It is so damn hard.

May 24, 2007 at 1:23 pm 5 comments

Why is it so damn hard to forgive? 

There is nothing easy about forgiving someone who has hurt you, slightly or deeply, and I am pretty sure if you think it is you are most likely burying the problem not really forgiving.

I have resisted writing on this subject simply because I have not known how to say what is in my heart.  I could say a lot about forgiveness from my mind, but the real stuff flows out of the heart, not the mind.  The problem with mental forgiveness is–it doesn’t work.  All intellectual forgiveness amounts to is talk and talk is cheap.

So what follows is my attempt to understand why forgiveness is so hard in order to find a way to forgive, really forgive.

We have been taught we must forgive and the sooner the better rather than the more realistic truth that forgiveness happens only when we first admit our hurt and scream our hate (Lewis Smedes).  Evil cannot be sidestepped or ignored if there is to be forgivness so it is very hard. We have to find a way to deal with the feelings of “hate” that we have and just saying we forgive doesn’t get it done. Speaking truth doesn’t always alter feelings. 

So forgiveness cannot begin until love can be re-extended to those who have hurt us.  Only when we can begin again to see the hurtful person’s value, recognize how precious they are as a human being and choose to understand where the hurt came from can we move toward forgiveness.  Unfortunately doing that takes a lot more time than we were ever taught it would or should.

Linda often quotes Oswald Chambers where he writes about the “irreversible past.”  For forgiveness to really take place, at some point we have to accept that the past cannot be changed.  Forgiveness is so hard because what happened in the past keeps leaking over into the present and making us angry again, just when we thought we were past it.  Smedes says: …you reach into the unchangeable past and cut away the wrong from the person who wronged you; you erase the hurt from the archives of your heart. Hard to do and so forgiveness is hard.

To accept another person is to accept them now, as they are now, not as you have remembered them and not as they were.  The only way to come to terms with reality is to leave the past in the past.  Anger is reliving the past and living in the past and forgiveness is not only hard it is impossible while living in what was.  We are not our past.  We are people fully capable of repenting, changing and turning away from past behavior.  Forgiveness cannot take place until we accept the possibility of change.

Forgiveness must begin where we are, not where we should be, or even where we might want to be and so forgiving today does not assure forgiveness in the future.  Sometimes we can really forgive, even forgive from the heart only to discover later on, there is more forgiveness needed.  The new need does not negate the earlier forgiveness it only points out why forgiveness is so hard.  We can only forgive what we know right now, we may need to take another run at it again later.  Don’t know about you but I was never taught that nor did I teach it.  We want forgiveness to be quick  and painless as possible so we can get on with our lives with as little disruption as possible.  True forgiveness does not have to include forgetfulness.

David Augsberger writes: As we work through our anger and pain in reciprocal trusting and risking, …we come (over time) to recognize the genuineness of the other’s intentions.  Our repentance needs to be authentic, honest and complete as possible at the moment. 

Remember the words of Jesus where He seems to be saying forgiveness is a process sometimes requiring multiple visits?  If your brother wrongs you, reprove him; and if he repents forgive him.  Even if he wrongs you seven times in one day and comes back to you seven times saying “I am sorry” you are to forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4)

Forgiveness is hard because it often doesn’t take the first time, especially when the hurt is deep and complicated.

Whatever else makes forgiving so hard, wondering what the relationship will be like post forgivness makes it harder.  When relationships break they seldom are ever what they were and since we only know what they were, we struggle to understand what they will be, if we forgive. 

Getting to forgiveness means reopening the relationship at a level acceptable to both parties.  Augsberger says: not every forgiveness leads to a continuing conversation between the two. Not every healed injury will result in the resumption of the previous relationship. Forgiveness is hard because we can’t see what a resumed relationship might look like, so often the estrangement is permanent. 

Like so many things in the life of faith, when we see with the mind we only see what is possible but when we see with the eyes of the heart, the future is open to possibilities we might not know now.

Forgiveness is hard, damn hard and it is hard because it always takes more to actually forgive than saying we do.  Intellectual forgiveness is nice but it doesn’t work. What happened has to be dealt with.  It has to be.

It is hard because we can’t seem to keep the past in the past. It finds its way into every thought and every decision and weakens our resolve.  The past is irreversible and we must accept it.

Forgiveness is hard because it is hard to pin down all the hurt into one issue and so if we are to find true forgiveness we must live with the reality of repeated visits to the altar of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is often made difficult because our humanness can not conceive of a relationship different than the one that was broken and since we don’t want that again we stay where we are.  People repent, they change, they become something other than what we knew.  They really do.

Does knowing how hard it is change anything?

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Entry filed under: Christianity, Culture, Faith, Friendship, Jesus, Revelation, The Father, Thoughts.

Don’t work so hard. Just when you think you’ve seen it all.

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. formedofclay  |  May 26, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

  • 2. Ron Marrs  |  May 26, 2007 at 7:29 am

    God has been teaching me that forgiveness is a gift that we give another person because we have received the gift of forgiveness from God. The word in Ephesians 4:32 is charidzomai which comes from charis (grace). People don’t earn grace. But that is why it is so hard. Who wants to give grace to someone that has hurt them, who is their enemy. What if I hate them? Who gives gifts to people they don’t like.

  • 3. anita  |  May 25, 2007 at 8:40 pm

    I read recently that forgiveness is necessary for the person doing the forgiving. the person being forgiven may not ever repent, they may never say they’re sorry, but it doesn’t matter, we need to forgive so that we can move on, let go….i’m still working on it.

  • 4. sumijoti  |  May 24, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    I like the phrase ‘altar of forgiveness’ because forgiveness really requires a dying to self. It implies a willingness to let bygones be bygones, and a humble acceptance of the present, without trying to vindicate the past.

    When people hurt one another, there are often misunderstandings. Sometimes I’ve had to let things go…even though I felt that I had been in the right, and even though I knew that the other persons still had the same erroneous perceptions about the incident. That was the hardest, not making my case, but letting God vindicate me.

    Add to that the fact that people’s core personalities don’t change all that quickly, and that there are ample more opportunities for them to step on your already sensitive toes and scratch open the wounds.

    You mentioned this too, and this is what helped me…I remember once seeing a person who had wrongly accused me of something, judged me, dragged my name through the dirt… she was worshipping God in one of our services and the Lord opened my eyes to how precious she was to Him, how much she loved him, and how her offence against me stemmed from her own very broken past.

    Once I understood the reason why she had done what she did, I had the ability to pick myself up and go on. It was not the last time I had to go to the altar of forgiveness concerning her though, yet I can see in retrospect that the whole issue brought about some good fruit in my life despite (or probably because of) the pain and difficulty of it all.

  • 5. A Son  |  May 24, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Yeah, I’ll definately read a post with that title. Greg, is the number of people who read this particular post higher than others? I would lean towards the affirmative. Love it.

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