How many times have you been hurt by the actions or words of another person in your life? Parents, coworkers, siblings, spouses, friends, relatives – everyone we come into contact with has the potential to harm us. Many times this harm can result in deep emotional wounds that create persistent feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness. It has been said that holding a grudge is like letting someone else live rent-free inside your head. So, how do we get over such feelings? How do we keep ourselves from dwelling on these wounds for years to come? How do we heal?
The answer is straightforward: Forgiveness. Volumes of academic research have been conducted on the topic of forgiveness – literally thousands of articles. Researchers have looked into the definition of forgiveness, the benefits of forgiveness within relationships, the benefits of forgiveness for those who forgive, and even the physical benefits of forgiveness and the physical consequences of withholding forgiveness. With all this talk about forgiveness, how do we define it?
What Forgiveness Is Not
It seems prudent at the outset to clear up some misconceptions about forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is Not Earned
As we ponder the decision of whether or not to forgive someone for the pain they’ve caused us, it might be tempting to think that they don’t deserve to be forgiven. They deserve to pay for their actions, not to get away with them. However, forgiveness is not something that can ever be earned. Forgiveness is extended from one person to another without regard for the balance in one’s emotional or relational accounts.
- Forgiveness is Not Forgetting
Choosing to forgive someone who has harmed you does not mean that you wipe it from your memory. You do not have to spend the rest of your life pretending that the other individual never harmed you. Often the person who is being forgiven expects the incident to just disappear into the past once forgiveness has been offered. In reality, however, it doesn’t have to be forgotten in order to be forgiven.
- Forgiveness is Not a One-time Event
Since forgiveness is not the same as forgetting, this implies that the offense is going to surface at various points throughout one’s life. Forgiveness is not a one-time decision but is an ongoing, repetitive choice that needs to be made each time the offense is triggered in our memory.
- Forgiveness is Not an Acknowledgement that the Other Person was Right
If we chose to forgive someone who has harmed us, we are not acknowledging in any way that what they did was OK. We are not pretending. We are not surrendering the truth. Instead, we are acknowledging that what happened caused us real pain and that we are not going to hold it against the person who harmed us.
What Forgiveness Is
What is the truth about forgiveness? What are the aspects of true forgiveness? Now that we know what forgiveness is not, we can move on to defining what forgiveness actually is.
- Forgiveness is Freely Given
Christians have the unique advantage of having a role model of what it looks like to extend forgiveness freely. The cross of Jesus shows us forgiveness and Jesus is Himself the best example ever of forgiveness. We forgive because we have been forgiven, not because the other person deserves it or has earned it. Forgiveness is extended as an act of free will from the forgiver, regardless of the merit of the other individuals involved.
- Forgiveness Accepts the Hurts and Drops the “Charges”
When we choose to forgive we are making a conscious, repetitive, ongoing decision to lay aside our perceived right to vengeance. We acknowledge and accept the fact that our pain is real. We deal with the pain within ourselves without exacting our “pound of flesh.” We serve as our own witness to our pain, but we drop the charges and we leave the courtroom.
- Forgiveness Allows You to Move Forward With Life
Forgiveness is a uniquely life-giving decision. We free up the other person to move forward and live their life and we allow ourselves the freedom to move forward as well. Forgiveness allows us to bury the old bones of anger, resentment and bitterness and to walk in peace, gratitude, serenity and love. Forgiveness rescues us from the slow death of grudges.
In the second part of this article, I explore some of the possible barriers to forgiveness as well as the benefits and results of forgiveness.
Christian Counseling Can Help in the Struggle to Forgive
Are you struggling to forgive someone in your life? The Christian counseling process is all about forgiveness, redemption and restoration of the soul. It is grounded in the belief in a personal, living God and enables us to experience the abundant life that Jesus came to offer us. Nothing is more exciting to me than watching this abundant life become a reality in the lives of those I work with. You may not feel able to believe that change is possible right now, and that’s OK. But with the help of a good Christian counselor, you (and your spouse) can begin to begin to find the solutions you are seeking.
Images courtesy of Morguefile.com: Fighting Shadows.jpg and New Life.jpg
Click here: To Grudge or Not to Grudge: A Christian Counselor on Forgiveness, Part 2.