Forgiveness has been a really difficult subject throughout my life and especially throughout the last two years. I had to be taught who it's for, why we do it, how to do it, and what the results are. So, I've broken these four truths down to simplify the complicated nature of this action.
1. Who is forgiveness for?
This might seem like a silly place to start, but I've learned it's the simple questions that we sometimes get wrong. We have to first establish the foundational principles before moving forward.
FORGIVENESS IS FOR YOU... not the person you're forgiving. YOU are the one hurt. The other person may not even know that you're hurt. You are the only one being affected by unforgiveness. It's creating a wound in your own heart that needs healing, not the other persons.
2. Why do we forgive others?
We've been taught from a very young age that the act of forgiveness is necessary. Think about it. If Susie hits Bobby on the playground, the teacher instructs Suzie to apologize to Bobby for hurting him, but often won't explain WHY she's apologizing.
When we allow ourselves to walk through life with unforgiveness in our hearts, we allow anger to fester and spread. If it goes on for too long without resolve, that anger turns to resentment and bitterness, and before too long? We don't even remember how we became so hard and calloused.
When we allow ourselves to forgive others, we remove the anger, resentment, and bitterness that takes us space in our own heart and make room for joy, peace, and freedom to replace it.
Forgiveness is the first step in reconciliation. When two people agree and decide to move forward forgiving one another, it's important to understand that our words are very powerful in these moments.
I teach my kids not to respond to someone asking forgiveness by saying, "It's okay, don't worry about it" because this is telling that person that what they've done to hurt them is "okay". The act of forgiving is not to say that the action or words that were said are "okay" because there are still consequences to that act or words.
FORGIVENESS IS ACKNOWLEDGING THAT WHAT THEY DID HURT BUT YOU'RE AGREEING TO LET IT GO AND PUT IT IN THE PAST IN ORDER TO MOVE FORWARD AND START OVER FRESH.
I tell them when someone asks them to forgive them the proper way to respond is to say, "I forgive you".
3. How do we forgive others?
This is the part that seems to stump people the most. It's really difficult to do in the beginning, but once it's done, it gets easier and easier to do it again. We will continually experience hurt throughout our lives and the act of forgiving will never be completed. Learning to forgive is a lot like exercising a muscle, the more you do it the stronger it becomes.
-Sit down with a piece of paper, pen, and a red marker.
-Pray and ask God if there's any unforgiveness in your heart.
-Sit and write down anything that comes to mind.
(The first time I did this I had over fifty things written on my paper. There were things I didn't even realize were still in my heart that needed to be addressed. That's the work of the holy spirit. He reveals the wounds of our heart so we can then heal from them.)
-After you've finished, go down your list, one by one, and ask God to remove the unforgiveness, anger, bitterness, and resentment towards that person or incident and replace the wound with the holy spirit.
-Cross out the prayed over portion with the red ink pen. This symbolizes the blood of Jesus, wiping the wound clean and making you white as snow. The tool you need to rid yourself of the burden you carry has already been done through His sacrifice on the cross. You were never meant to carry the burden of unforgiveness. Giving it to Jesus is what will free you.
-Lastly, crumple the paper up after you've finished marking out each incident or person and BURN IT. The burning process is symbolic of removing everything that once weighed you down, removing it from your present, and placing it in the hands of Jesus. This frees you from carrying it into your future.
The more you do this exercise, the less and less time it will take. You'll begin to be able to forgive without needing to walk through each one of these steps.
4. What is the benefit of forgiving others?
There are two benefits of the act of forgiveness. The first is redemption. Redemption is the act of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil. Redemption only requires you and God. It isn't always necessary to tell the person you're forgiving that you've forgiven them. Sometimes all that's needed is to be able to move past it and redeem your life.
The second benefit is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations. It's important to distinguish that redemption and reconciliation don't always hold hands. Redemption only requires you and Jesus but reconciliation requires two people agreeing to forgive one another, so they can move past the hurt and not carry it into the future of the relationship. Some people aren't willing to forgive. Plain and simple. We have to be okay with their answer.
It's important to remember that if someone rejects the offer of forgiveness, God is simply redirecting your life, and even though rejection hurts in the moment, it may be necessary to steer you in the direction He is calling you. So, even in cases where reconciliation may not be possible, redemption is.
Forgiveness is a process and it is pivotal in understanding so we can grow in our relationships. We learn how to love one another better when we learn these four truths about the act of forgiving.
"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" Colossians 3:13, NIV.
By forgiving others, we remove the anger, resentment, and bitterness in our hearts and replace it with joy, peace, and freedom. It relieves you of the weight of sin on your own shoulders and gives it to the One who has already freed us from it.