Instead, forgiveness is messy. It's lengthy. It's lonely. It's complex. It's unraveling years of offenses, mistreatments, and evil acts that were done to you.
Before we delve further into the topic of forgiveness, I want to mention the importance of not judging another person's journey of forgiveness. We cannot project our own thoughts, ideas, and beliefs onto others. Not our friends. Not our family. And not strangers.
We are not them. We didn't go through what they went through. We cannot and should not demand someone to forgive anyone, including us. Unless we walk in their own shoes to experience the insults, rejection, violations, or ill-treatment that was done to them (or their loved one), we cannot comprehend the devastating impact, nor their long-term physical and emotional pain.
Realistically, there are minor offenses and major offenses involved with forgiveness. If someone cuts you off in traffic or slams into your car, but no one is injured, it's a minor offense. You can forgive them and move on.
But what if it's a hit and run? And it's your teen who was tragically killed by a drunk driver? Is this major offense easily forgiven? If so, is it in one month, one year, or much later?
Minor misunderstandings or misdeeds are one thing, but major transgressions are a completely different story. How do you forgive the one who brutally raped you? How can you forgive violent child abuse? How do you forgive the person who was supposed to love you and care for you, but who betrayed you?
How do you forgive the unforgivable?
What I've learned is that forgiveness is a daily decision; not a one time event. Making the decision to forgive doesn't erase or minimize the legitimate anguish or trauma that someone may have caused you. And whether they are sorry or not, only we can decide when it's time to revisit our old, bloody wounds that scarred us for life.
Before we can forgive, we must revisit old memories. These memories may disturb and haunt us. It will take effort and courage to move forward in acceptance that we were deeply hurt. Also, we can come to accept that we may have been helpless or powerless. The negative circumstances were beyond our control. Yet they did happen. And at the moment it cuts like a knife.
Oftentimes, I wonder if it's easier to forgive someone who is deceased? They are gone and our past hurts are behind us. Whereas someone who is still currently living or active in our lives may continue their wrongdoing. The physical, emotional, or spiritual abuse may be ongoing.
In another case, the living person may remain cold, critical, or absent in your life. Yet it's a terrible reminder of what you never had. Their lack of love, attention, and participating in your life may leave a gaping hole in your heart. It's difficult to forgive when hurt never ends.
As we seek healing to forgive those who did hurt us, we can find excellent books, blogs, and resources about it. Although we can gain insight, better understanding, and a new perspective on forgiveness, it doesn't necessarily mean we successfully apply it to our lives overnight. Forgiving is hard work. Each person and specific situation is unique. The more major the offense, the more enormous task of overcoming it.
Give yourself time, patience, and self-care as you walk the path to forgiveness. Form emotional and spiritual support. Consider joining an accountability group of like-minded people who can encourage you and pray for you. The first step to forgiving others is being willing to do so. Even when it can become uncomfortable, to keep moving forward.
Interestingly, the variation of “forgive” shows up in the Bible over 127 times. When we see words repeated in the Bible, it's no accident. It is not coincidental that forgiveness is mentioned over and over in scriptures. In my own opinion, I believe God knows how hard it is for us to forgive, especially when the offenses are major or still present.
In my own experience with forgiveness, I've thought that I genuinely forgave someone only to later discover old wounds rearing their ugly head. And so I start all over by working through the wrongs that were done to me. There's even been moments when I've cried, prayed, and begged God to help me forgive. Because the pain is awful. And I don't want to carry this burden anymore.
Today, if you're wrestling with forgiveness, trust you aren't alone. While most Christians will not admit to it, I openly confess this struggle is real. Thankfully, God's mercy, grace, and forgiveness cover us in our imperfections. Despite our challenges with forgiveness, He loves us unconditionally.
The road to forgiveness is not smooth sailing. We can face road blocks, detours, and dirty ditches along the way. Sometimes we can find ourselves spending a lifetime going around the same steep mountain over and over. And the truth about forgiveness is that we must go through the getting through stage in order to reach our final destination.
When we eventually surrender our hurts, it can lead to authentic forgiveness. Ultimately, this is what truly sets our own selves free. Where our once empty soul is now fused with spiritual healing and peace.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 (NIV)