Over the years I’ve written different times about forgiveness. In addition, my husband, Mike, has helped me understand what forgiveness is and is not. For instance:
- Forgiveness does not mean we forget what happened, but we can remember it redemptively. That means that, although the memory may be present, bitterness and resentment are not.
- Forgiveness does not mean we have to automatically trust the offender again. Trust is always earned.
- Forgiveness does not assume we reconcile and re-enter a close relationship. Of course, we do, if we safely can, but not if the other person would repeat the hurtful actions.
Because of recent events in my life, I’d like to talk about some other aspects of forgiveness. Sometimes fresh pain can help us embrace fresh understanding. I think that is what has happened with me.
Here’s some general, background information. We can forgive offenses against us. Even before the person asks for forgiveness for something they did or said against us, we can choose to forgive. This is what Jesus meant when he said to forgive as our Father in heaven forgives us. (Matt 6:12-15) God forgave us before we even knew enough to ask for forgiveness. (Rom. 5:8) This can be hard for us, but it is possible. Otherwise, Jesus would not have commanded us to forgive. (Lu 17:3-4)
We don’t forgive the sin involved. That is between the offender and God. Only God forgives sins. We forgive the damage done to us, but God forgives the sin.
But the kind of issue I have been dealing with, off and on through my life. Is different. What do I do with the hurt I feel when someone I love is hurt by someone else?
The first time I found myself in this cage was when leaders in a church we were serving accused my husband of things he had never done. They treated him badly and cut us off from fellowship with them. The cutting off part had an upside. It meant I didn’t have to continue to see them and try to act like I wasn’t offended. But for over a year, I harbored resentment and anger over their unfair accusations and treatment of my husband. Throughout the year I tried to forgive them and constantly failed. Why?
I failed because what they did to my husband was not mine to forgive. So, what should I do with the hurt? I began to realize I did not have to try to forgive. That was not my responsibility. I was not failing in my relationship with God. He never intended me to carry that burden of forgiving what they had done to Mike.
Did I like them after that? No. Did I want to spend time with them? No! Did I want revenge? No. Did I want bad to happen to them? No.
My husband had forgiven them right away. He was hurt and struggled with what he could have done differently or if he had done anything wrong. During that time, I spoke the truth to him about what he had done and what they had done. His pain eased and we started a new chapter of our lives, equipped with a few very costly lessons.
I’ve just been through another lesson in this area of forgiveness. I won’t tell the details here because I don’t want to add any pain to others who were also hurt.
Again, someone did a series of mean and hurtful things to one of my loved ones. The offender has been trying to get in touch with me for months. I’ve dodged the calls. My sweet husband has been running interference for me. I was struggling with whether I had forgiven this person. I had. I held no grudges for the things done to me or that directly affected me. However, I would get physically ill just thinking about those phone calls.
It all came to a head when I received a general note of apology and request for forgiveness. I could honestly say I had forgiven wrongs done to me. But what should I say about the discomfort I still felt about this person?
Once again, I realized I was harboring anger and resentment over the sins done to my loved one. Those were not mine to forgive. Finally, I was relieved to realize I didn’t have to forgive these offenses. My loved one was the only one who could forgive what was done to them. And only God could forgive the sins involved.
I got real release when I realized the person who was hurt was already in heaven. The pain and frustration were forgotten with the first glimpse of heaven. The offender cannot hurt this person anymore.
I am free. The heartache has been replaced with that glorious image of my loved one’s joy in heaven. When the hurt comes to mind again, I purposefully replace the images with the huge smile on the face of the one in heaven.
Does this mean I trust the offender to not do anything hurtful again? No. Do I want to restore the relationship with the offender? No, I’m not ready. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to talk and visit without pain, but for now, I’ve asked the person to pray for us both. I will continue to lift this person to God and wait to see what God will do with this relationship.
With God, we get to revise lessons learned earlier again and again. I am grateful God wants to set us free from the sins and snares that trip us up. Maybe what I share here will help you in a similar test.
Take a moment to consider:
- Are you trying to make forgiveness into forgetting or reconciliation or having to trust again?
- Is there something you have been struggling to forgive that isn’t something you need to forgive?
- Have you asked God to help you replace the hurts with a redemptive thought?