There’s one quality of Christianity, a central feature actually, that other world religions just don’t have. And the world lacks completely. In fact, being able to do this one thing separates Christians from the rest of the world. That thing is Forgiveness.
Being raised in a (mostly) Christian culture, at least one founded on Christian principles, in the West we all know unforgiveness is bad. We all know we’re supposed to forgive people. Forgiveness is the true triumph of love over evil.
Still, the enemy can trick us into unforgiveness so easily because we really don’t know what forgiveness is. So what really is forgiveness anyway?Sometimes it’s easier to understand what something is by understanding what it’s not. Here’s some things forgiveness is not that people often mistake for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is NOT…
- … pretending nothing happened.
- … covering for the other person.
- … trusting someone who should not be trusted.
- … giving a perpetrator access so they can do it again.
- … not having healthy boundaries.
- … letting a criminal go free.
- … avoiding conflict.
- … pretending to agree with the other person when you really don’t.
- … feeling happy about something bad that happened.
- … an emotion or a feeling at all.
We often hear, “I can’t forgive that person, they’ll do it again.” Our unforgiveness is not the thing preventing them from doing it again. That’s on them. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you can’t have healthy boundaries. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to place yourself at risk with an unhealthy person.
Most people are familiar with the 5 stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance. The stages of forgiveness are basically the same, because the evil done to you often represents a loss to your person. You need to fully grieve the loss to fully forgive the other person.
Just like grieving, forgiveness is a process. No one walks up to a widow after her husband’s funeral and says, “Well, that was a great service. I’m so glad for you that you’re done with grieving now.” Pretty much anyone within earshot would smack that person! Because we understand that grieving is a process, not an event. We all get that her grieving process is just beginning, and we’d all expect it to take at least a year, if not longer. We’d all expect her to bounce between days like these:
- “I can’t believe he’s really gone.”
- “I’m angry that he’s gone. It’s not fair.”
- “I’m sad that he’s gone. I miss him so much my heart is breaking.”
- “Today was a good day.”
Her friends aren’t concerned if she has an angry day or a depressed week, or if they see her in any of the other stages of grief. They get concerned if she gets stuck in one of the stages for months or years on end. Going through the stages is not a problem. Getting stuck in one of them is.
Forgiveness is the same way. “I said a prayer of forgiveness for that person who abused me. I’m glad that’s over and done with.” No, it doesn’t work that way. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. Going through the stages is not a problem. Getting stuck in one of them is.
We see people stuck in denial all the time. You can tell, because they minimize the sin against them, and make excuses for the other person. “It wasn’t so bad” or “they didn’t mean it” or “they were going through a really hard time.” I’m not talking about things people do accidently. I’m talking about the big stuff. I’m talking about when, yes, it was that bad, and yes, they did mean it.
Covering for the other person is not forgiveness. Lying about how bad it was is not forgiveness. It’s actually dishonoring to the other person to lie about their behavior. You’re keeping them from the help they might otherwise receive. Although it can appear to be honoring, lies never bring honor, because they allow evil to continue unchecked in the other person. And that’s not love.
Minimizing the other person’s sin against you is actually unforgiveness.It’s pretending the wrong wasn’t wrong, and so it keeps you from forgiving them. If “it wasn’t so bad” then there’s nothing to forgive, is there? By pretending it’s ok, when it was far from ok, we actually live in unforgiveness.
Another common thing we hear is, “I can’t forgive them, I’m still angry about it.” Good! Actually, being angry about the evil done to you is a healthy part of forgiveness. Again, you can’t forgive what you don’t acknowledge as a wrong. If something heinous was done to you, you should be angry about it. Forgiveness is not an emotion, but an act of the will. You can be angry and still forgiving at the same time.
And yes, you can set healthy boundaries so you’re not wounded by the same person again. In a relationship, we are trusting the other person to protect our heart. If they refuse to protect our heart, and instead betray and abuse our heart, we can set boundaries to protect our heart. Boundaries are a pullback from intimacy. Sometimes they can be temporary, sometimes permanent. It depends if the other person is willing to do their work in the relationship.
So what is forgiveness?
- … an act of the will.
- … a decision.
- … a process.
- … releasing what we hold against the other person.
- … canceling the bill they owe us.
- … coming to the place where the person is not the evil they did to us.
This is tough stuff. We need help. While the widow’s friends would understand her needing more alone time than usual, they’d rightfully worry if she pulled away from them completely. Find a trusted friend, pastor, spouse — someone to walk through it with you. And a word of wisdom, if you’re working through forgiveness around marriage or relationship issues, find someone of your same sex. Don’t set yourself up for an affair. That won’t help.
We know we’ve finished forgiveness when we can truly pray blessing over the other person without inwardly cringing. Releasing them from what they owe us and praying blessing over them is the beginning of a new life and freedom for us. We actually release ourselves from the prison we made for them. Let’s start getting free today.
How about you?
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