Forgiveness. At one time or another we’ve all wanted it. Or we’ve struggled to forgive someone who hurt us, maybe even God. Does forgiving mean forgetting? Does it mean reconciling with that person? Will I feel differently about the person if I forgive her or him?
Simply put, forgiveness is a choice. We chose to forgive someone. It’s not overlooking a wrong done to us. It’s not lowering the significance of a wrong until we finally excuse it with, “well, it happens to everyone.” It’s facing it and making a bold choice to forgive. For those of us who have experienced God’s forgiveness, our basis for forgiving another person is that we have been forgiven. Perhaps cautioned by the model prayer of Jesus Christ – “forgive us our sins, as we (italics mine) have forgiven those who sin against us” (Matthew 6:12) – we’re motivated to forgive someone who wounded us.
Recently I read an article written by Mark Scandrette, (Conversations Journal, “Becoming the Beloved Community”, Spring/Summer 2015, volume 13.1, p 46ff), that shed light on what forgiveness is and is not. Mark Scandrette insightfully clarified the traits of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary action or process of giving up my anger and resentment toward someone who has hurt me – so that I no longer wish for or work toward revenge. I am increasingly able to wish them well. Forgiving someone does not imply condoning, excusing, or forgetting the offending behavior. It also doesn’t mean that trust is restored. You can forgive someone while still asking that they face the consequences of their wrongdoing. Forgiveness is an act and decision I make that is not contingent on the other person acknowledging their wrongdoing. But forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation, which requires the participation of two people working together to repair their relationship by admitting wrongdoing, offering forgiveness, and making amends to restore trust” (page 50).
The writer goes on to make clear that he understands forgiveness to be a process, not a one time decision, then it’s over. But that process begins with a choice.
We may withhold forgiveness to injure the person who hurt us. But we end up hurting ourselves. Refusing to forgive can eat us like cancer. It can consume us. It will suffocate imagination. Coddling a hurt long enough can make us nutty.
When I encounter someone nursing a grudge, I often wonder how much emotional energy it has taken to keep that grudge alive. Of course I know that from personal experience! You have to remember what happened. Recall the circumstances. Feel the pain again. Keep turning it over in your mind. Contrive twitches of “how could he?” “Who does she think she is?” We rehearse our tell ‘em off speech. It’s all so destructive, not to him or her, but to us.
Forgiving someone might have little affect on the person who hurt us. But forgiving frees us from the prison we put ourselves in by refusing to forgive.
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