Forgiveness is a tough thing. It is like it has a mind of its own. There are even times in which we can say we forgive someone and actually believe we did forgive them only to find ourselves angry at them and replaying the hurt over and over again.
There are people who seem to forgive every offense. On the other end of the forgiveness spectrum are people who never forgive. They remember every hurt and wear their anger as armor to protect them from further hurts. The first group allow themselves to be trampled upon and the second group do the trampling.
There are many formulas written about forgiveness including steps to forgiveness, rituals to help us forgive, and even face to face meetings set up with the ones who hurt us. Most of these are external and miss what the Bible says.
Forgiveness is based on the greatest commands of Jesus. Commands that sum up all the laws and prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus said, “Love your God with all your mind, strength and soul, and love others as you love yourself” (Mark 12: 30-31).
The root of forgiveness is love. Forgiveness is an act of love for God and for ourselves.
Unforgiveness is not loving ourselves. It is not loving God either but for now, let’s focus on loving ourselves. It is not loving ourselves because we deliberately hold ourselves back from progressing beyond the moment of hurt. For example, someone tells a lie about me. I find out about this lie and confront the liar. There is no apology or acknowledgment of wrong doing at all. I am now fuming and, in my mind, I rehearse the lie and its repercussions as well as what I should have said to the liar. Both become more exaggerated as I give them more mind time. The hurt gets bigger and bigger until I want to lash out at the liar and anybody else who believed the lie. In my mind, my reputation is ruined, my credibility is lost, and it is all the liar’s fault.
I make a silent vow to never trust anyone again. This put barriers up between myself and others. Even between those I love and who love me. In the end I am not able to receive or give love fully and completely because my anger has given birth to fear and this has raised up in me a protectiveness that does not allow for free relationships. This is not love.
It is not love either for myself or the liar. I am holding both of us hostage to the time of the lie. No matter what that person does after that, or what he did before that, I treat him as a liar. No matter what happens in my life, I am confirm that I am the victim. I live my life not as a victorious child of God but as a victim of sin. I no longer look for positive things and people because the filter I look through is the filter of pain. I expect other people to hurt me. Then either I start to believe I deserve to be hurt like the one trampled upon, or I become angry and turn into the one trampling. This is also not love.
Forgiveness is crucial if we are to love others as we love ourselves. After all, if I live my life as a victim waiting to be hurt and hurting others in the process, how is that love.
There are outward signs of forgiveness. Things like being open and honest in relationships, doing kind things even for those who have hurt us, and being an active member of a community or church. But these things can also be done with different motivations. True forgiveness is invisible. It is internal and it a matter of the heart. There will be fruits of forgiveness such as not being quick to take offense and readily offering help even to those who have hurt us. Forgiveness frees us to love ourselves and to love God. It is a way of life that feels like both we matter and that others matter.
How do we forgive? Pray this prayer:
“Father please forgive my trespasses as I forgive those who hurt me. Help me do this and show me where I am not truly forgiving those who hurt me.”
What does forgiveness look like? It looks like love.
Andy Becker is a retired counselor and author of The Travelers, a fictionalized account of spiritual warfare (available on Amazon). He and his wife, Stella, lead Lighthouse Ministries which offers love, hope, and encouragement to one of Canada’s poorest and roughest neighborhoods, North Central Regina. His book, The Travelers, is available at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca