What a beautiful, mysterious concept.
To forgive means to make a conscious decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward someone who’s harmed you. Whether you feel they deserve your forgiveness or not.
I’ve often heard that holding onto grudges and refusing to forgive does far more harm to you than it does to the other person. Like repeatedly ingesting poison and hoping it’ll somehow hurt them – not you.
Resentment and grudges are often described as festering wounds, growing worse and worse until they seem beyond healing. And instead of affecting the other person deeply – which we often want – it can tear us apart from the inside out.
The absence of forgiveness is the perfect breeding ground for hatred, vengeance, and apathy.
But choosing to forgive is hard.
Though I’ve had a relatively short life at this point – and have thankfully never suffered as huge of hurts at others’ hands as a lot of people – I do know what it’s like to feel justified in holding a grudge. After all, they clearly didn’t think before they spoke. They didn’t consider how I’d feel being uninvited, ignored, and cast aside. Why should I forgive them?
Thankfully, as I’ve aged, it has gotten a little easier to forgive. To consider how the other person was feeling when they lashed out or acted hurtfully. To pray for them, because, as the saying goes, ‘hurt people hurt people’.
I have no idea what’s going on in their lives. All I can do is pray for them, and try my best to treat them with love and grace. And in the meantime, I can choose to let myself feel peace by forgiving them. It’s not easy, but it’s right – for both of us.
While I’m striving and praying to improve at forgiving others quickly and honestly, there’s still one person I can never seem to let go of. In the years that I’ve known her, she’s not only hurt me with her words, actions, and refusal to follow the Lord’s directions, but she’s treated many of my loved ones horribly as well.
Despite her claims that she’s trying to get better – trying to become kinder, more loving, and more gracious – any improvements only last for a little while. Sooner or later, she reverts right back to her hurtful and frustrating behavior. And try as I might, I just can’t seem to forgive her for it.
I know I should. I know I’d be so much better off if I could only choose to forgive her for her mistakes and offer her the ability to work on her shortcomings without the heavy shadow of shame and disapproval I’m constantly hanging over her head. But it’s hard. So very hard.
Especially because she’s me.
I know that my personality is one that tends to heap criticism and insecurity on myself, and I’ve always struggled with perfectionism. With letting myself ‘get away with’ my mistakes, hurtful words said and selfish actions taken. You’d think that with how hard I am on myself, I’d be a lot more careful about not making those mistakes in the first place. But I still struggle an embarrassing and painful amount.
And shame is a powerful deterrent. It can so easily feed the lie that change is impossible. That my mistakes are who I am and that I can never change them.
So I never forgive.
And nothing ever gets better. I remain trapped in a cycle of sinning, beating myself up for it, reinforcing the lie that I’m a worthless, hopeless human being, falling prey to that lie, and sinning once again because after all – this is who I am, isn’t it?
Not necessarily. Yes, I am a sinner. Goodness gracious, I am so much of a sinner that it hurts. With how much it grieves me, I can’t bear to imagine how much it must grieve my Father.
But I’m not just a sinner. I’m a sinner that’s been forgiven.
Maybe not by myself, but by the One whose forgiveness matters most.
There are so many ways that Easter touches me every year. So many things it teaches me and reminds me of. As I meditate again on the meaning of Easter, of what happened all those years ago to cause us to celebrate, I’m stricken again by hope. By joy. By wonder and amazement at the incredible love of our God.
But one of the very biggest things that always hits me is the forgiveness modeled by Jesus.
The Gospel writers mostly gloss over the accounts of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion. They give the bare minimum to convey the facts, and don’t delve to describe the details of Jesus’ agony and suffering. And I believe that was the right approach. The specifics of Jesus’ suffering wasn’t the focus – but His sacrifice was.
However, in researching what the methods of torture would have been like then, such as the flogging and crucifixion, I’m overwhelmed by just how much Jesus gave for us. How much He was willing to go through for me. For you. For each and every person who has, is, or will ever live.
Jesus, God’s perfect Son, allowed Himself to be whipped with cords woven with glass and nails. He let His flesh be shredded, His blood be drained, His persecutors mock and humiliate Him, and Himself be entirely separated from God for three days. He willingly went to Hell – so He could save us from it.
You don’t do that for someone you’re still holding grudges against. You don’t suffer and die for someone you’re secretly plotting revenge toward. You don’t willingly give up your life for people you refuse to forgive.
When Jesus died on that cross, He demonstrated His ultimate forgiveness for each of us.
And if – like me – you’re sometimes tempted to think that He didn’t know the sins you’d commit, believe me: He did. As I imagine Jesus in those final, agonizing moments, I can almost feel the intensity and purpose in His actions. He was thinking of us. Of you and me. He knew exactly what each and every one of us would do in our lifetimes – good and bad.
And He still chose to die for us. To forgive us. And to invite us into a close and eternal relationship with Him.
That kind of forgiveness is revolutionary. It’s mind-blowing, shocking, and unheard of. And it’s the kind of forgiveness each of us is called to – toward others and ourselves.
If Jesus knew the sins we’d commit against Him – intentionally or not – and He still chose to go through what He did for us, then what business do we have refusing to forgive? Why do we think our refusal to acknowledge and accept His grace makes us stronger? God doesn’t make mistakes. When Jesus forgave us, He did so to give us a way to be free.
Free from the shame. From the pain. From the grief, guilt, and gut-wrenching belief that we can never change. The belief that we’ll always be worthless, hopeless, revengeful people.
He did so to bring us closer to Him. Because He wants eternal fellowship with us. He doesn’t join us in heaping those clouds of darkness and shame over our heads. Instead, the Son shines through them.
I’m still learning this. I’m still far from forgiving others or myself as I should. Far too often, I’m still stubborn and keep myself trapped under that weight of shame and condemnation.
Like I’m punishing myself. Giving myself what I feel like I deserve. Forcing myself to suffer the grief and darkness that Jesus died to take from me. And that hardheartedness toward myself easily carries over to others in my life. If I’m suffering so much for the things I’ve done, shouldn’t other people as well?
But that’s pointless. It’s prideful, apathetic, and cruel. Worse than that, it’s just another way that I’m trying to ‘play God’.
God forgave me. He forgave you. It’s as simple as that.
And when the God of the Universe chooses to do something so life-changing, we’d be fools to go against Him. He no longer requires retribution for our sin. He only wants us to come to Him with humble, faithful hearts. He wants us to let go of the things weighing us down…the burdens keeping us from fulfilling the amazing plans He has for us.
So that’s what I should be focusing on. Not on making myself – or anyone else – ‘pay’ for all the mistakes I can’t forget. Not on hampering my walk with Christ, my ministry to others, and my carrying out God’s will for me by weighing myself down with shame. Not on causing others to become just as wrapped up in their shortcomings as I often am.
No, maybe I can’t forget what I’ve done and had done to me. But I can forgive.
Because I’m forgiven.
And you are too – if you’ll only accept it. If you’ll only allow yourself to take the gift God’s offering.
Can’t you see Him there, right beside you?
He’s waiting for you, His arms open and His smile wide.
I’ve never seen so much love in someone’s eyes.
If we confess our sins,
He is faithful and just
and will forgive us our sins
and purify us from all unrighteousness.
(1 John 1:9 NIV)