary: Forgiveness isn’t ignoring the wrong that was done to you, it isn’t merely a feeling, and it isn’t contingent upon an apology. The fruits of forgiveness are sweet, but they only come through intentional cultivation. I believe that forgiveness and freedom are in your future, take courage dear heart, you are braver than you know!