It’s hard to forgive. While it’s a hallmark of Christianity, it is also one of the most difficult things to do. It’s not hard for God because He’s Supreme and able to do all things. He’s God. We’re human.
And I’m not talking about little slights like someone breaking into your car, a negative word said about you, or a coworker stalking your every move on the job just to find some thing wrong about you. Those things can be dismissed as childish, immature, and petty, and then forgiven. Even children who are yelled at by their mother – who is under extreme duress and stress and is awakened out of her sleep by their playing – can tell that it is an unusual occurrence and forgive their parent for raising her voice at them. The little things are easy to forgive. It’s the things that hurt us the most that are much harder and require more work to truly forgive.
The Christian is aware of the abundant forgiveness that God offers to all of mankind for their sins. God sent His Son to take away the sins of the world and has given us all the opportunity to have our slate wiped clean of all the wrongdoing we have ever done or could ever do, if we obey Him. It’s an amazing gift. And because God has forgiven us, we, too, must forgive others. Intellectually, that’s simple to understand. You’re forgiven, so forgive. But, emotionally, it’s much more difficult to let go of hurts.
When one of my dearest family members passed away, I was angry for a very long time. In my mind, it was my family’s fault. I was living a thousand miles away in New Jersey and felt that circumstances could have been a lot different if more care and attention had been given.
Because of how I felt, I had determined that I wouldn’t go around them or speak to them again. I knew that I would eventually have to forgive, but if you had asked me during that time, I probably would have said that I wasn’t going to do it or that it would take a long time if I would. Letting go of that hurt, in a way, meant that I also had to let go a big piece of myself – my loved one. That’s what Christianity is all about, though – denying oneself for the will of Christ, letting go of your wants and putting Christ’s first. I knew what the Bible says about forgiveness – that we are to forgive one another just as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). However, my emotions – or what the apostle Paul deems the flesh – had a different plan (Romans 7:19-23).
It wasn’t until my great-aunt shared some words of wisdom with me that I began to fully see that I couldn’t allow my emotions to keep me from doing what God wanted me to do. I couldn’t hold on to that anger and that hurt forever. And, I didn’t.
A dear friend of mine, who knows of my struggles with letting go, recently gave me the book The Road to Forgiveness by Nancy Eichman. The book, so far, is really good, and I plan to finish it. Admittedly, I got to a part that was very hard to read and I put the book down for a while. Emotionally, there are still some hurts that I have to process and let go.
I think there’s a difference in forgiving and forgetting. Forgiving is a choice. Forgetting is the part that’s more difficult. It’s the not forgetting part, or ruminating, that stirs up hurt emotions. The question is understandably raised: have you truly forgiven if you haven’t forgotten? Are forgiving and forgetting one in the same? I don’t have all the answers. But in my heart, I just want to be like Jesus.
At the end of the day, my emotions do not control me. I can feel angry and not act on that anger. I can be sad and still have the joy of the Lord in my heart. I can feel hurt and bring my feelings under submission to my thinking and still forgive. My thinking and my willingness to do what God wants me to do is what makes the difference. No one ever said following Christ would be easy. He actually said that it would be difficult (Matthew 7:14). That’s why many people don’t follow Him.
It’s easy to hold on to anger and stay mad at someone. But, nobody has power over me. I choose to serve God. I choose to obey Him. And I choose to forgive. It takes a conscious effort to forgive and forget. That’s what God wants you and me to do. And, that’s what I’m working towards. It really is a gift to say to someone who unintentionally or deliberately set out to hurt you, “I forgive you.” It takes work to be a Christian. Christians aren’t perfect, but Christ’s love has perfected us in Him. And I’m striving to be more and more like Him. He’s helping me each day to be and do better than the day before. I hope that you can say the same.