Welcome to this series of posts aimed to help you move out of your darkness and into the light. In my last post I encouraged you to NOT react to your offender. But today I suggest that you take action by forgiving others.
The Problem With Not Forgiving Others
Choosing to not forgive only adds to your darkness. It’s not a win for you. It’s a loss. To hold unforgiveness in your heart means that you believe someone owes you something. You may not say those words, but that’s what you feel… “You owe me!”
The problem with believing that someone owes you is that you can never be paid back in full. Even if someone could pay you back, they can’t undo what they did. They can’t take away the hurt they caused you. So you are making an impossible demand that will always leave you frustrated and unfulfilled.
That’s why it’s imperative that you find a way to get paid back without looking to your offender to do it.
Forgiving Others Was Jesus’ Path
If you think about it, the world owed Jesus. They owed him its love and worship. They gave him neither. But he didn’t demand their worship or hold their sin against them. Jesus never put anyone under a sense of obligation.
You could reject Jesus without any fear of retribution because he didn’t depend on people for his self-worth. His sense of worth came from his Father. That’s why Jesus was able to forgive so easily.
Is Forgiving Others Even Possible?
Jesus was most famously quoted on the cross for forgiving his accusers. After he was hanging on the cross he prayed,
“Father forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
I’ve had many people tell me, “I could never do that. After what’s been done to me, I’ll never forgive.” They say that because unforgiveness is a form of passive agressive punishment. It’s their way of getting back. But it is also their self-protection.
Their offender made them feel belittled… devalued… shamed. And so they vowed to never let that happen again. Anger and unforgiveness are their shield of defense. That’s too bad because when they shut down like that they lose a part of themself. They might be able to protect themself from more harm, but they also prevent themself from healing and ever having true intimacy.
Unforgiveness Makes No Sense
Unforgiveness keeps you stuck in the past. It’s like walking into the future backwards, focused on some past hurt. Suddenly your entire life is defined by your past. That’s not good! You can’t live the life that God has for you by clinging to the past. You need to detach from the past and turn your sight forward. Learn from the past, yes, but then give today and tomorrow your full attention.
If you are guilty of not forgiving others, let me ask you this: Wasn’t it bad enough that someone hurt you? So, now you are going to “get back” at your offender by carrying the weight of unforgiveness throughout your life? Unforgiveness only continues to throw salt in your wound, and the irony is that now YOU are the one causing your own pain, not your offender. Lewis Smedes put it like this:
Recall the pain of being wronged, the hurt of being stung, cheated, demeaned. Doesn’t the memory of it fuel the fire of fury again, make it hurt again? Suppose you never forgive, suppose you feel the hurt each time your memory lights on the people who did you wrong. And suppose you have a compulsion to think of them constantly. You have become a prisoner of your past pain; you are locked into a torture chamber of your own making.
Time should have left your pain behind; but you keep it alive to let it flay you over and over. Your own memory is a replay of your hurt; a videotape within your soul that plays unending reruns of your old rendezvous with pain. You cannot switch it off. You are hooked into it like a pain junkie; you become addicted to your remembrance of past pain. You are lashed again each time your memory spins the tape. Is this fair to yourself; this wretched justice of not forgiving? You could not be more unfair to yourself.
Unforgiveness paints you into a corner. You want your offender to make it right. They OWE you. But what if they can’t pay you back? What if they can’t make it right? Or what if they don’t want to? Now what? You’re stuck. You need to find a way to free yourself from that trap. That WAY is called forgiveness.
Forgiving Others Is For the Big Offenses
Some people say they can forgive the little offenses but not the big ones. But there is no great virtue in forgiving what you can forget. It’s the big offenses that need forgiveness because they can’t be forgotten.
You’ll never forget being abused.
You’ll never forget being rejected or abandoned.
You’ll never forget that ugly divorce.
So how do you get separation from what happened? You forgive.
What Does Forgiving Others Look Like?
To forgive means that you give up the right to get even. That means you won’t retaliate. You won’t do what was done to you. You won’t speak bad about your offender or even lay awake nights ruminating on what they did to you.
Consider a diagram where a circle represents your life, and a wedge of the circle represents your hurt. It represents the loss that you incurred by your offender. The unforgiving person looks at the loss and points to their offender saying, “You owe me! You have to fill me back up and make me whole again. I’m not going to rest until you fill this up.”
Now, I think it’s fair to ask someone to repay you if they can in some way. But if you insist on getting every last penny from them you are sentencing yourself to a life of pain and bitterness.
So let me suggest taking a different approach. Instead of looking to your offender to find wholeness, bring the loss to God and say:
God, I’ve a got a big hole in my life. This person caused it (or I caused it) but it’s broken and they can never fix it. Please forgive me for insisting that they could. I will no longer look to them to fix me, heal me, or repay me. You are my healer. I know you, and you alone, can restore me. So please, God, make me whole again. Fill up my loss. And while you are at it, help me release the person who did this to me and not hold it against them. Please work in their life too. Draw them to you. Help them to see what they did and want to be a better person.
Forgiving Others Will Bring You Into the Light
Forgiveness is not easy, but it’s necessary if you want to come out of your darkness and into the light. My prayer for you:
Father, please help my reader find their identity in you and not in what they do or in what people think of them. Help them to believe that you can turn their ashes into beauty. Fill up the loss of their offense and help them to bring closure to their past hurts so they don’t miss one opportunity that you have waiting for them. Amen.
If you would like a “manual” on how to forgive, a step by step process to let go of your offender, you might be interested in my book, STUCK… how to overcome your anger and take back your life. Here is what one reader said about the book at Amazon.com:
This book literally changed my life…and set me free. I had struggled with anger and resentment for over 17-years. This deep seated anger had colored my perspective with an angst that was never ending and all-pervasive. It was only after hitting rock bottom that I knew I needed help. I sought counsel but the truth is your book absolutely spoke to me and changed my life forever… You have my profound gratitude.