There are many mistaken notions about forgiveness which, if not understood, can cause us to question whether we have truly forgiven those who have wronged us. Almost all of us carry with us wounds inflicted by another. Some of those wounds go back to our childhoods and are intensely painful to remember. Often we wonder how old we will be before we are freed from their grip. I want to look at four myths about forgiveness that are not Biblical and should not cloud our understanding of this important issue.
Myth one: Someone has to ask for forgiveness before we give it. If only life was that simple. Here is one of the most difficult things about forgiveness: those who have hurt us rarely apologize to us, ask forgiveness or acknowledge the depth of their hurt to our hearts, souls or bodies. In fact, we don’t forgive primarily for the individual who wronged us but for our own sake. I wrote in a recent blog post that when we refuse to forgive, we allow ourselves to be incarcerated in a cell of bitterness even while we have the key to unlock the cell door - forgiveness - but we choose our dingy cell to the joy of sunlight, freedom and peace. The one who wounded you may well not deserve your forgiveness, but you deserve to forgive them so that you don’t live life in the prison of bitterness.
Myth two: Forgiving means forgetting. Our memories don’t work that way. We don’t forget moments or periods of intense pain. They are indelibly locked in our brain. The pain we feel when we remember those events may start to fade with time and the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives but we will not forget. The goal of forgiveness is not to forget. Rather, it is to be free of the bitterness and hate that we feel for those who wronged us. The more freedom we experience, the more healing we can experience. As we heal the memories don’t go away but the pain associated with them starts to recede.
Myth three: Forgiveness relieves us of the pain of the wounds inflicted on us. Not so. The pain only recedes with the passage of time and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As we heal, the pain may become less painful and there may come a day when there is no pain left. But that only happens when we choose to forgive and give up our bitterness.
Myth four: It is easy for a Christian to forgive. Not so. Forgiving others is one of the most difficult things we will ever do and the greater the wound the harder it is to forgive. This was the topic of one of Jesus’s parables: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. As Jesus was dialoguing about this parable, He had this conversation with Peter: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” - Matthew 18: 21 - 23
Why would Jesus say this? He said it because of how hard it is to forgive. In many instances, forgiveness is a process of forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving until finally we don’t need to forgive any longer. It is a hard discipline that must be exercised time and again until the pain has receded and the bitterness is gone. It may be the hardest thing you will ever do.