From a young age, we’re taught to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “As we forgive those who trespass against us…” In fact, we’re taught to forgive others “not seven times but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18 21-22). That is a lot of forgiveness!! Have you ever considered why? Do we forgive for the sake of the other person, or to preserve a relationship? Is it simply an act of humility? Perhaps it’s just our duty to accept other’s mistakes. Is it to be an example for others to make the world a better place?
Those may be good reasons to forgive, but they miss the real purpose of forgiveness. They all focus on the other and treat forgiveness as a duty. In fact, while forgiveness often impacts another, it’s purpose is internal healing. Forgiveness is the release of resentment or anger. The definition doesn’t even acknowledge the other person. This points to another amazing gift from God! In His wisdom, He teaches us to forgive so we can let go of hurts and live in His goodness. He wants us to move forward and live with love in our hearts!
Treating forgiveness as an obligation towards the other has troubling implications. 1) If you try to forgive someone because your “supposed to” forgive them, you’re probably not really forgiving them at all. Even though you may show respect on the outside, you’re most likely going to continue carrying resentment. 2) What if the other doesn’t deserve your forgiveness, or 3) if the other is unwilling or unable to accept responsibility. If you distort the reason for forgiveness (thinking it’s for the other) you may put yourself in an unhealthy situation of continuing the relationship with someone that is abusive or not setting the proper boundaries with someone that keeps hurting you. To make it worse, if it’s for the other, it requires that the other accept your forgiveness which you don’t control. It may be a situation where the other is no longer living.
However, if we understand that forgiveness is an internal process and that the dynamic with the other is secondary, it frees us to control the process. The process involves awareness of the damage that resentment causes. It may include empathy for the other for the situation (depending on the situation). We choose when and how to forgive, and we can find God’s grace of internal peace
If you carry deep resentment in your life, consider forgiving the other, and know that it’s really a gift of life for you.
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