C.S. Lewis said, “Every one says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”
Yup. We all believe in forgiveness. When we hear about the ills of resentment and the damage to self that bitterness causes, we nod in agreement. We know that the alternative to forgiveness is really bad.
But most of us struggle to really forgive.
Come on, be honest. Who have you not forgiven?
Who do you have imaginary conversations with? You know, when you can manufacture in your mind all the words you’d like to say to that person, given the chance or the courage?
That’s the person you need to forgive.
They don’t deserve it. But forgiveness is not about what anyone deserves. If it were, you would not have been forgiven by God. But at the root of the Greek word forgiveness, is the word “gift.” (Just like “give” is in the middle of the English “forgiveness”.) When you forgive another person, it’s not because they deserve it. Forgiveness has really nothing to do with the person being forgiven. It has everything to do with the person doing the forgiving. Whether or not you forgive says way more about you than it does about them.
They may not ask for it. Some of us withhold forgiveness until the person apologizes. But that’s really foolish. Why would you hurt your health by keeping an offense in your head, allowing that person to live in your mind rent-free, waiting for him or her to make it right? Do you really want your health and mental/emotional well-being to be under the control of that person? Take control! Let that matter go and cancel the debt they owe you, whether or not they acknowledge it or ask you to.
They may need it again and again and again. For two reasons. First, people repeat their offenses. Jesus talked directly about that to Peter and taught us that if we are really going to forgive, we’ll need to forgive repeatedly (Matthew 18:22). Yes, even for the same offense that they may repeat, over and over. But because forgiveness isn’t about them anyway, and for our own well-being, we must forgive again and again.
The other reason we need to forgive the same person repeatedly is because there will always be a devil who will bring the offense back up to you even after you’ve made the decision to forgive. And he’ll make sure to point out a different nuance or development, or another reason to be angry about that offense. He doesn’t want the wound to heal. He is not interested in your well-being, and he is all about creating division and animosity. So we have to practice perpetual forgiveness, that is, forgiving again and again, every time it is brought back to our attention.
Just remember, forgiveness is not an emotion. It’s not memory control. It’s not necessarily reconciliation (which is based on restored trust). It’s a decision, a choice. It’s the canceling of a debt (real or perceived). It’s choosing to let go of an offense, and thereby freeing you of the ongoing effects that offense will otherwise perpetuate.
The alternative to forgiveness is anger, resentment and bitterness. That’s it. You either choose to forgive, or you choose to live a bitter life.
So, it’s time. It’s time to let go. It’s time to forgive that dad, or wife, or boyfriend, or stranger. For your own sake and for the benefit of all your other relationships, it’s time to make that choice. Choose to let it go.