Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you have a grievance against someone.
We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself; for every man has need to be forgiven.
You can’t go through life and not be wounded by others. And, you can’t go through life and not wound others. It’s called being human. All of us are far too fallen and imperfect to not do things that hurt each other.
The real issue here is whether or not we are going to forgive those who hurt us and seek forgiveness from those we hurt.
Henri Nouwen put it beautifully when he said, “Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
For some of us, forgiveness is something we very rarely, if ever, offer to others.
Some of us forgive too quickly and not deeply enough.
Most of us are somewhere in between these two extremes and wrongly tie forgiving others to who committed the crime and how serious of a crime took place.
We have a lot of misconceptions about forgiveness.
- Some of us wrongly believe that we should only forgive if the person who did the offense is sorry and has made amends.
- Some of us wrongly believe that forgiveness means forgetting the wrong that was done.
- Some of us wrongly believe to forgive means that what the other person did was no big deal.
- Some of us wrongly believe to forgive someone means that what they did didn’t hurt.
- Some of us wrongly believe that forgiving others is a “one moment in time” rather than a process where we continue to forgive over time.
- Some of us wrongly believe to forgive someone means we shouldn’t let negative consequences come their way.
- And, some of us wrongly believe that forgiving someone means we automatically need to reconcile with them.
All of this is false.
- True forgiveness isn’t tied to whether or not a person admits that what they did was wrong or is sorry for having done it. With some folks, we’re going to wait a long time, if not a lifetime, for them to take responsibility for what they did and be sorry for their hurtful actions.
- True forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget what a person did. We can’t forget the deeply hurtful things people do; we can simply choose not to hold it against them.
- True forgiveness involves acknowledging that something was a big deal and too hurtful to ignore. If what a person did wasn’t a big deal and didn’t hurt, we don’t need to forgive them.
- True forgiveness is both a specific moment-in-time decision and a lifelong process of forgiving over and over again.
- True forgiveness doesn’t get in the way of the natural consequences coming down on the person who did the hurtful thing. In general, if they did the crime, they need to do the time.
- True forgiveness doesn’t always lead to reconciliation.
Reconciliation takes two people, and there are times it would be unwise to reconcile with someone, especially if they are not sorry for what they did or willing to make amends.
Munchkins, please don’t let anything get in the way of forgiving someone for the wrongs they do to you.
Forgiveness is a choice, and it’s a choice we make so we can break free from what the person did to hurt us. As Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Corrie Ten Boom, who survived Nazi concentration camps during World War II where she lost family members, observed, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
Do yourself a favor and forgive others for how they wronged you—you’ll never regret it.
There’s another side to the forgiveness that I want to mention before I close. You need to forgive yourself.
We all do immoral and selfish things that hurt others, and we need to forgive ourselves for that.
C. S. Lewis was right to say, “I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.”
Don’t withhold forgiveness from yourself as if your standards are higher than God’s. They aren’t. If God forgives you for all the wrong things you’ve done and are going to do in the future, forgive yourself for them as well.
Poet Alden Nowlan observed, “The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise.”
Choose to be both an adult and wise by forgiving others and forgiving yourself.
There’s no other healthy way to live.