I watched as Jude and Charlie got released from "time out."
"What do you have to say to each other?" Heather asked.
"I'm sorry I hit you," Jude said.
"I forgive you," Charlie responded.
"I'm sorry I screamed at you," Charlie said to Jude.
"I forgive you," Jude replied.
Then the 5-year-old and 3-year-old embraced, giggled, and ran off to play.
We could learn a lot from kids. They haven't learned yet how to hold grudges.
In reality, grudges hold onto us even more than we hold onto them. And the alternative of forgiving our offender is uncomfortable. But forgiveness is what heals us. It's important for our souls and for our relationships.
One morning at my small group, I handed out sheets of paper and gave some instructions:
Think of someone who has hurt you. Then write the following:
- I'm angry at you because …
- For me to forgive you would mean …
The room became quiet. A few picked up a nearby pen or pencil and began writing. Others stared at the paper before them, remembering past offenses and the people who hurt them.
When the writing stopped, I asked if anyone wanted to share what they had written. Surprisingly, a couple of brave souls did. It was evident that the exercise had touched them as I'd hoped.
"What do you want us to do with these?" they asked as we concluded.
"It's your choice," I responded. "You can throw them out, or you can give them to me. If you give them to me, I will pray for them."
I felt privileged with each anonymous paper I was handed. These hurting people wanted to forgive, yet they were stuck. Without knowing it, I had given them a way to voice their pain, a pain that was incredibly deep for some. One person had written, "Forgiving you would mean I would disappear." How often we get wrapped in our pain, letting it define us.
We all know we're supposed to forgive. Countless articles and books have been written on the subject. We don't mind the message of forgiveness when we're the ones who need to be forgiven. We want that grace showered on us. But when we are required to forgive and extend grace, it's a different story.
A Right Understanding of Forgiveness
Our inability to forgive keeps us hostage to our hurts. Perhaps our idea of what it means to forgive is at fault. According to Tim Sledge, author of Making Peace with Your Past, we might think the following:
- If we forgive, we're saying what was done to us was okay.
- If we forgive our offender, then he or she will have control over us.
- We cannot forgive when the offenses are ongoing.
When we examine what we're thinking about our hurts and those who have hurt us, we may be able to start on our journey towards forgiveness.
Forgiveness Does Not Condone the Offense
Sometimes we try to control the situation by holding on to the hurt. The deeper the hurt, the longer we attempt to hold on. We are afraid we will send the wrong message if we extend forgiveness.
But forgiveness isn't being blind to what was done. Rather, it's facing it head on and embracing the pain. Then when you have worked through those emotions, it's deciding you will not charge the offender any longer. You are the only person who can make this choice. Most times, though, we enlist others to validate us by seeing our side. This works against us because it prolongs our pain and refuels our anger. We relive the hurt, confirming that the offense is worthy of punishment. Refusing to forgive is our attempt to make the other person pay.