One of the biggest deterrents to forgiving someone is believing that you need to be nice to them. Think about a serious offense: betrayal, abuse, even a rape. Something recoils at the thought of being nice to someone who has violated you to such an extreme. But forgiveness is not about being nice.
The simplest definition for forgiveness is to “give up the right to get even.” Even simpler: letting go. If you want to add being nice to the equation, that’s your choice. The Bible refers to “blessing those that curse you” as a step beyond forgiveness. So it’s not unheard of to be nice to an offender. Just don’t fold that into your definition for forgiveness. Being nice is not required to be successful at forgiving.
Forgiveness indeed helps the offender. It releases them from your hatred and any attempts you might make at payback. Hopefully they use that grace to thank you for your forgiveness, make restitution, and rebuild your trust. It might open the way to restoring the relationship and for them to become a better person. But trust and reconciliation go beyond forgiveness. They need to be thought of separately from forgiveness.
Forgiveness is Not…
In my book, “STUCK…how to overcome anger and rebuild your life,” I mention five things that forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not:
- Forgetting: we forgive what we can’t forget.
- Excusing: we can only forgive those to whom we first assign blame.
- Trusting: we only trust people who have proven themselves trustworthy.
- Reunion: we only reunite with people who have rebuilt our trust.
- Conditional: forgiveness has no prerequisites. We can forgive immediately because it simply means that we refuse to retaliate.
Now, let me add a sixth.
Forgiveness is not:
- Emotion: we don’t have to feel nice or any warmth toward our offender.
I find this list helpful because we tend to load too much into our definition of forgiveness. If forgiveness includes the six words above, then who could do it? Most people’s response would be “Forget that!” Forgetting and excusing an offense is wrong and trusting and reunion prematurely will only complicate the offense.
Forgiveness certainly opens the door for the possibility of trust and reunion. When I give up the right to get even, it allows my offender to start rebuilding my trust. There might be a chance for us to reconcile the relationship. And if that happens, I will start to feel emotion toward them again. But forgiveness is only the first step in a long process of reconciliation. It does not equal reconciliation.
Forgiveness means being nice to yourself.
Forgiveness may not mean being nice to your offender, but it is one thing you can do to be nice to yourself. By not forgiving, you consign yourself to thinking continually about the offense. You rehash the event, first condemning your offender for hurting you, then condemning yourself for allowing it to happen. You think of what you could have said or done. You think of ways to pay them back. The thoughts consume you and take up space in your brain that should be given to more positive things, like loving your friends and family.
By refusing to forgive, you allow your offender to make you less of a person. You give them control of your life, turning you into someone you never wanted to be. Your offender hurt you initially, but now you exacerbate the offense by refusing to let it go.
When you forgive, you are free from all that. You show your offender that, though they hurt you, you can overcome what they’ve done, with God’s help. You trust God can still make something special of your life, even though you suffered a minor setback.
What are some other misconceptions that have kept you from forgiving your offender? Scroll down to leave your thoughts in the comment section.
To learn more about how you can forgive someone who has hurt you, check out STUCK here.