We know we're supposed to do it. But it seems so hard and unfair, like the Lucy's of the world will just end up yanking the football and grinning every time.
Forgiveness is a legal term. When the World Bank forgives the debt of some struggling economy, real money is owed. But the bank says "forgive" and the money is no longer owed.
When we forgive someone of an emotional debt, it's the same principle. The person did something to us that was wrong or hurtful. They owe us a real debt. Real pain exists. When I say "I forgive", I'm saying "You don't owe me anything any more."
Now I personally don't know how I could do this without God. Because when I am really hunkered down with the truth that God is my source of supply, I'm not so worried about what people do or don't do for me. It's a whole lot easier to forgive somebody when I can say to myself, "Well, I wanted ____ from this person, but they chose not to. I'm going to let it go and trust God to supply what I need."
Sometimes, in the spirit of being nice and forgiving, we say "No big deal." When it really was a big deal. And then later on, we might find ourselves with "sideways" problems like:
- Having a hard time feeling God close to me, feeling distant from Scripture and worship
- Having a short fuse with family members, politicians, bad drivers, and the Yankees
- Being demanding that things must go my way, and being very angry when they don't
When I find myself in those places, I'm often holding onto something that I need to forgive. I probably said "No big deal" at the time, but it's churning around down there, making a mess, and so now I realize that I need to let go and let God.
The truth is, we are resistant to forgiving others. Part of the problem is that we have some false ideas about what forgiveness really entails. We have tangled a whole bunch of extra things up with forgiveness, that need to be separated out.
So here are some of the things forgiveness is NOT:
Forgiveness is not trust, although it allows for the possibility that trust can be restored.
Forgiveness is free--it's my gift to you. Trust is earned, as I observe your trustworthy behavior over time.
In my opinion, Charlie Brown is making an error in trusting Lucy over and over again. I think he could explore other options. He can walk away. He can find somebody else to hold his football. (If you're starting to think things like, "But Lucy will be angry/upset/sad/alone/talk bad about him to other people"--then you need to go back and read my post on codependency.)
Forgiveness is not healing, although it allows healing to begin.
I can forgive someone, and still have sad, scared, or angry feelings. Those feelings don't mean I didn't forgive. They just mean I am not healed yet. God sometimes heals miraculously, but usually it comes slowly over time. Emotional healing is the same: it usually takes time. I need to be patient, remind myself that I have forgiven the person, and wait for the healing to come.
And sometimes, even when the person has been trustworthy for years, and we have been healed, there can still be scars, little hurts or fears that get triggered sometimes. I think we keep being aware of those, being honest with ourselves and God, and keep trusting for healing.
When I choose not to forgive, I am saying to God, "Don't bother to heal me. I am fine down here in the excrement. Just leave me be." And God will do that for us, if that is what we choose. But when we choose forgiveness, we're trusting, in a very real and practical way, that God is enough for us. And God is so much more than we would ever dare to think or dream. He goes way beyond the Hello Kitty band-aid into the deep healing my soul requires. When I forgive, I'm inviting Him to do that.
Forgiveness is not the reconciliation of the relationship, although it opens the door to reconciliation.
Reconciliation can happen when the wrong-doer acknowledges the wrong and changes. In fancy church words, we call that repentance. Too often we equate repentance only with "I'm sorry." But real repentance goes far beyond words, into true, deep changes in attitude and behavior.
When those real changes happen, then reconciliation is a possibility. Notice I'm not saying it's a requirement.
Years ago I read Debbie Morris' powerful book, Forgiving the Dead Man Walking. She was 16 years old when two men shot her boyfriend, leaving him for dead, and raped her repeatedly. She talks honestly about the repercussions of those traumas in her life, the anger she lived with for years, and her struggle to understand what forgiveness really means in a situation like hers. She says this:
"There are times we've been hurt when the only reasonable goal is to find a way to get over the incident, to minimize the damage, to get on with the healing, to learn from the experience, and to move on... [There are cases] where there never was a relationship to be restored, when the highest goal we should seek is salvage."
I have had both restoration and salvage happen in my life. Sometimes the person kept doing the crazy thing I didn't like, and trust was never really restored. All we could do was a salvage operation. Other times, the person really "got it", became trustworthy, and the relationship grew into something really wonderful and amazing.
Debbie Morris' book kind of puts the whole forgiveness thing in perspective for me. If she can grapple with murder and rape--and forgive--then I think I can handle the paper cuts that have come my way. I really can stop kicking the football and let the debt go. Pretty sure God can handle the rest.