A few months after I posted My Jonah Story a friend reached out and asked about forgiveness when people hurt us. It’s so easy to cut these people from our lives. This friend’s question was: is this wrong? Shouldn’t I forgive as Jesus forgives? We’ve all been hurt by people in life so how do we forgive and what does that look like in our lives?
Forgive… and Forget?
The phrase “forgive and forget” is so prevalent–or at least, used to be–and I think in some ways that has set us up for an unrealistic expectation of what forgiveness is. Forgive is a verb that simply means to give up resentment. It says nothing about forgetting.
And when I’ve looked at the Bible and what the Bible says about forgiveness, I haven’t seen forgive and forget. I’ve seen forgive. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)
Here’s the thing about forgiving and forgetting: I don’t think it’s possible for the big hurts. I don’t think we’re necessarily wired to forget. In some ways, it’s a safety mechanism. When you have been physically, emotionally, or mentally hurt in some way, you aren’t going to open yourself up to a repeat of that experience.
And people are people. Each one of us has hurt others, and we have all been hurt. In an ideal world, when we hurt others, we would recognize what we’ve done, ask for forgiveness, and change our actions. In an ideal world, when we’re hurt, others would recognize what they’ve done, ask us for forgiveness, and change their actions.
We don’t live in an ideal world. People hurt us and sometimes they don’t see what they’ve done. (Or they see what they’ve done and they don’t care.) They don’t ask for forgiveness and they don’t change their actions.
We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we respond.
I believe we can forgive and let go of our anger, resentment, or bitterness toward another person, but we don’t have to keep those people in our lives. Sometimes it makes us healthier. Sometimes it makes us safer–physically, emotionally, and/or mentally safer–if we’re not around that person.
When I talked to my pastor about this, he referenced an old saying, “It takes one person to forgive but it takes two people to reconcile.” Sometimes we forgive people without any desire to reconcile with them.
And you might ask, why should we forgive these people? We are healthier if we do forgive. If we hold onto that anger, resentment, and bitterness, whatever they’ve done continues to hurt us.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Okay, so… we release our anger and resentment and bitterness, but we still remember and… how is this forgiving someone as God forgave me?
Jesus lived a perfect life. He took the sins he didn’t commit, but we did, to the cross to forgive us of our sins so that we can spend eternity in heaven.
We can’t do any of that.
What we can do is share God’s love through our actions. When we forgive as the Lord forgave us, we’re showing that person God’s love.
And that person needs it. They need it just as much as we do. (Although it might seem like they need it more than we do.)
And as my pastor says, forgiving while still remembering shows the true power of forgiveness. It says, “I know exactly what you did and what you did was not okay – but I’m not going to hold it against you.” That’s what Jesus says to us and it makes His forgiveness even more powerful because He knows everything that we’ve done/said/thought/desired and still loves and forgives us.
How to Forgive People Who Hurt Us. Or start the process of forgiving them.
If you’re looking for a recipe for forgiveness… I can’t give you that. But here are some things you can do as you work toward forgiving someone in your life.
1 // Remind yourself that God loves that person just as much as he loves you. Yes, sometimes it’s really annoying, but it is true. God loves that person just as much as he loves you. When Jesus died on that cross for you, he also died on that cross for that other person. Even in my deepest, darkest wrestling, when I have looked at someone and thought, “Jesus died to forgive you just like he died to forgive me” it changes things for me. I see them differently.
2 // Pray for them. I believe it can be as simple as, “God, I pray for _______.” And you’re not always going to feel the warm fuzzies when you do. In fact, you might feel the opposite of the warm fuzzies. But if you keep praying for them, I think you’ll start to realize that–even if/though you don’t feel the warm fuzzies–you’ll notice that you start to feel less hostile, less resentful. You might find yourself starting to forgive that person.
3 // Pray for you, too. I’ll be honest: I have a really hard time praying for myself. I always have. And then I did pray for myself and it went wrong (see again: My Jonah Story). Maybe. TBD. (I’m still wrestling. It’s a process. I think we might be in the indigestion phase. Did I just take the “in the belly of the whale” analogy too far?) But you need help and support in this process, too. You need love, too.
4) Be gracious to yourself. We’re not perfect people so how can we expect to forgive perfectly? If you feel like you’re not forgiving correctly, you’re thinking it through and processing and dealing with it. And that’s worth something. You’re asking yourself what God would want you to do. You’re asking yourself what’s best for you and you’re trying to find out how you can serve that other person by forgiving them. It’s hard. It’s not easy. And you’re putting in the work. So be gracious to yourself. Because you need love and forgiveness, too.
If you’re thinking through all of this—or wrestling with the idea of forgiveness—just know that you’re allowed to put the boundaries you need in place with people who have hurt you. But forgiving them will bring you peace.
And I wanted to write about this now, right before Christmas, because that’s what this holiday is about.
And yet it’s become this hectic and crazy time of year. We’re trying to get to all the Christmas programs and bake all the Christmas cookies. We’re rushing to buy all the presents and prepare a Christmas meal. We’re looking ahead to a day filled with family and friends—and sometimes that isn’t easy. (Sometimes they’re some of the people we need to work on forgiving.)
But what this holiday is supposed to be about is peace. Because that little baby we see asleep in a nativity set, that baby we sing songs about, he came to bring us peace. He came to live a perfect life (something we can’t do), and die an innocent death, to forgive us. And to forgive the people around us—including those who have hurt us. And in turn, we can show them what Jesus did by forgiving them.
Hopefully one day it will make a difference in their lives, but it will definitely make a difference for you by bringing you a peace you won’t be able to have when you’re holding onto what’s been done to you. And sometimes holding onto that peace means walking away and ensuring that person can’t continue to hurt you.