“I need to forgive.”
This simple sentence haunted me for years.
I was reminded of this last night as I attended a Casting Crowns concert. I love their music. It just cuts right to my heart. Over the years, it has had a profound affect on me. Their music has encouraged and challenged me to deal with things I was ignoring in my life.
I struggled with forgiveness for many years.
In my mind, I knew that I needed to but I just could bring myself to forgive those that I felt betrayed me… my heart needed more time to respond. I learned the hard way that the heart takes more time to heal.
You may not be able to relate exactly to my story, but chances are by the time you’re reading this article, you know what it feels like to be lied to, betrayed, forgotten, rejected or in some other way wounded by someone you loved and trusted.
I have yet to meet a person who has made it through this life without facing one or more of these wounds. And because we understand what it feels like to be injured in this way, we also know how truly challenging it can be to offer forgiveness.
For years I thought I understood what it meant to forgive.
Then just about the time I thought I had a grasp on the whole process of understanding forgiveness, something would come straight out of nowhere and remind me that I had a long way to go.
The hurt and resentment we sought to leave behind would resurface from time to time. Maybe it was triggered by someone’s offhand remark or by an old song from back in the day.
That is how it would happen to me. I would be driving back home from work, listening to songs as they randomly came up.
Then that song comes on… the one that took me back to another place and time.
Suddenly I am filled with all the anger, hurt, frustration and resentment that I feel towards people who betrayed or hurt me over the years of my life.
It would be clearly evident that I still struggled with forgiveness.
On the outside, I would hide it, twist it and lie about it if I needed to, but I wasn’t going to forgive. On the inside I didn’t want anything to do with forgiveness.
I thought I would grow into it over time, I assumed, this burden and I would grow strong enough to carry it.
As the years went by, I tried to forget. It worked, for the most part. When you carry a grudge long enough, it didn’t feel like a grudge anymore. It just felt like life.
Like putting on clothes each morning, I would just get up every morning and strap on my bag full of anger, hurt, shame, bitterness, frustration and the lack of any desire to forgive those that you had an issue with.
As matter of fact, I thought about it rarely. When I did think about it, I prayed it would evaporate into thin air, and that maybe I would evaporate with it.
In some ways, it did evaporate. In many ways I did forget.
After all these years, I still have a lot to learn about the process of forgiving someone.
But I have learned this…
We forgive in response to wounds and betrayals. A part of ourselves is broken. A relationship has crumbled. The potential life we imagined for ourselves lies in ruins. I am learning that I am still broken.
Forgiveness is that healing that mends the broken part of us.
Mending takes time.
Forgiveness cannot take place without honesty, boundaries, space, distance and time.
Forgiveness is a process. I am learning that we forgive one day at a time.
It rarely comes as a single, discrete decision. We talk about forgiveness like it’s a single, one-time event, and in my experience, it’s just not.
Forgiveness isn’t an event any more than brushing your teeth is an event. It is something you must do over and over and over again.
I am not sure it gets easier with time.
In fact, one of the few things that has helped me heal from my past is to stop saying, “I forgive you” and start saying, “I’m forgiving you.”
Jesus talked at length about forgiveness. Once, Peter asked him, “So, look, how often do I have to forgive? Seven times? Will that about cut it?” Imagine the look on Peter’s face when Jesus said, “Make that seventy-times seven.”
Strictly speaking, Jesus wasn’t just telling Peter how many times he had to forgive a repeat offender. He was also telling him—telling us—how forgiveness works.
I need to get up each morning and instead of strapping on that backpack of hurt, I need to wake up with the intent of forgiving.
Many days it’s the same person I forgave yesterday.
What would happen if, just for today, you thought about the person who has hurt you most and said to yourself:
“I am forgiving you. By that I mean, I’m not going to blame you or hold you responsible for my life or my future any longer. The power to shape what is coming is mine now. I take it back for myself. I reclaim my power. And that grudge I’ve been carrying, well, it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting you, so for that reason, I’m going to set it down, move on and forgive you.”
Those of us that struggle with forgiveness, we don’t have to make any promises about the future. Except that if we have to, we may need to forgive again tomorrow.
Ultimately… it is how we find the way to forgive.
Sometimes the heart needs more time to accept what the mind already knows.