Q. Rose, my brother betrayed me for the last time. Deeply. I set healthy boundaries and now he is out of my life. But why is it so hard to forgive? I just CAN’T get there. I want to, but I can’t.
A. Good news! The fact that a part of you even WANTS TO tells me you have already started the process of “forgiveness”. You just have to go a little farther. There’s so much we don’t understand about forgiveness, and too many myths we do believe. Let’s look at a few:
- It’s not a feeling. There is usually a war between (1) what we think and believe and (2) how we feel. Have you ever wished someone would get cancer and die? That way they can be out of your life and it would not really be your fault! It’s wrong to wish someone dead, and in my will I choose not to be that kind of person. It repulses me to think that I would even THINK about it. But on some days when I am tired and weak and indulging in self-pity, my emotions may take over. I might FEEL like wishing they would die, but the minute I do, I regret it. That’s a signal that my will is working along with my conscience. It’s the emotions that need to be tamed. (See blog on that HERE)
- It’s rooted in the will. You choose to forgive and maybe you do it imperfectly, but it’s a start. You don’t have to feel like forgiving, you just DO IT because you know it is right—and you trust that doing right is good.
- It’s not always about forgetting. Some offenses need to be remembered because they keep us or another safe from further harm. A drugged-out relative who steals from your purse can be forgiven, but he does not need to be invited back into your home. A spouse who keeps beating you can be forgiven, but you’d better remember to keep yourself from being hurt again. “Remembering” doesn’t mean constantly obsessing over it or nursing your wounds.
- It’s not the same as trusting. Forgiveness and trust are two different things. People who hurt you have violated (and probably lost) your trust. Because we live in a fallen world, our trust is not something we should give to everyone. If it’s been betrayed, grant them forgiveness but wait for them to earn your trust again. It may never happen and that will be cause for sorrow.
- It takes time. Depending on the degree of attachment you had in the relationship, or the severity of the issue, it may take time to forgive. You must acknowledge the reality of the injustice, not whitewash it. You then have to decide why you want to forgive and freely make that choice.
- It’s a way to free yourself. Staying bound up in unforgiveness holds you hostage. It’s usually prideful; my rights were violated, how dare she do that to me, I deserve better! It also lacks trust in God’s perfect justice and leads to self-pitying bitterness. Bitterness will turn you into a nasty, sour person who is unable to give and receive love as God intended. In Hebrews St. Paul tells us that “Bitterness troubles you and defiles many.” (Heb 12:15) Untie yourself! Remember what you have to and forget the rest. Keep your eyes on the bigger picture (eternity). Keep your eyes on Christ.
- It’s not a one-time event. Jesus said we would be doing it over and over, maybe even with just one person! Sigh…better get used to it!
Much has been written about forgiveness and I hope you share this with a friend, spouse, or your children (no matter their age). Put your Religion into your Relationships!