Life would be so much easier if it weren’t for all of us human beings. We really make things complicated, don’t we? We want to be right, we want to be in control and we want to do what we want to do. And in the process we step on each other and somebody gets hurt. And the hurts don’t just go away. They build up. And if it’s true that “hurt people hurt other people”, the problem multiplies.
If we have any hope of surviving as a human race, we desperately need to forgive one another. And not just one time, but over and over and over again. This isn’t just “I’m sorry” and move on. “I’m sorry” feels a lot more like “I’m sorry I have to say this” or “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry you think I hurt you.” I’m sorry, that’s not forgiveness.
Forgiveness starts with recognizing that we hurt someone and taking responsibility for it. The scary part about asking for forgiveness is that the ball is in their court. They can choose to forgive or to withhold forgiveness. That’s probably why we’d rather say, “I’m sorry”, hoping that they’ll say, “It’s okay” and move on. But it’s not okay. The proverbial “toothpaste” is out of the tube and we can’t put it back in.
But it might be a lot worse than just hurtful words. They might decide that we’re not a “safe” person. They might forgive us, but they may choose to sever the relationship. Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. Reconciliation requires that both parties agree to go forward with the relationship.
And what if the shoe is on the other foot? What if we’re the one who’s been hurt and we’ve been withholding forgiveness from someone? We might think that, by not forgiving them, we’re taking revenge against them, hurting them like they’ve hurt us. But what if they don’t even know that we’ve been hurt? What if they’re oblivious to the whole thing? St Augustine said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” We’re the one being poisoned by the unforgiveness we’re holding onto.
On the flip side, Lewis B Smedes said in his book Forgive and Forget, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” There may never be reconciliation of the relationship, but forgiving someone who has hurt us will actually set us free.
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you
-Matthew West, “Forgiveness”
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