Forgiveness is only an issue if you have been hurt. If you have never been hurt, there is no need for forgiveness. But if you have been hurt, and all of us have—in big ways and small, then granting forgiveness is something to explore. But even though forgiveness holds great potential for our health and healing, many won’t even begin to consider it. This is often because of a misunderstanding of what forgiveness is all about. In order to help, here are 5 things you need to know about forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not condoning what happened. Granting someone forgiveness does not mean you condone what the offender did. Forgiveness does not excuse the offense nor minimize the pain that was caused. It does not mean accepting continued abuse. Forgiveness can only happen when we acknowledge how deeply we have been hurt.
Forgiveness is letting go. The offender owes us an apology. It would be great if we received one but we won’t insist on it. Forgiveness is canceling that debt. Forgiveness means letting go of the desire to “get even.” It means letting go of the resentment and blame. When we forgive, we resolve not to keep dwelling on the offense. We resolve to not throw the offense back in the other person’s face. This may sound hard—even impossible depending on the severity of the offense. But the opposite of forgiving is to hang onto the pain, the resentment, and the blame. Never letting go can embitter us and can adversely affect all of our other relationships.
Forgiveness is needed for moving forward. Forgiveness is not just for religious people. Secular studies show the importance of forgiveness for our own emotional and physical health. Forgiving others is powerful and is a great benefit to us. Refusing to forgive is like trying to drive a car forward while only looking at the rear-view mirror. It is hard to move forward if we only focus on the past. Forgiveness is letting go of the past hurt so that we can move forward.
Forgiveness is not the same as trust. It is easy to confuse these two, but forgiving does not necessarily mean we must immediately trust the offender. In fact, depending on the offense, trust may not be warranted right away. Trust requires a person to be trustworthy. Trust can take a lot of time to build but only seconds to lose. Perhaps we ought to offer forgiveness freely and offer trust slowly.
Forgiveness is hard. It is a process. We can forgive someone today, but then we can easily be reminded of the hurt again tomorrow—and we will have to forgive again. Then we will be reminded of the hurt again next week (or next year) and we will have to forgive again. It requires our will. We have to deliberately choose to forgive. It does not come naturally. But forgiving someone isn’t nearly as hard as living each day dwelling on the hurt. It is hard but it is worth it.
Are you holding on to old hurts—whether yesterday’s or from years ago? Perhaps it is time to let go. Are you afraid to begin the process or unsure of where to start? We at VCC would love to help. Perhaps we could help you walk through this process called forgiveness in order to move forward.