As I said in my last blog, I discovered last week yet again that the topic of forgiving others is a hot one. People can have very strong opinions about it. One thing becomes clear when there is any discussion about letting go the hurt others have caused us is that people have various misconceptions about what Christian forgiveness involves. These mimisunderstandings frequently block people beginning the process of forgiving others.
Forgiveness is not pretending something did not happen. Ignoring a deep hurt means that it festers and can poison the heart.
Forgiveness is not pretending that I have forgotten. The line: "Forgive and forget" is not found in the Gospel! We remember but we still choose to put down the heavy burden of bitterness; we make a decision to forgive. Forgiveness is not primarily about the past, but about the future - my future lived without resentment.
Forgiveness is not pretending I was not hurt. It deals with the reality of hurt and anger; it is not about denial, a covering up of the impact of an other's actions.
Forgiveness is not condoning destructive behaviour. We can be definite about what is and what is not an acceptable pattern of interaction. Forgiveness does not mean becoming a punch bag! It does not mean living with abusive behaviour.
Forgiveness does not presume reconciliation. If this happens it is wonderful. Forgiveness may heal the person who wronged us. It may heal the relationship. But it will always heal us. The truth is that the forgiving person benefits most. Forgiveness happens to the person doing it. It may or may not affect the person being forgiven.
Forgiveness of a serious wrong is hard. Only with the grace of God at work in us can we truly let go.
The only thing harder than forgiveness is the alternative - living with a bitter heart, trapped in the past.