Forgiveness. When is it true? When do we know we have forgiven someone of their wrongs? Is it when it no longer hurts? Is it when we can relate to the one who wronged us without feeling resentment or bitterness. Is it when we can relate to one who wronged us without getting into a fight or without feeling extra sensitive?
Is forgiveness a one time affair or a process? Can we accomplish it with the words, “I forgive you.” Can we accomplish it with merely the willingness to forgive? What about the willingness to be willing to forgive?
Forgiveness may come easy when a person confesses with true contriteness of heart and acknowledges how much they have wronged you. But what about when they do not ever acknowledge how hurt you were, how unjust they were in how they treated you? Maybe they think it as a little thing they did, or maybe they do not think they did anything at all. Maybe they think you were the problem. Maybe they feel they have forgiven you, and the rest of your feelings are your problem. Is forgiveness easy then?
It is then that one must know, forgiveness is for yourself, not them. If you have any roots of unforgiveness in you towards anyone who has wronged you in your life, then that unforgiveness has a hold on you, and may be the cause of some of your problems or it may be poisoning your attitude in other areas of your life and taking away the full joy God means for you to have.
Sometimes, before we can forgive, we have to grieve. This grief is the very same that we would go through in such life events as losing someone. Sometimes we must grieve over lost closeness we had with the one who wronged us. We may also grieve over the pain that has caused us to suffer for any number of years. We may grieve over loss of joy in our lives, the pain that has held us back in life, that has kept us down. We are grieving over unforgiveness itself. And we may find we must forgive the other person, and also ourselves to go on.
Part of forgiving is being aware of where we are in the grief and forgiveness process. In grief, the stages are as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.
The road to forgiveness then follows the stages of grief.
In denial we are not even aware of the need to forgive. It hurts to acknowledge that we are hurt. So we ignore any kind of pain we may have been feeling. We push it down. We may blame ourselves for any pain we feel, telling ourselves that everything was our fault and so we take full responsibility denying that the other person played any part in our pain.
In this stage, we realize we have been hurt. We become angry at the other person. We want justice. We may try to get revenge. We turn away from them, ignoring them, or build walls to keep them out of our lives and hearts.
In this stage, we want them back yet we want them to acknowledge their wrong. We probably will try to bring up the incident from the past in an effort to get them to apologize or at least admit their wrong doing. We feel that if they acknowledged it, then we could forgive them. It is our attempt to let go of our bitterness that keeps us bringing up the past continually, demanding apologies and acknowledgment. We also think that maybe if we explain it right or do something a little differently in our relationship with the person, that then they will acknowledge it–then we will at last be set free.
In this stage, we give up on them ever acknowledging they did anything wrong. We feel that we will never have a real relationship with them, and we feel numb around them and when we think of them. We tell ourselves we don’t really care if we ever have a “real” relationship with that person.
At this stage, we finally come to terms with what happened. We grieve our loss of joy, and then realize that we must move on with our lives. We then accept the other person and our relationship with them as it is. For then we find that the answer to how to forgive is within us, not in the other. If we have been separated from the other, we may call for a natural conversation — not out of a desire to change anything, but out of normal interest in the person. We recognize that our relationship may not be the same as it once was or as we wish it would be, yet we are at one with it, content to let the relationship be as it is. We let go of any hard feelings and enjoy whatever happens now– for now a page has been turned, and we start afresh. This means we do not push the other person for a closeness that does not exist; we do not envy their friends and we relax. We just let whatever happens to happen.
I do not mean one should stay in a painful relationship. If a person continues to hurt us, naturally we will keep up the walls in our hearts. Yet we can forgive them by accepting that the person is the way they are, and if they are family we learn ways to love them regardless of how they treat us. We do this by having confidence in ourselves and knowing that what the other says and does does not matter to us since they are in the wrong. If we can be certain of ourselves, then we do not believe any barbs that come our way. If they are abusive, we get out of the situation unless they are getting help and are getting better. If a friend keeps hurting us, naturally we will stop being their friend. Yet we can still forgive in our hearts, and we know we have done this when we can think of the other person without bitterness or reliving the hurtful past. Yet forgiveness is a process, and sometimes we think we have forgiven someone, only to have something remind us of the pain. It is then that we must choose not to dwell on it and forgive yet again, refusing to allow bitterness to creep up in our hearts.
Now if the person continues to hurt us, then naturally we will keep walls around our hearts protecting us. Nothing is wrong with this as long as we do not hold it against the other person but accept them as they are with the acknowledgment that they also have some pain in their lives which they project onto us.