I've been wanting to write a post about forgiveness for a while. Well... wanting to write it in that I think about writing it from time to time, but I never actually WANT to sit down and put the fingers to the keyboard about it. I'm not quite sure why that is.
I meet twice monthly with a lovely group of ladies at my church to do a small group study. This summer we did a six week series on Forgiveness. I suggested the series because it was obvious that many of us, including myself, could stand to learn a bit more about how to give and receive forgiveness. It was an amazing 6 week journey. I cannot share the stories of the other ladies here, because we agree that the things we share are confidential. But I can tell you that I saw lives change in those six weeks, all because of forgiveness.
I learned several things during that time, and relearned even more. Mostly I learned how to better practice forgiveness. One key element that I was reminded of is that once you have forgiven someone, the hurt does not go away. You are not expected to FORGET the pain. I struggle with this, because I feel like I should no longer be hurt and angry if I have forgiven, so then I get angry at myself for not forgiving, and a whole new cycle begins. We cannot expect ourselves to forget the misdeed, or the pain it causes. What forgiveness IS is deciding to not PUNISH someone for the misdeed. And some times I have to decide that on a daily basis, even over an old misdeed.
But the NEW thing, the thing that really got me, and freed me in so many ways, is this: In order to forgive someone, you have to blame them. Also, you have to know what the punishment is that you are choosing not to do. You have to be able to say, sometimes to the other person but sometimes just in your own mind, You did X to me, and the punishment for that would be Y ("you hurt me, so I will hurt you" i.e. "You told my secret, so I should tell one of yours" or "You cheated on me, so I should divorce you" or "You spoke ill of me, so I should never speak to you again.") This was HUGE for me, because what I so often do is try to talk myself out of it: try to convince myself that it wasn't so bad, or that maybe the other person didn't really mean to hurt me that way. So my forgiveness wasn't as fully realized, because I was unwilling to nail down the thing that needed to be forgiven. I would make excuses for the other person, which would then bring guilt back on to me for feeling so badly about it. I could not forgive someone unless I blamed them.
But this... this being able to just THINK to myself "You hurt me, I have every right to react a certain way, but I CHOOSE not to; I choose to forgive" ...it opened up forgiveness for me. Because then when I remember the hurt, I can remind myself that yes, I was hurt, but I have chosen to forgive. And I will not punish the other person in this way that I very well could. I choose another path.
It doesn't mean that I forget the misdeed, or that the relationship doesn't need to be repaired. It means that I have made the CHOICE to move forward in a different way, to work on the reparations from a place of forgiveness, while still acknowledging the wrong. I don't have to pretend it didn't happen. I don't have to pretend it didn't hurt as badly as it did. I don't have to make an excuse for the other person. (Sometimes it means that I make the choice to end the relationship, but that is not the PUNISHMENT. I have forgiven, and so the aim is not to hurt or punish, but I may still need to protect myself)
It's taking some practice, of course. But I am really excited about this new insight. I don't necessarily want to HAVE to practice it, but I know that I will have lots of opportunity.
I hope to face those opportunities GRACEfully.