"Keeping score of old scores and scars, getting even and one-upping, always makes you less than you are."
Robert Frost said that. He's said a few good things, wrote a few cool poems and such. Anyways...
Forgiveness is hard. It may actually be one of the hardest things a human being can do, whether that's forgiving others or forgiving yourself. Forgiveness means letting go, and surrendering control is another one of the hardest things we can do.
See, forgiveness means we surrender our "right" for vengeance, we give up our "right" to get even, we give up making sure the individual knows what they did to us and somehow makes it right or at least apologizes.
And I'm not gonna lie, that is really hard for me. I like to say I've forgiven people, let go and moved on and all that beautiful, loving, Jesus-like stuff. Nope. Let's be real, when people have hurt me it's hard to let go. Because letting go feels like I'm saying what they did was okay. "Yeah, go ahead and emotionally beat me again and again, make me feel worthless, tell people I suck, yeah please just keep that up. It feels great." I don't want to say that, I won't say that, but forgiving and letting go feels like an affirmation that destroying me is perfectly acceptable, so please keep it up.
So what does it mean to stop defending ourselves, what's the difference between allowing ourselves to be destructively beaten to a pulp with words or actions or hurts, and humbly letting go and walking away without fighting back?
Because holding on to anger, hurt, bitterness, or desire for revenge doesn't truly make you feel better past those initial moments of metaphorically or physically punching someone in the face for what they've done. In fact, keeping a fist tightly grasped around those emotions is just as destructive as whatever has happened to you, if not more.
They say forgiving is forgetting. Not necessarily so. But forgiveness is freedom, this I know for sure.
What I've learned is that forgiveness does not mean saying what the other person did was okay. It doesn't mean giving them a free pass to do it again. But it does mean giving them a free pass from whatever (probably brilliant) revenge you had planned. It means giving (probably undeserved) grace. But that sounds familiar now, doesn't it?
What I'm learning is that it is okay to be hurt. But it is not okay to be angry. It is not okay to be bitter.
Forgiveness begins when we admit our pain to ourselves and to God,
but not necessarily to the offender."
Let's just mull over those words for a moment....
Here's my thing. I like to say I've forgiven people, I begin to honestly believe I've forgiven people, except I still desperately want them to know how much they harmed me. Not even so I can have revenge, and not even so I can get an apology (although, those are quite nice), but just so they know how very much they hurt me, and what a great big person I am for forgiving them! How nice of me. Not. There's no grace in that. When I read that quote, it really hit me hard. I realized how much I've been living in a state of almost-forgiveness. But I wasn't willing to actually let go, to surrender my desire for some sort of vengeance, even if it wasn't brilliant and well-planned out. I wasn't willing for them to never know what they had done.
It sounds crazy, this turning the other cheek business. But it's so true, so freeing and life-giving. Without letting go and walking away, not defending yourself or fighting back, without doing those things you can never move on, never really heal, never truly be free.
When we hold on to anger, bitterness, or hurt with the desire for revenge, we are giving an immense amount of power to the person who has hurt us. I don't want to give power to the people who have broken my heart, tried to put out my light, made me cry until the wee hours of the night. Those are the last people I want to have power in my life!
But if I could look them in the eye and say that I've forgiven them, and truly mean that, without any slaps or punches or rebuttals or accusations, then I've taken away the power they once had, I'm free.
I've seen this in my own life, both sides of the coin. There have been people it has taken me literally years and years to truly forgive, to stop wanting them to know how much they'd hurt me. And there are people God has given me the grace to forgive quickly. Those people I spent years resenting and thinking about what they'd done - they had so much power over me still. I was still hurt, I was still broken, and honestly I was still bitter. The people God has helped me forgive quickly, the things they have done and said have been immensely hurtful, but I haven't been broken by them, I've been able to rest in who God says I am instead of who man says I am and they have no power. I can look at those people and honestly love them (even if I don't want to be friends with them), because I've forgiven them and I've let go. And seeing the difference between those situations, where God has helped me so much, I would so rather forgive and be free.
But here's the other thing I'm slowly learning. It is okay to be hurt. Being hurt does not equal unforgiveness, however being hurt with a desire for vengeance is not okay. In recent times I've felt very hurt, but I've also forgiven, so why is the hurt still there? I've wrestled with this a lot, because I didn't think it was "allowed" to be hurt if I had forgiven. But like Coffee Shop Conversations so wisely says, "forgiveness begins when we admit our pain to ourselves and to God." It's okay to be hurt, it's not okay to let that pain rule you. As you forgive and let go, the pain will be healed, but that is sometimes a very long process. There is a difference between having a wound that slowly heals and letting the person keep the knife and keep digging it into your skin. Forgiveness takes the knife away.
Forgiveness, letting go and surrendering the "right" to avenge oneself is so, so hard. But forgiving is freeing. Keeping records and holding on to hurts gets you nowhere. As Robert Frost said, it makes you a lesser person.
But true forgiveness makes you oh so much stronger and beautiful and free.