Do you struggle with the F-word?
You know . . . when people (sometimes the ones you love most) say or do something injurious? When you feel angry about it and are unsure how to process the emotion?
You can’t talk about anger for very long without wandering into the minefield of the F-word.
Ugh. The F-word . . . Forgiveness. Forgiveness can be difficult sometimes. Often, it’s the last thing on our minds when we’ve been wounded.
The Bible is full of characters who had undeserved pain inflicted on them. Some of them were able to forgive. Others of them struggled with releasing their offender. Here are two famous examples:
In Judges chapter 15, we read about Samson’s father-in-law, who, while Samson was off on one of his adventures, gave Samson’s wife to another man. Samson’s anger over this was understandable. He struggled with the F-word so much that he took matters into his own hands by burning down the Philistines’ grain fields. Samson said, “I won’t stop until I get my revenge on you!”
This is a classic case study on the destructive power of revenge and bitterness. I believe in most instances that the person who gets hurt the worst in these situations is the person who is victimized and remains bitter, not the person who inflicted the damage. While I still believe that, the damage from Samson’s bitterness was not contained to himself. It negatively impacted hundreds of those near him.
When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt for food during a worldwide famine, we see a response opposite of Samson’s. These were the same guys who years earlier had sold Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him. Yikes.
When they discovered who he was, and his status in Egypt, they were afraid Joseph would retaliate. Surprisingly to them, he announced “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.” Wow. I’m pretty sure Joseph didn’t feel that way the moment he was sold into slavery, but somehow by faith he latched onto God’s greater purpose, and this helped him forgive his brothers.
Forgiveness is always possible . . . but why is it so hard sometimes? And why is it so important we figure out how to get better at it? Here’s why: Bitterness and resentment are poisons that imprison us in our pain. Forgiveness propels us toward freedom and healing.
So in the interest of getting free and healed up, here are four fundamental ideas that help us navigate the sometimes extremely turbulent waters of forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t forgetfulness
Forgiveness is not amnesia. It doesn’t pretend the wounding event(s) never happened.
To be sure, most offenses that happen to us we need to get over quickly.
Today’s post is not a summons to touchiness. Nor is it intended to muddy the waters between forgiveness and trust. If I loan you $20 and you don’t repay me, I’ll forgive you. But I’m not loaning you another $20. Forgiveness doesn’t equal trust. It simply means you don’t hold the offense(s) against your offender anymore.
That being said . . . some wounds cut deep. King David wrote: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God”
Can you feel the pain here? David had been betrayed by a close friend. Deep relational injuries require some time and effort to work through. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the injury occurred—forgiveness refuses to hold that injury against the injurer anymore.
Forgiveness isn’t deceptiveness
Keeping the deep-wound idea in mind, real forgiveness is honest about the damage inflicted. Real, deep-down forgiveness is probably not possible without acknowledging the anger you feel about the offense.
In fact, some counselors believe you cannot fully pardon someone until you have acknowledged the pain he or she has caused you. Some of us jump the gun when it comes to forgiving. We use it as a coping mechanism, perhaps to avoid the difficult work of processing our anger. The last thing we need to do when we’re deeply hurt is to pretend we’re not.
I’m not encouraging hyper-sensitivity here—some things are just not worth getting hurt over. But sometimes, the pain runs deep, and it has to be honestly processed.
Forgiveness isn’t always instantaneous
Jesus said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Pretty scary words, huh?
Unfortunately, Jesus’ words here often are misused as a sledgehammer to club people into prematurely showing mercy in deep-wound situations. We end up mouthing the words “I forgive you,” while our heart remains in an emotional rage. Jesus commands us to forgive—but occasionally we must work through a process to release our offender. And depending on the severity of the wound, the process takes commensurate time.
If you have been betrayed by a close friend, or stabbed in the back by a family member, you’ll need time just to figure out which way is up. You’ll probably also need to reach out to qualified people who can legitimately help you work through your pain. Prayer is a huge part of the forgiving process as well.
Forgiveness isn’t always one and done
In deep-wound circumstances, you may have forgiven your offender a while back, but periodically something will trigger the memory of the wound and you feel anger again. If this occurs, don’t despair. It doesn’t mean the forgiveness you extended a while back wasn’t valid—it just means there’s more forgiving to do. Keep forgiving until the process is complete.
You may wonder, “How do I know when I’m done?” This can be difficult to determine. All I can say is, if you no longer wish a slow, painful death on the offender, you’re making progress.
Resentment and bitterness imprison us in our pain. Forgiveness propels us toward healing. So when you’ve been deeply hurt, and the opportunity to forgive presents itself: be honest about the injury, commit yourself to a truthful and healthy process, and give yourself some grace as you work toward forgiveness. If the wound inflicted on you was severe, it will take time and effort to forgive . . . but ultimately, releasing your offender not only releases them—it frees you.
I’m rooting and praying for you!