I have long pondered forgiveness, for years! It’s something that confuses me. Like forgiving my abuser. Like parents standing at their child’s graveside and considering how to forgive the shooter. Like a little girl forgiving the people that snatched her from her mother’s arms at the border.
Forgiveness can be confounding and elusive. It is not a merely a thing, or a conviction, or an emotion, or a firmly held belief. It is an act of the heart that can seem all but impossible. But the Bible seems very clear about forgiveness. When you have been wronged or betrayed by another person and you are in a tug of war with yourself about forgiveness, the words of Scripture face off with you as a challenge, perhaps even a rebuke.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Collosians 3:13)
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)
For so many years, these and other Biblical admonitions troubled me. I felt as though the words stood in judgement before me. I would pray to be able to forgive. I would pray for light that could shatter the darkness around me. I would pray again, and again. Waiting. Hoping.
Eventually, I shared my inability to forgive with my spiritual director, hoping for guidance and wise counsel. We talked about it at length. I bared my most vulnerable places and revealed the unresolved anger that lived inside of those places. I mined the depths of my spirit and unearthed long-standing wounds of the soul. Our conversations were gently pushing me to a better place and shedding light on the reality that my inability to forgive was not disobedience, but unresolved pain. And then my spiritual director shared this quote with me.
Forgiveness isn’t telling someone it was okay to hurt you.
It’s telling yourself it’s okay to stop hurting.
It doesn’t mean you have to trust them again.
It means you can learn to trust yourself again.
It doesn’t mean you have to give them a free pass back into your life.
It means you are free to take your life back again.
Forgiveness is simply emptying your past of its power to empty your present of its peace.
― L.R. Knost
That experience was many years ago, but to this day, I live in the peace I found then. There is no doubt that my past did indeed have the power to empty my “present of its peace.” Reclaiming my peace made forgiveness possible, though it did not happen instantly. It’s not so easy to forgive a person who was never sorry.
Still, it was a process — a journey really — that I had to travel with God, praying all along the way that I would have the strength I needed. The journey was long and sometimes arduous. God was ever-present — patient and persistent. At journey’s end, there really was light, shining brightly where darkness had been.
Was I healed of my sin of being an unforgiving person? After this journey, do I now forgive every person who hurts me? Sometimes!
Thank you, God, for your patient persistence. Amen.