One of the bravest things we can ever do is to forgive someone. Why? Because it is so hard. It puts us back into vulnerability. It makes us feel again. And we’d rather not.
We have our reasons—mostly very good reasons. Yet the challenge is we are to forgive. Jesus is pretty black-and-white about it. It is in the Lord’s prayer as a daily reminder for us: “and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12. Then Jesus bluntly states, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15. Yikes.
This very clear verse has become something to be explained away such as “these words don’t apply to today” or “within context are not as blunt as they really appear” or it is in the category of “forgetting things that are behind,” (Philippians 3:13). This is all excuse-making and a cover for our numbing behaviors we do to cope with the real crap that happened in our lives that we need to forgive someone for. These verses are very clear and true. Forgiveness is hard. It is one of the bravest things you will ever do.
Once again I mention this life quote of mine.
“The brokenhearted are indeed the bravest among us—they dared to love, and they dared to forgive.” –Dr. Brene Brown
Living broken-hearted is hard. There is risk of pain and often reality to that pain. I think this is why I love this quote so much. I am affirmed as brave because of this, because of the choices I’ve made in my life to love and stay in the holy tension and learn what the “more” is to this faith. I am affirmed when someone says this about my teaching at their church, “Most of the stories people share are safe because they know how the story ended. Just as you promised your story is current, fresh and raw trusting Jesus for an end.” This is my life. I like the affirmation. I need the affirmation because it hurts too often.
I also have had to forgive often. I struggle with this. My hurt is justified. Yet I am challenged by Jesus to forgive. I hear that voice just as much as I hear his voice calling me to the “more” of my faith. I could numb that voice out. I could do one of many numbing behaviors to do that including the numbing behavior of busyness or social media connecting—and justify that as part of my ministry work. I could numb by justification. After all, I’ve got nearly 40 years of full-time ministry to my credit hence I don’t really need to forgive those who have hurt me. I’ve put a lot of time in so I can slack off here. I could do any of this, but I choose not to. I’m choosing the journey.
Christine Caine in her book, Unashamed, put words to these voices in our head as to why we are justified to not forgive. I almost turned this into a checklist so you could check which voice(s) are loudest for you but I’ve decided to keep her work intact.
Shame-filled thoughts as to why you can’t forgive:
Hopelessness: You’ll never get over this, you know. You’ve tried for years. You are reaching for the impossible. If you were going to be able to forgive, you would have done it by now. You’ve been stuck too long.
Blame: You’ll always hold this against them because you should! They got away with it. They deserve to be hated. They aren’t worthy of your forgiveness. This just lets them off the hook.
Victimization: Of course you can’t forgive them. How could you after all they did to you? Because of them you are broken, damaged, and weak. You can’t be expected to forgive. You are far too wounded.
Doubt: This kind of forgiveness doesn’t really happen. It’s just some religious ideal cooked up by spiritual leaders to make you keep coming back for more. People who claim to have forgiven their abusers are either living in denial or lying to seem more spiritual than they really are.
Justification: Give it up and just accept that it’s okay to resent and hate. Bitterness and rage are simply the natural human responses to being wronged—and you were so wronged.
Self-recrimination: You brought the abuse on yourself, you know. It only happened because you let it happen, because you are weak, because you didn’t stop it, didn’t avoid it, let them get away with it. You forgive them? Don’t even go there. You’re not even qualified to forgive, because you are as much to blame as they are. —Unashamed, Christine Caine, pp 162-163
Notice how she hits that these are shame-filled thoughts. Shame again. Shame once again binds us in secret-keeping and keeps us out of what is good in our lives.
Is the act of forgiving for the other person or is it for me?
From Dr. Brene’ Brown’s research, she found that,
“Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability or condoning a hurtful act; it’s the process of taking back and healing our lives so we can truly live.” –Rising Strong, p. 152
It is for us. Jesus’ command is all about us and this better way he has for us. Jesus is f-o-r us and that is why he teaches that we are to forgive.
Yet still it is not that simple. You don’t need to be convinced to tackle this bravery just yet. I’ve got some more to teach you.
Hang on. Be brave. And it’s not math.
(Photo credit: Luke Porter, Unsplash.com)