When You Don’t Feel Like Forgiving
WHEN YOU DON’T FEEL LIKE FORGIVING
“I’d forgive them if they were sorry.”
How many times have we heard someone say that? How many times have we said it ourselves? How many more times have we thought it?
Forgiveness – in theory – is easy. In reality, true forgiveness is hard. …Like really, really hard. At least sometimes. It’s the hardest when the person we need to forgive, isn’t even sorry for what they’ve done.
I have three girls. The youngest is still a baby, but the two older ones are two and four. They’re best friends. They learn, play, create, and fight together. Last week they were sitting at the kitchen table playing and giggling together. Somehow, in the course of their conversation, the two year old thought her sister called her a baby (which the four year old fiercely denied). To most people that may not be a big deal, but to my two-going-on-twenty-year-old, that was truly hurtful. After a few toddler-appropriate choice words, she slid off her chair and retreated to her bedroom, where she curled up on the bottom bunk of their bunkbeds, crossed her arms, stuck her lip out and gave into her roiling emotions. She had herself a good mad cry. It did little to ease her anger or her hurt. Her sister came in to apologize for hurting her, but as soon as she saw her, she slid off the bed, retreated to another room, pulled her knees up to her little chest, and cried some more. She had been truly hurt, and no amount of reasoning, no amount of apologies, no reassurances from me or her sister were helping. She had been hurt and she was choosing to linger there, rather than forgiving and moving on with her day.
Sometimes forgiveness is hard, even when someone is sorry.
Other times, we never get the luxury of an apology. And sometimes we never will. Sometimes the very person we need to hear ‘I’m sorry’ from the most, carries those words to their grave. Sometimes the person never even understands that they did something which they should be apologizing for. Sometimes the incredible hurt they inflicted, was either done unknowingly or uncaringly. Sometimes, the apologies we most need to hear, will never come.
And then we’re left with this great dilemma – do we forgive? Or do we hold on to what they did to us and use it as a shield meant to keep us from getting hurt again? Whatever that shield is – anger, bitterness, awareness, distance – its sole purpose is to separate us from the hurt – and the hurter. And more often than not, it feels absolutely justified.
“She did ____________ to me, and she doesn’t even care!”
“He believes ____________ about me!”
“I needed _____________ from her, and she wasn’t there for me!”
“Why should I forgive him for __________ if he hasn’t asked for it?”
If you’re like me, you can instinctively fill in these blanks.
This world is fallen. Mankind is fallen. People hurt you. They hurt themselves. They hurt each other.
Unfortunately, forgiveness, grace, and love are not so instinctive for us. They take effort and time and sacrifice…difficult tasks that we don’t always feel like performing. And especially if there’s no repentance from the guilty party, is it necessary to go through these unnatural and difficult steps?
Jesus says it is.
In Luke 23:24, we get a picture of Jesus on the cross. He’s been beaten, the flesh ripped from his back, the crown of thorns shoved into his skull, stakes driven through the flesh and bone of his hands to fasten him to the crossbeam of wood. He’s been mocked and despised, betrayed, ridiculed, and spit upon. And yet, as the soldiers cast lots for his clothing, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Those soldiers were not repentant. They were not sorry. They had not asked for forgiveness. And yet Jesus was asking that they would be shown mercy. He was asking that they not get what they deserved. He had forgiven them, and was asking His Father to do the same.
He set an example of forgiveness for us that day, not just in His incredible work on the cross as He took on the sins of all mankind and made a way to reconcile us to Himself, but as he actively forgave those literally at the foot of His cross, who were not sorry, had not asked for His forgiveness, and were far from repentant.
He chose mercy. He chose forgiveness. He chose love. Even when it wasn’t required. Even when it wasn’t expected. Even when it wasn’t requested. Even when He had every right to be angry. He forgave. And so, as we love Him, as we walk with Him through this life, we will find ourselves in situations when we will be faced with the same choice.
Will we forgive? Even when the apology never comes? Even when it never will?
The problem with keeping up our shields of anger, bitterness, and fear, is that while we put so much effort into shielding ourselves from future hurts, we unintentionally keep good out and the pain in. We hold that hurt and those negative emotions in close, bottling them up, instead of choosing to forgive and letting peace and love rule our hearts. True peace cannot exist in the presence of bitterness, anger and fear. It’s only when we release these emotions, through true forgiveness, that we are able to experience peace.
So whether you do it for them or for you, whether they’ve apologized a hundred times and you’re still struggling to forgive, or they’ve never apologized and likely never will, make the choice to forgive. Do it for you. Do it for the negativity you can release and the peace that you can gain.
It is worth it. The peace is worth the pain.
***Please note that we can forgive and yet be wise. I do not believe forgiveness means going back to or staying in an abusive relationship. Mirriam-Webster defines forgiveness as “To give up resentment of or claim to requital, to grant relief of payment from, to cease to feel resentment against.” You can release someone from the claim you have against them, without giving them the opportunity to be an active part of your story. You can forgive and yet be wise enough to make an intentional choice to nurture emotionally healthy relationships, and flee from those that aren’t. I believe you can forgive someone – and walk in forgiveness – even if they’re no longer a part of your life.