Recently, I was writing a magazine article when I touched on the topic of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not just a fundamental, but also a familiar word to the Christian faith. So much so that it can – like familiar relationships – often be taken for granted.
While it is common to think of forgiving others as something we are extending “to” them. It is indeed far more. It is also about what we are doing “for” us. While forgiveness is an unselfish act, it is something that not only frees others, but also ourselves.
By clinging to bitter feelings of entitlement to: our pain, our rights, justice, and the like, we are distracting our focus and robbing ourselves of energy, joy, and peace.
Conversely when we come to a place where we are willing to forgive we release, not only the other person, but ourselves from the weight of the offense.
Something which often impedes our efforts to forgive is the unlikelihood, or indeed even the impossibility of the offending party to receive our forgiveness. Perhaps the person who has wronged us is unrepentant – refusing to even acknowledge grounds for the offense, or possibly they have passed on, left without a forwarding address, or simply refuse any effort to dialogue. Regardless we must willingly release the offense and all rights to its pain, consequence, and reparation if we truly want to live free.
For a long time I suffered under the illusion that forgiveness required two parties, one to extend, the other to receive. This is simply a falsehood, which kept me – and no doubt many others – from even attempting to release ourselves from its burden. Forgiveness is an attitude of the heart; something we need to extend to others and ourselves, as wells as something we need to graciously receive when we have been the offender. Sometimes, when forgiveness is extended reconciliation can take place. Often it cannot. While true reconciliation is dependent upon forgiveness, forgiveness can – and often does – function independent of reconciliation.
I have watch many lives, including my own, suffer under the weight of unforgiveness. I have also known the peace that can result only from opening my hands and releasing an offense I might have every right to claim. Neither choice is easy, but only one brings life-renewing freedom.