I do not know you as you read this, and maybe it seems impossible to ever let go of hurt or to begin to love a perpetrator. Maybe you’re thinking this is not necessary and you feel more comfortable with the middle ground (you don’t want to feel angry, but you’re not ready to give into loving this person who deeply wronged you). Or maybe this has you thinking, “I’m going to try forgiving and keep trying.” I’ll be the first to admit, this process of acknowledging the hurt, letting go of the toxic effects of resentment, and actively loving perpetrators doesn’t happen overnight. However, I cannot stress enough how important forgiveness really is for you.
How about we start with the secular, psychological, and emotional reasons why this fullness of forgiveness is so critical? Mentally, forgiveness benefits the forgiver much more than the one forgiven. When you forgive someone you feel more relief from stress or anger, which helps people think more clearly as their cortisol (stress hormones) levels decrease and stop inhibiting a normal thought process and contentment in life. You will be able to love and laugh with people and enjoy life more fully. It may feel like forgiving someone is “letting them win,” but quite the opposite happens when you let go of the weight you’re allowing residual and toxic feelings to hold over you. It can be immeasurably freeing to forgive someone and you can do so while still upholding boundaries that communicate to others your right to respect and loving kindness. I know this is a very brief description, but I hope it starts you thinking about past hurts and how uplifting it could be to set down bitterness to make room for peace and joy.
From the Christian perspective, forgiveness contains both a gift, and a holy obligation, which is a condensed version of why forgiveness is essential in the Christian following of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew (chapter 6, verse 12) states, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Whenever we pray this line of the Lord’s Prayer, we are asking God to forgive us exactly in the same way as we forgive those who hurt us. In other words, if we are harboring un-forgiveness in our hearts as we say this prayer, we are asking God to forgive us as we are unwilling to do the same. It is clear in other parables the importance Christ places on our ability and willingness to forgive. Such parables as of the merciless servant, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew (18:21-35) who won’t forgive a small offense and Jesus states, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart." Also in chapter 22 of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus made a decision to forgive, even though he must have been hurting in his human nature. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” He cried in anguish. We are meant to live as Christ-like as possible, by loving God and obeying Him out of love. Therefore, let us learn how to forgive others and recognize that our willingness to be merciful to others communicates love to God and our desire for His mercy on us. Our discussion illustrates the critical importance to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling” but also to be in awe of God and what He has done and is doing for us. With our cooperation, He can acknowledge and heal our wounds, and help us forgive others. Forgiveness sets us free and enables us to be in the true presence of God’s unconditional love. We can express our best efforts of unconditional love to our loved ones and enemies by learning how to forgive them.
I hope this blog’s introduction into forgiveness and its many parts begins a thoughtful contemplation inside you. I am looking forward to sharing part 3 of my thoughts with you soon regarding how to make the transition into the process of how to forgive others!