The following is an excerpt from the book, How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret, available in stores October 1st.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, is it?
I haven’t found it to be in my life, and I’m assuming since you’re reading this, you probably haven’t either. But maybe you didn’t pick this [book] up for you. Maybe you saw this title and thought of someone close to you who struggles with some things. Maybe it’s things you’ve done, or that other people in your family or circle of friends have done, and she’s moody or shows her hurt feelings or gets offended easily, and you’ve thought more than once, “Oh, my goodness, she just needs to get over it!”
We’re tempted to say that, especially when we can’t see the harm that’s been done or the hurt in someone else’s heart. But while all of us need to “get over” something so we can get on with living, it isn’t as easy as flipping a switch, which sometimes that phrase implies.
Maybe we’ve even given this speech to ourselves: I just need to get over her hurtful comment. Or I just need to get over what he did last week and stop thinking about it. The answer to moving on from a hurtful situation isn’t burying the problem or the hurt, but that’s what most of us are tempted to do. As you’ve read, you may even have thought of shortcuts you can take when it comes to this whole forgiveness thing. Do you really need to try and have that conversation? Can’t you just accept or right things that are wrong in your own heart and move on?
Maybe. Maybe not. So let’s talk about some of the myths we fall for when it comes to forgiveness. Which ones have you tried before?
Myth: Forgiveness Should Be Easy
When we need it, forgiveness seems like it should be an easy thing to do. But it’s a whole lot harder when we’re asked to give it. When you forgive, you’re letting something go, and most people’s tendency, our natural inclination as we’ve discussed, is to hold on.
I want to forgive. I want to have no record of wrongs for anyone in my life. I don’t want to wake up with hurt, and I don’t want to look back with regrets. I want a clean heart, a pure heart, a heart that operates from honest motives with no hidden agendas, and I want people around me to do the same.
“Can’t we all just get along?” someone once asked, at the height of a raging conflict.
But we don’t all get along, at least not all the time. None of us have always gotten along. Just look at poor Adam and Eve—their first argument came about because of a piece of fruit, when Eve made a decision that cost them not just the beautiful home where they were living, but altered their relationship with God and with each other. I wonder how that conversation went, as they spent their first night outside their beloved garden, now forbidden to them, sitting on opposite ends of a log, trying to stay warm by a tiny fire that Adam took forever to make, which might have gone quicker had Eve just brought the right twigs and tree limbs to begin with. (Just sayin’.)
In the book of Numbers, the Israelites got tired of the manna God sent them daily. There were only so many ways you could cook up manna, and some of the Israelites had apparently seen their fill. I’m sure there were some meat-and-potato kind of men in the camp who were over the whole manna quiche and manna crepes and manna bread their wives were coming up with. They wanted something they could really put between their teeth.
When you read this in Numbers 11, you can almost see the humor (dark or not) in it. The Israelites whine and complain and fuss and fume because they’ve had it up to their portable George Foreman grills with the manna, and God gets very angry. Then we’re told that Moses also gets angry and (maybe not thinking so clearly) takes his frustration out on God—“Why have You brought such trouble on Your servant? Why are You angry with me, and why do You burden me with all these people? Did I conceive all those people? Did I give them birth… ?” (11:11-12, emphasis mine). There was a whole lot of not getting along happening right there.
Our human nature leaves us emotional. Impulsive. We’re quick to judgment and slow to consideration for others. That’s why we have to be taught to share when we’re little. Why we have to teach our kids over and over again, to say thank you and please and not to ask for things that aren’t theirs.
But when we invite Christ into our lives, we are not left with just our human nature, and we don’t have to be how we were. We can remember the words we read in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.”
So forgiveness isn’t easy for us, but it is possible with God. And when we rely on him to help us forgive someone of their wrongs, we can anticipate the newness he will do in our own lives. When you let go of something in your heart, you make room for something brand-new.
Myth: Forgiveness Is Optional
When we buy into this myth that we don’t have to forgive, we’re wearing the same attitude as that of one wife who was sitting in a marriage counselor’s office.
“Do you love your husband?” the counselor asked her.
“Love him?” she said, a little incredulously. “Love him? Of course, I love him!” Then she looked over at her husband. “I just don’t like him!”
When we tell ourselves we’ll just get over our hurt or irritation or frustration with someone, without forgiving that person, without saying, “I’m letting that hurt go, and I forgive what they did, and that hurt is no longer part of my thinking or part of my feelings,” aren’t we just putting a bandage over a scratch without adding anything to prevent it from getting infected? Sometimes scratches can heal by themselves, but they can also get worse. Sometimes they can hurt longer than they might have if we’d just added the antibacterial ointment to begin with. Sometimes, they leave scars.
So many scriptures point to forgiveness as the best choice in life, and many more don’t actually mention the word forgiveness, but they stress the importance of not leaving hard feelings on the table.
And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ (Ephesians 4:32).
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive (Colossians 3:12-13).
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing” (Mark 11:25).
God wants peace for our lives, and love in our hearts for him and for others, and how can we do that if we hold on to grudges or refuse to let hurts go and we don’t forgive?
Forgiveness isn’t optional. God makes it very clear in his Word that if we want his forgiveness when we mess up, we have to offer the same to others.
Myth: Forgiveness Doesn’t Cost Anything
I think a lot of us go into wanting to forgive someone, or hoping to get over a situation or a hurtful circumstance, thinking it shouldn’t be that hard to forgive. In our heads and our hearts, if we know Jesus, we know what he did for us; we know we’re forgiven, so we should forgive others. So we get up each and every morning with the intention of forgiving that person who hurt us or who keeps saying those mean things to us. But by the end of the day, when we finally lay our heads on our pillows, looking back at how the day went, we didn’t do anything that looks like forgiveness, and we may have just let the feelings get worse.
I think this happens because we don’t recognize that forgiveness does cost something. Or maybe we do realize it—and that’s why we don’t forgive easily, because we’re not willing to pay the price.
Forgiving your husband for emotional or physical betrayal is costly. Forgiving a relative or a parent of sexual or physical or emotional abuse costs something. Forgiving a coworker who blamed you for their mistake, with serious consequences, can cost you. Forgiving people who abandoned you during your divorce or during your rehab or during treatment for your disease comes with a price. The cost is costly. The cost is part of you.
First, forgiveness costs you your claim for justice. Your right to restitution. Repayment. Compensation, emotional or otherwise. When you forgive, you’re saying that person doesn’t owe you. Anything.
Second, forgiveness costs you part of yourself. When I think about forgiveness, I think of the sacrifice involved. You’re giving up your claim for justice; you’re also giving up the need to be right. Like a soldier who selflessly throws himself on a live grenade for his fellow troops, absorbing the impact of the blast so they don’t have to, that’s what happens when we forgive. We absorb what’s been done, we fold ourselves over the wrong, we cover over the hurt, but we don’t do it on our own and we don’t hold on to it ourselves. We release it to God, and he takes it, along with all the wrongs that we ourselves are responsible for.So, yes, forgiveness costs. But what we receive in place of what’s given far outweighs the price.
Want to know what other myths we buy into when we’re talking about forgiveness? Read How Can I Possibly Forgive: Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret, available Oct. 1 wherever books are sold. Or order your signed copy from my online store at sarahorn.com/shop.