Q: I don’t even want to see this person, not ever, let alone resume a relationship with them. If I were to forgive them, it would be like saying to them, “What you did was okay. Come on back into my life and hurt me all over again!” What’s wrong with just being done with someone? What’s wrong with hoping the other person has a good life and I simply choose to not be a part of it?
A. You are over-defining what forgiveness really is.
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS…
- To forgive someone is to let go of whatever the offense is; to no longer hold the offense against the person who caused the offense
- To forgive someone is to be willing to see that person as worthy of being forgiven
- To forgive someone is to be willing to see that person in the same light you yourself would like to be viewed by others
- To forgive someone is to choose not to think of that person as an object
- To forgive someone is like restoring a broken bridge that brings good things into your life. When you choose not to forgive, you’re choosing to block access to love and grace and
forgiveness to come into your life; things you should want more of, not less of; things you should welcome rather than repel
- In forgiving, because you are letting go, you are releasing that person of all emotional liability for their actions (not releasing them of any legal liability if they’ve committed a crime or damaged someone’s property, and so we’re not talking about releasing the person from the possible consequences of their actions). Releasing the other person of emotional liability is making a decision to no longer allow the offense to be a source of sadness or depression or anger, etc. You are moving on, leaving the burdensome bad feelings in the past where they belong
- To forgive someone for past offenses shows that you understand that your bad feelings toward someone else for what they did that caused you pain in the past will not continue. You are choosing to no longer have those bad feelings toward that person because you understand that no one can be a source of negativity in your thought life without your consent. One friend of mine says, “Don’t let negative thoughts and feelings toward others live in your mind rent-free!”
- To forgive is a sign of maturity and inner strength (and yes, refusing to forgive is the opposite of that)
WHAT FORGIVENESS IS NOT …
- To forgive someone doesn’t necessarily mean you want to see that person all the time, spend time with them, or be their best friend
- To forgive someone does not require resuming your relationship with them as if nothing ever happened
- To forgive someone is not saying, “What you did is okay.”
- Forgiving someone is not at all the same as inviting them to hurt you again
Forgiveness is usually a very humbling experience for both parties. Forgiving another is an act of humility (and strength, NOT weakness!). And it is humbling to know you’ve been forgiven.
If you’re refusing to forgive because you are concerned that it will send a message to the other person that you don’t want to send (that you’re weak or that what happened was no big deal or that you want to be that person’s best friend), please do yourself a favor and contemplate why the Bible tells us that God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).
Are you so opposed to forgiving that you’re willing to deny a blessing to the other person? Are you so opposed to forgiving that you’re willing to prevent yourself from receiving a blessing?
If you are so angry at the other person for what they did (or your perception of what they did), that you are willing to forego receiving blessings from God and from others just so that you can hold on to a grievance, you need to know that the big problem in your life is not what that other person did.
At this point, the real problem is you. Your pride. The anger you refuse to let go of. The idea that what that other person did was so bad that it should never be forgiven.
No, forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to be this person’s best friend. But letting go of the grievance you have against them, as well as the anger and bitterness (all having to do with things in the past, not anything currently happening), means you’re open to just about anything… including being their friend.
Maybe they need a friend. Maybe you do.
If you discover that they genuinely are a different person now, it will require maturity for you to acknowledge this new reality. Perhaps you are already aware that this person has made big changes in their life and that they genuinely regret the past. If so, it should make forgiveness much easier!
However, if, in spite of knowing the person has made steps in the direction of reconciliation and repair of whatever happened, you’re still choosing not to forgive, you are definitely choosing to see them as an object.
That will represent a huge obstacle to you in your life because, as stated previously, this choice is not an isolated case. It’s not just this one other person. You’ve made unforgiveness (and likely being overly critical of yourself and others) a part of your everyday life. A huge obstacle indeed.
Don’t you think it’s time to repair that bridge? You literally have nothing at all to lose and you stand to gain in the form of seen and unseen blessings long into the future.