“Pastor, you are telling me that the only way I can be healed of this horrible pain is to forgive the man who did this to me?”
Forgiving others does go against the grain of our nature. We seem to be hardwired for revenge – for justice. It’s the theme of most Hollywood action thrillers. Bad person gets paid back – audience applauds.
But in real life, unforgiveness seldom pays dividends. Not good ones anyway. It lurks in the darkest places in our hearts and sucks the joy out of life. It’s like a recording of the evil that was done to us that is playing on a loop. It’s never far away. We can’t forget.
So what’s a person to do? “Surely, you aren’t saying that I have to approve of what happened to me, are you?”
Of course not! But if you and I are going to break the chains of resentment and hatred, we must understand what it means to forgive, who is really damaged by unforgiveness, and how we can do what seems almost impossible to us – to give mercy and grace to people who have hurt us so deeply that our whole lives are defined by the pain.
So here we go!
First of all, forgiveness is NOT giving approval to what was done to us. The best example I can think of is Jesus on the cross. Notice what he didn’t say – he did not say, “Father, forgive them because what they are doing is no big deal.” His suffering was real. It was intense.
No, what he requested from the Father was that God forgive them because of their ignorance. They didn’t know what they were doing. In fact, the scriptures bear out the fact that Jesus’ mission all along was to die for people who had committed unforgivable acts of rebellion against the Creator of the universe. He died to pay a penalty he did not owe – one that all of humanity does owe.
Secondly, refusing to forgive rarely hurts the offender. I have had people who held resentments against me and I didn’t even know it (sometimes I was guilty). When we are unforgiving, the majority of the damage is done to us. That’s because refusing to forgive is the exact opposite of the nature of God. And we can never live fulfilled and meaningful lives by rebelling against the nature of God.
Consider this: “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Or how about this one: “Forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
We can never experience the joy and peace of God’s love if we refuse to forgive as we’ve been forgiven. Unforgiveness always diminishes us more than it it does the one who hurt us.
So what about the really bad stuff? What if you are the victim of rape or childhood sexual abuse? To be sure, those things are horrible and can become a filter through which we run every adult experience. Most people struggling with addictions were the victims of childhood sexual abuse. Those experiences can interfere with every meaningful relationship for the rest of our lives.
The problem is that my harboring hatred toward my abuser will never change what happened to me.
So how about this?
“Father, what happened to me was horrific. The memory of it haunts me in my dreams and stands in the way of me being healed. Please, dear God, give me the grace to be able to forgive as you have forgiven me. It will never be okay what that person did to me, but I am weary of the burden of being responsible for it.”
One relative asked me if praying that prayer meant that she had to hang out with the person who hurt her. I certainly don’t think so, but that’s not the point of asking God to give you a spirit of forgiveness. Praying for that spirit does mean that you are offering an unconditional surrender to the will of God, and we can’t negotiate an unconditional surrender. In asking God to remove the chains of resentment, I am throwing myself at his mercy and trusting that whatever he leads me to do not only glorifies his name but also puts me in position to be released from the suffering I have been living under.
If you have been a victim of someone else’s narcissism, or maybe you just were hurt by someone you loved and trusted, how has holding on to that been working out for you? It’s never worked out for me. Maybe you’ll be different. But as for me, God has always been faithful in healing my heart when I lay my pain and anguish at the foot of the cross and trust him to work things out.
Let it go! Let God do his job. He’s been at it for an eternity.