“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Louis B. Smedes
I don’t know about you, but I get fed up with all the quick recipes to success that we are bombarded with; ten steps to this and three steps to that! I’ve always found it very simplistic, however, we have to acknowledge that certain principles, once understood and applied, can change our lives in profound ways. Therefore, recognizing that each situation and person is unique and poses challenges, let’s have a look at a couple of truths on how to actually forgive someone.
Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s a choice
Have you ever had a day in which you woke up and thought: “ I feel like forgiving so and so today, he/she really hurt me but I just feel this overwhelming desire to forgive him”. Nope, I don’t think so. Reason being, forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s a choice based on information about what it is, why it is important and what the spiritual and emotional implication and effects are. We have looked at the Biblical Mandate of Forgiveness in a previous blog but I remind you that to forgive is a basic requirement of a child of God: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32). Chances are that you will never feel like forgiving, you will have make a choice to do it.
Human nature demands justice
When considering human nature, it’s always interesting to observe toddlers. I was watching two young boys recently; one got annoyed with the other and punched him in the stomach. The other immediately reacted in kind and before long a full-blown war was underway. Why is it that we tend to retaliate? It seems to me that there is a deep sense of justice built into us. When we’ve been hurt, we want the one who caused the pain to hurt as much as we did before we feel justified. This is often the reason why we hesitate to forgive, as we feel that justice won’t be served on the guilty party if we just let him/her off the hook. We want them to pay for their wrongdoing, we want them to also experience pain the way we did. In this context, it is important to understand that when we forgive, we give up our right to get even.
Bigger forces at work
When Jesus taught His disciples to forgive others, He challenged them to act in a way foreign to their natural reaction. He taught them that when they forgave, their heavenly Father will also forgive them. In other words, when you give up your right to get even, you move the hand of God to start acting on your behalf. The Bible calls God the “righteous judge”. When you give up your right to get even and you forgive, your case is handed to the righteous judge who will ensure that all things work together for good for those that love Him. (Rom 8:28) He can heal your emotions, He can change your pain into an asset in your life and He can bring about total emotional restoration. My personal experience of forgiveness is this: Feelings of hurt or anger cloud my mind, yet as soon as I decide to obey God’s principle and I forgive, peace floods my heart and mind and I can look at the situation more objectively even to the point where I have compassion for the offender.
Decide and do
When you have been hurt intensely by someone close to you, it’s very hard to even begin to consider forgiving them, as you want them to feel the pain. The first step is to reflect on the incident which caused you pain and to then release the emotional pain by making a conscious decision to forgive and to let go. As there might be different emotions that you have to process, this may take time. The important thing is to make a decision and then to do it. This decision becomes markedly easier when we understand that by forgiving a person, the result of forgiveness is not primarily of benefit to the offender, but to the forgiver. The forgiver experiences relief and the release of anger and bitterness. I want to encourage you to think of incidences when people hurt you. It might be recent, it might be years ago, yet you still feel the sting of rejection or resentment when you think of it. When you have identified it and are ready to forgive, you can use this simple sentence as a practical tool: “ I forgive X and I release him/her of the debt he/she owes me”. When you do this in the context of praying, you can invite the Holy Spirit to restore your emotions and to fill you with God’s peace. When you do what you can in the natural, God is faithful to do the super-natural. This results in the release of resentment and anger, and peace fills your heart and mind. I’ve read a beautiful description of forgiveness: Forgiveness is cancelling a debt that could never have been repaid and taking responsibility for something that someone else has broken.
The Result of Forgiveness
- Freedom from anger, bitterness and resentment
- Freedom to be yourself
- Freedom to love
- It creates an attitude in you of not being easily offended
- Restoration of relationships
- Better physical health
In recent years, different studies have found that the act of forgiving someone can have huge health rewards such as lowering your risk of a heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep, reducing pain, blood pressure, levels of anxiety, depression and stress. It’s also interesting to note that research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as we age. (https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1)
It takes two to tango, but you can be free to dance
Lewis Benedictus Smedes, who I quoted in the first paragraph, was a renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian. He was a professor of theology and ethics for twenty-five years at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Interesting to note that he also said the following:
“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.” However, it is also important to remember that you can not force anyone into reconciliation. He also said: “It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.”
The greatest benefit of forgiving others is the fact that you experience freedom and peace. There is then the possibility of reconciliation but that is dependent on the attitude and willingness of the other party. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible as the other person might be deceased. Sometimes reconciliation is not even desirable, as in a toxic relationship where you need to stay away from the other person in order to be healed. When you have forgiven someone, it is firstly between you and God. “Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you.” Rick Warren
I encourage you to search your heart. Wherever there is resentment, rejection or anger, there might be a need for forgiveness. You can choose to hang on to those negative emotions or to forgive.
For your own sake, forgive!