I grew up hearing about forgiveness. I heard how Jesus forgave me for my sins. I was taught to forgive when somebody broke my crayons or stepped on my toe. Children forget and move on so easily. Playing is more fun than being mad. Really, forgiveness was a vague concept for me back then. As an adult, forgiveness has proven to be much more complicated. How do I know I've really forgiven and moved on, especially when the issue keeps popping it's ugly self up?
I remember that first bowled-over-punched-in-the-gut feeling. The betrayal knocked the wind right out of me. What I hated most was that as much as I wanted to hurt that person back, I knew I had to forgive them. As much as I wanted them to feel the exact shame, stupidity, naivete and betrayal that they made me feel, I had to let go of my right to stay angry. And trust me - I felt entitled to it. I had been wronged. No doubt about it.
It felt so unfair. Here I was left holding my broken heart in one hand and my anger in the other. I now had the responsibility of sorting out those feelings and trying to figure out how to forgive and I WAS NOT THE ONE WHO HAD DONE ANYTHING WRONG IN THE FIRST PLACE! It felt like they got off easy.
This is what I have learned:
Anger is not a sin. Uncontrolled anger and a temper are. There are situations when anger is a correct, normal emotion. I learned that it is okay to acknowledge my anger and to let myself be angry. But I can't stop there. I mean, I guess I could, but I don't want to shrivel up into an angry and bitter person.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger... Ephesians 4:26Unforgiveness is a sin. It is not an option for the believer. We are commanded to forgive, just as Christ has forgiven us.
If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins. - Matthew 6:14-15Forgiveness is not sweeping what a person did under the rug. It does not make what they did okay. It definitely does not mean that I am a doormat to continue abusing and walking over. It does not even mean that I have to continue a relationship with that person. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Unfortunately, sometimes reconciliation is not possible.
It is not up to me to decide whether a person is truly sorrowful for what they did or just sorry they got caught. That is between them and God. My responsibility is for myself. My heart. My anger. My forgiveness.
How do I forgive?
All at once and then a little bit at a time.
I forgive all at once by intentionally making the decision that I am going to forgive. But it doesn't stop there.
I may still feel hurt. And anger. And betrayal. That person may not be on my favorites list. This is when I forgive a little bit at a time. Every time I am reminded about how I have been wronged, I have to choose again to forgive.
Wouldn't it be great if we chose once to forgive and that would be the end of it? That may be the case over spilt milk, but in many situations, forgiveness is a process. A habit. Sometimes I must choose forgiveness daily - or moment by moment. Just like I must choose joy daily. Just like I have to choose whether or not I am going to exercise today. Or pray. Or have a good attitude. Every. Single. Day. I have to choose. Some days I mess it up big time. I am just too weary ... or lazy, to fight for it. I spend the day angry and sad and miserable. I do not want those days to become my every day.
I have found that as time has passed, the wounds have begun to heal. I find that I am no longer consumed by all the feelings. The scars remain. Reminders pop up. Sometimes I feel some irritation, but as long as I don't pick at it - it subsides. I continue to choose forgiveness. Because, although some really sucky things have happened, mostly, really great things have happened to me. Like Jesus and His forgiveness. Like a family and a home and friendship. Like summer and gardens and Christmas and pretty lights. I have too many good things to live for. So today, I choose forgiveness because I am worth it. And so are you.
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