Article 3-C of a Forgiveness Section of the Positive Psychology Series
My last two articles on forgiveness have explored exactly what forgiveness is. This article concludes this three-part series describing forgiveness. In addition to the characteristics described previously, we can say the following about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is Hard
Having discussed and described forgiveness in some depth, it should probably be clear that the process is usually difficult. Forgiveness is an act of faith (see below), and faith is the most difficult act for human beings. In addition, as I make clear in the following article on what forgiveness is not, often someone who faces the need to forgive fears that they will be taken advantage of, that they will be condoning the actions of their transgressor, or that forgiveness will somehow declare that nothing wrong ever happened. This is not the case, but it is nevertheless a difficult fear to face.
Forgiveness also does not involve the promise that things will get better, feel better, or that the wrong will never be committed again. In fact, if you have a regular relationship with the person you are forgiving, it is likely that they will hurt you again, despite your forgiveness. Forgiving for the second, third, 30th, and 490th time is hard. Forgiveness essentially means relinquishing your right to take offense, prosecute, or accuse: it involves giving up something you have. The only thing that is more difficult than forgiving is clinging onto your accusation for years on end, hoping that you can find some satisfaction in justice or revenge. Yet in the meantime, unforgiveness consumes your energy and attention, and sours your soul. Even if you wish no harm to your transgressor, forgiveness nevertheless asks more of you: it demands that you release them to good things, and give up your right to accuse them.
Forgiveness is an Act of Faith
There is a voice in the human heart that urges us to keep the resentment, the desire for revenge, the record of wrong, the ammo, the leverage, the powerful feeling of anger, and the comfort of spite. It tells us to keep our distance from pain, instead of engaging in a conversation or relationship. This voice argues that if we forgive, we will leave ourselves destitute, powerless, and without any recourse. But faith means putting yourself on the line, and trusting that the thing you have put your faith in will come through for you. It takes faith to choose forgiveness – faith that it will bring life, and that it is right despite what that self-protecting inner voice says. This faith abandons immediate gratification and self-preservation, and instead puts faith in delayed gratification and the giving of life. Forgiveness is not a contract to smile at that person, sit next to them at lunch, or offer them a place in your heart. Rather, it is an act of faith that laying down your life will work for life.
Forgiveness is at the Heart of Christian Faith
Forgiveness is a known hallmark of Christianity – it is the Lord’s answer to sin in a broken world. We sometimes want to ask God how He can allow evil to exist. But instead of destroying evil (which would include anyone who has ever sinned), He asks us to forgive as He does. When you forgive, you let that person go, to God. You rescind whatever right you have to judge, to prosecute, or to hold against. As Christ forgave your sins, you commit the powerful act of saying that you give to God your right to judge, you acknowledge that vengeance is the Lord’s (Romans 12:19), and you give this person to Him – and then bless them. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to forgive. God assures us that the wrong is known and that a higher power is working in the life of your transgressor. We are told to, “Pray for your enemies,” and we take the higher ground when we bless instead of hate. If you see your transgressor through God’s eyes, then you will grow. This is an expression of Christian love in action and an act of faith in Christ.
Forgiveness is a Process
Forgiveness has a start and includes steps on the way towards its accomplishment. It needs to be renewed as you have desires that will seek to renege on the forgiveness. My pastor once said that he had heard forgiveness explained very well in three easy steps. 1) Recognize the need to forgive someone and commit yourself to doing so. 2) Declare your forgiveness before God in Jesus’ name. 3) Let it go. He may have also said, “Then get over it” – whatever it was, we were practically out of our seats with indignation. I remember shouting on the inside, “That’s not how it works!” And then he added with a cool smile, “And ten minutes later, when the resentment returns, forgive them again!” Then I began to learn. The process does not end with the words, “I forgive.” The heart does not (usually) heal instantly, so we must choose to commit ourselves to a continual process of forgiving. As we progress, this process becomes easier, the resentment eases, and its waves come less often. As the fire of resentment dwindles, we find that our feelings heal. The forgiver feels the transgression less as the process of continual forgiving proceeds.
Forgiveness does not have to be a once-and-for-all act, especially if the hurt is deep or involves a heart-wound that impacts your life. Do not worry about achieving a sense of completion instantaneously – forgiveness is a process. And if you decide to forgive and do so, let the next wave of bitterness or desire for vengeance remind you of what Christ has done for your sake. Use the process to keep your heart focused on what you are doing and why. Let this be a purifying agent to your forgiveness.
Christian Counseling to Tap into the Power of Forgiveness
If you would like to explore how Christian counseling might assist you on your journey of forgiveness, please contact me to inquire about setting up an initial session. It is my pleasure to join with clients and help them to see the ways in which they have already overcome in life, and how God has uniquely shaped them both to do great things and to experience joy and goodness in their lives and relationships.
“Sad Man,” courtesy of writer93, CC0 Public Domain, ABSFreepic.com; “Girl and Sky,” courtesy of Splitshire.com/girl-sky/