When we don’t forgive someone in our heart, we end up giving that person too much power over us (power to keep on hurting us). One simple definition of forgiveness is giving up our right to hurt someone back. In Scripture, God declares that vengeance is his, not ours. Some have used the phrase forgive and forget, yet doing so is humanly impossible unless God erases our memory. Forgiveness is not saying it didn’t happen, it didn’t matter or it didn’t hurt. The good news is that we can be in a state of true forgiveness even if we remember something bad that someone did to us. The key is not continuing to remember it “against them.”
Forgiveness is usually a process rather than a one-time event. Several signs show that you are getting to the point of truly forgiving someone. You have forgiven someone when you can honestly pray for that person and ask God to bless him or her. True forgiveness has come when you have given up all attempts to hurt that person. Another obvious sign that the poison of resentment is gone is when you can think of the person without experiencing a sharp pain in your gut. Some think that only a complete restoration of relationship signifies forgiveness, but that is not true. You can truly forgive someone in your heart while still maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationship with a person who has proven untrustworthy.
To forgive someone and give up your right to hurt them back is not an easy thing to do when the hurt is devastating. My spiritually adopted Congolese son, Tresor Yenyi, works with victims of sexual violence in eastern DR Congo. The pain that has been inflicted on these young women is unimaginable, yet Tresor knows that the only real cure is forgiveness. As Tresor says, “True peace will only come in the victims’ hearts when they will have forgiven their offenders.” Being hurt by someone emotionally is like being stabbed with a knife; forgiveness is pulling the knife out so that you can begin to heal. Forgiveness is as great (or greater) a benefit for you as it is for the person being forgiven.
It is often very difficult to even talk about times when we were victims of someone else’s sin. Satan has a twisted way of using shame to make us think that sin against us is somehow our fault—that we somehow deserved it. When I was in junior high, I was sexually abused by a man who was a friend of our family—a man who was a preacher, someone to whom I looked up. But over a short period of time, he abused me sexually. His sin against me made me feel ashamed and worthless. I wasn’t able to share about the abuse with anyone until I was in my forties. Talking about it first to a counselor and then publicly has been part of my journey of total healing. I eventually came to the point of forgiving the man who abused me as a boy. I don’t know where he currently lives, but if it is possible, I want to meet him again. I want to confront him about what he did to me as a boy, to tell him that I forgive him, and to find out whether he has received help overcoming his problem of pedophilia.
Life is too short to have bitterness, resentment, or “un-forgiveness” in your heart, whether for others or for yourself. Impending death can teach us valuable lessons and motivate us to do things we need to do before we die. Eddie Smith, a longtime missionary to Nigeria, wrote in her journal about life lessons she had learned during her struggle with cancer, which eventually took her life. My favorite lesson of hers was simple and profound: “Forgive everyone for everything!”
Reflections: Have you ever been sinned against in a significant way about which you never told anyone? Ask the Lord for courage to tell someone about what happened as a first step in the process of forgiveness. Ask the Lord to give you courage to begin the journey of forgiving someone who really hurt you deeply, so that you can be healed.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.