Have you heard of the adage God doesn’t give you what you want but He always gives you what you need? I grew up in a home where forgiveness was rarely mentioned and much less practiced. Recognizing my need to develop this skill and acknowledging His sense of humor I found myself in a blended family – a 24/7 Forgiveness laboratory requiring Patience 101, 202 and 303 as prerequisites. If you’re a stepparent in a blended family forgiveness followed by patience are probably the two most important virtues you need in abundance.
With that said forgiveness is probably one of the most misunderstood concepts in human relations. The majority of us have a common misunderstanding about who forgiveness is for. The fundamental misunderstanding of forgiveness is we think forgiveness is something we do for the other person who has done us harm because we are morally superior to them or self-sacrificing and generous. Yours truly has been hurt by those closest to me and I’ve struggled to excuse what’s been done. Can you identify? At the time I felt excusing the offense was somehow communicating the offender was not responsible for their actions but thankfully I’ve learned otherwise…
I’ll continue by focusing what forgiveness is not:
- Approval of what they did. It’s not saying, “Well it’s okay. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes a mistake,” or “It’s not really a big deal. Worse things have happened.” No, it is a big deal.
- A onetime event. It’s not like you forgive someone and it’s over. Sometimes they keep offending so you need to keep forgiving or you can forgive them but you can also be emotionally triggered and you need to forgive all over again.
- Waiting for an apology. I hate to break it to you but some people are never going to apologize – you have to forgive them before they apologize.
- Excusing what they did. We excuse a person who is not to blame. We forgive because a wrong as committed.
- Justifying what they did; it is not giving permission to continue hurtful behaviors; nor is it condoning the behavior in the past or in the future
- Pardoning what they did; a pardon is a legal transaction that releases an offender from the consequences of their action like a penalty or sentence. We can forgive the perpetrator yet still expect them to experience the consequences of their offense.
- Reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not always the same. The person you forgive may not want to see or talk to you. We have to make a separate decision about whether to reconcile with the person we are forgiving or whether to maintain our distance.
- Denying what they did. “It didn’t happen. I forgot all about it. I just moved on. I pretend like it never happened. I didn’t let it affect me.” That’s not true – it did happen and we need to remember the lesson(s) learned without holding onto the pain.
- Blindness to what happened. Willful blindness and repression are slightly different. Blindness is a conscious choice to pretend an offense did not occur, while is repression is usually unconsious and involuntary. Both are wrong and can be psychologically damaging.
- Forgetting. Forgive and forget is equated with true forgiveness but it’s usually impossible to forget meaningful events in our lives, whether positive or negative. What’s more realistic is choosing to overlook offenses.
- Refusing to take the wrong seriously. We cannot truly forgive until we see clearly the offense we’re forgiving and understand its seriousness.
- Pretending we are not hurt. It’s silly to think we should have to keep a stiff upper lip when we’ve been injured by a stepchild’s behavior, betrayed by a spouse, molested or unfairly criticized.
Forgiveness is all about you and not the offender. Choosing forgiveness is setting yourself free from the past so it no longer has control over your thoughts or feelings. While giving forgiveness may not always be easy it’s even more stressful to hold on resentments and grudges. Forgiveness has been called a gift – start by giving yourself this gift today!