There is a reality that we rarely talk about: true power comes with forgiveness. It is those who are truly strong who can forgive. It is those who are willing to say their freedom means more than the cage of resentment (anger, pain, hurt) who are able to love others in a fuller way.
Is it easy? No. But it is worth it.
Last year I wrote a series of letters to people in my past who had hurt me. Some were job-related, one was attached to a family business we are no longer a part of. I just wanted the recipients to know I held no ill-will towards them. I asked forgiveness for my actions and attitude since our friendships ended. I did not expect a response. I did not need one. I was doing it for me to clear the air and get these weights off my heart.
The thing about unforgiveness – when our pride does not allow us to admit we have done something wrong, or our shame or fear keeps us from telling others they hurt us – is that it only hurts us.
We cannot control the actions of others. I am choosing to speak up and say, “I am sorry” regardless of what the other person chooses to do.
Our forgiveness (or lack thereof) holds no power over the other person. When we refuse to forgive until an action happens (most times the person taking responsibility or being held accountable) it only destroys us. It is drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick. It holds us in bondage.
Forgiving does not equal forgetting.
Forgiving does not mean the offense didn’t happen.
Forgiving does not mean life resets like it was before.
Forgiving does not mean we stop pursuing justice or holding others accountable.
We cannot place our happiness or peace on the actions or “justice” of another. It is a choice we have to make for our own wellbeing and life.
Forgiveness takes the sting out of it for us. It removes the hook so we can start to heal. The scars remain. Things change. Relationships fade. But we are no longer caught in the web of hatred, hurt, shame, regret, etc. We are free.
I had to forgive my grandfather for a lifetime of spiritual manipulation, short-sightedness, and arrogance. I forgave him in my heart and something shifted. I appreciated him, but never fully trusted him again. I kept distance in our relationship. And that is okay.
I cannot change someone else’s attitude, actions, choices, etc. I cannot wait for accountability, a reckoning, a change of heart to do what I need to do to move on with my life. I believe my grandfather died never knowing (or acknowledging) the ripple his choices had on his family. Yet, I could grieve him without anger or bitterness because I chose to forgive and move on.
Unforgiveness leaves us in stasis. We are imprisoned in that moment, that hurt, that pain. It is like a chrysalis – one that, with time, slowly kills us if we do not do the work to get free and find liberation.
Forgiveness has zero to do with the present actions/attitude/outcome of the other person and everything to do with me.
There are people in my life who repeatedly hurt me, who I live waiting for the next cut. I choose to keep forgiving them (again and again) because the desire to be in a relationship with them is stronger than the need to self-protect. This is not always the right choice. For me, it is where I am. It is how I (in this situation) live out: If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)
If I ask for forgiveness and the person tells me to fly a kite, that is fine. If the person on the other end never realizes or owns what they have done, not my problem. I have done what I can on my part to clear the board. How that person chooses to respond (or not) is on them. My conscience is clear regardless of their decision.
Sometimes we cannot ask for or give forgiveness in person. Maybe because of safety, lost contact, death, or the offense really not being about them after all, it is not possible to contact the other person. In that case, you can write a letter and toss it in the fire. You can write the scene on a notepad and burn it. You can pray your part. You can write the person’s name on a stone and toss it into the water. Anything that lets you do something tangible to ask for or give forgiveness.
In no way am I saying that forgiveness is easy. If it was, it would not matter as much as it does. I had to wrestle for years (10+) with the people I sent those letters to. I had to go through my own gunk, anger, sense of injustice, and pain to be able to write those words. I shed countless tears in prayer with God, wrestling with what these situations had meant and done in my life. But in the end – I am free.
Forgiveness matters because it is hard. It is uncomfortable because it is life-giving. It leads to freedom. It breathes new light into us.
God is waiting. He is there to listen, to take it on, to lift those boulders off your shoulders. True forgiveness only comes as we rely more and more on Him and let Him do what we are incapable of – letting go.
Do it friend. Whatever you are holding onto – get rid of it. Make the call, send the email, get it out, let it out! God will let you know what you need to do with your emotion. But the longer we deny it or make it about “them” the more it eats at us and steals our todays.
Don’t let anyone have that power over you.