Forgiving others is a good thing for by it relationships are restored and people are healed. But forgiving others can also be a hard thing. In some situations, it can be the hardest thing ever done and in other situations we can get stuck because we just don’t know how to do it. Forgiving sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.
When a person hangs on so tightly to unforgiveness there is a reason they’re receiving a benefit from it.
There was a time in my life where I found myself stuck in unforgiveness and I had some great reasons! In fact, one of the best things I ever did was write down all the reasons I should not have to forgive and I presented it to the Lord. I was quite pleased with my list and thought I had a pass on forgiving. The Lord very kindly walked me through the list and showed me how I had some misunderstandings about forgiveness.
Unforgiveness Protects from Future Harm
I believed unforgiveness was a benefit to me because it was the only thing protecting me from further hurt. The reality was it was a ten-foot wall built all around me with a ceiling, cutting off all air and slowly suffocating me.
I came to realize that I could forgive and protect myself from further harm. I learned about healthy boundaries, which provided protection so that I could forgive.
Unforgiveness Protects from Trusting
I came to realize that to forgive someone does not mean that I must trust them. Some people remain untrustworthy. It does mean that I want to give them an opportunity to build trust after change has occurred and that I hope they succeed in building trust. (Sometimes that looks like allowing a conversation with three cops present.) It leaves the responsibility of reconciliation on the person who offended to do the work of change.
Unforgiveness Shouts ‘It Mattered’
I came to realize that to forgive was NOT the same thing as saying, ‘it didn’t matter’. In fact, I needed to recognize that if something really needed to be forgiven, that was saying that it DID matter. Christ died for our sins because they matter. I can forgive and still recognize that the loss mattered.
Forgiveness also needed to cover all the tentacles that the offense created. A single offense can have reaching impact on finances, relationships with children, extended family, and goals. It can affect health, travel, schooling, employment and create fear and insecurity. All these tentacles matter and also need to be forgiven.
Unforgiveness Feels Like Payback
I’m going to be honest here…I felt like payback was righteous and just, but it acted like a boomerang. Wanting the offender to suffer like I suffered ended up being a consequence on me. This desire didn’t affect the offender at all.
Payback does not free an offender from or keep them in bondage. Wanting another person to suffer only enbondages you.
Unforgiveness Requires a Debt Be Paid
The definition of forgiveness is to cancel an indebtedness and to cease to feel resentment. (dictionary.com) Now this benefit of not letting go of a debt can be good for the offender. Sometimes the best thing for an offender to do is to make amends and pay what is owed. It is possible to cease from resentment and allow the offender to experience all consequences they have created. This is how they grow and change. When we remove consequences, we stop change.
This becomes a challenge when the wound is gossip, murder, or outbursts of anger. These seldom have no defined repayment structures. A simple apology is not enough. Repayment then becomes a turning away from these destructive habits and altering their behavior. It’s acknowledging the hurt they have caused and asking for (not expecting) forgiveness, avoiding any excuses. It also means they accept the consequences of their actions, which means they don’t fight against them and guilt-trip the offended person to get out of the consequences. Sometimes consequences are life-long. This is actually good for the offending person to accept.
Freedom from resentment is always possible, but letting go of a debt takes wisdom.
This is NOT Easy
Just to be clear…there are no 5 easy steps to forgiving. There are some things that we can forgive in our human effort…a friend forgets to call, a spouse says a hurtful word, etc. But there are some things, in our own reasoning, wisdom and strength, we will not have the power in ourselves to forgive. It takes an act of God.
What Forgiveness Means
Forgiving someone allows you to let go of resentments and you may also need to let go of any debt they owe you: they don’t owe you repayment, they don’t owe you an acknowledgement of how they hurt you, they don’t owe you to change. This is between you and God. What this does is it sets you free from an expectation that may never be fulfilled. This obviously means forgiveness does not equal a reconciled relationship.
Friends, if you struggle with forgiving someone, I’m sorry. Your fears matter, your pain matters, and your story matters. I encourage you to write out why you shouldn’t have to forgive. Bring your list to the Lord. Be truthful…even if you theologically know better. You can write down “I don’t want to” or “they don’t deserve it” or “it’s not fair.”
It’s very helpful for you to understand the benefits you are getting through unforgiveness so that you can receive these benefits through other means.
The Lord understands your story and He is kind. He will give you discernment if canceling the debt is best and wisdom with establishing healthy boundaries. He will also enable you to trust Him if the debt is not paid and set you free from resentments.