Some More Thoughts on Forgiveness
Last month, I wrote about forgiveness and highlighted the fact that forgiveness is primarily for the benefit of the person who needs to forgive, not for the person who needs to be forgiven. This month, I want to continue to reflect upon forgiveness by attempting to dispel some notions that we hold onto when we think about forgiveness.
The first notion that we hold onto is the notion that forgiveness treats the other person’s sin as if it never happened. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. When a person sins against us and hurts us, forgiveness actually acknowledges that sin and hurt. The reason we don’t realize this is because we don’t say the words, “I forgive you.” When someone hurts us and then says that they are sorry we usually respond by saying, “No big deal. Forget about it. Or, it was nothing.” Those expressions actually do minimize the sin and hurt, treats them as if they never happened. But, the next time someone sins against you and hurts you, try saying the words, “I forgive you.” You will discover how very powerful those words are, how, just saying those words out loud will expose that sin and hurt. Saying the words, “I forgive you,” lets the other person know that you are taking seriously the sin and hurt that they have brought upon you, but that you are taking steps to release that hurt and pain in order to allow healing to come into your life. A different kind of notion that needs to be addressed stems from the concern that sometimes when we do forgive another person, the hurt and pain that the person caused us does not immediately go away, which was probably the expectation when we finally chose to forgive. So, why should we risk forgiving if the pain might not immediately go away? The reason is that forgiveness is a process, and the deeper the hurt, the longer it will take for the healing to come. A colleague of mine, named Janet Hellner-Burris, wrote a book called Deeper into Forgiving based on the scripture passage where Jesus told Peter to forgive 70 x 7. I discovered new insight as I read her book. I always thought of 70 x 7 as forgiving a person who continually sins against me over and over again. She suggests that sometimes we might need to forgive a single sin over and over again. Sometimes another person’s sin is so hurtful to us, that a single act of forgiveness may not be enough to allow the healing to come in. We may think that we have been healed only to discover weeks, months, or even years later that there is still pain that is present and that more healing that needs to happen. And so we return to the process of forgiving that one sin over and over again, for as long as it takes, even if it takes 70 x 7. Finally, there is the notion that when we forgive, we need to forget. “Forgive and forget,” is a phrase that many attribute to the Bible. I have a computer program that allows me to type any word or phrase and see where it is located in the Bible. I can tell you that the phrase, “Forgive and forget,” is not in the Bible. So, forgiving is not about forgetting, it is about letting go of the hurt and pain and opening up our lives to the healing of God’s Spirit. We may never forget the sin and hurt that others have brought into our lives and that is ok; we can still be healed. I have many scars on my body from the various heart operations that I have had in my life. Those scars are a daily reminder of the pain that I have gone through, pain that I will never fully forget. Yet, those scars also remind me that I have experienced tremendous healing. Forgetting is not what is important; finding healing is what is important.