If you aren’t sure of what a charged word looks like, consider the word forgiveness. If forgiveness was a door it would be the one to the messiest closet in the whole house. It might even have a hard time closing or staying shut. And if you dared to open it, all the stuff would tumble right out onto the floor. Then you would wonder where it all came from and why it’s in there and what you’re supposed to do with all that junk that’s just sitting in a heap.
Somehow you would find the strength to either squish it all back in or actually take the time to toss it all out. Either way, it’s going to be hard and messy and you will remind yourself to never go near a door like that again, ever. That’s the kind of energy that is linked to charged words like forgiveness.
So, honestly, writing about forgiveness has me a bit twitchy. But coming to terms with forgiveness is life-changing, even though it is hard, even though it can stir up feelings and memories that can be deeply painful, like shards of glass lacerating the most vital parts of a heart. I know this because my heart has received cuts so deep I thought they would be fatal. Just thinking of forgiving the one who inflicted such penetrating wounds felt like all the pieces of glass were being pushed in deeper.
The Process Behind Forgiveness
It felt that way until the forgiving happened. Or maybe I should say until I allowed the process of forgiveness to unfold. Because if I am being honest, I still have days that forgiveness is challenging, so, it has become ongoing. For me, creating space for forgiveness to unfold has made it possible.
Please know that I realize that I have no clue what you may have hidden behind that messy forgiveness door. And I also realize that only you can open it when you are ready, when you feel strong, when you have the support of others to help you walk through it, and when you feel like God is nudging you to take that step. But when that time comes, know that even though it may seem impossible, it is definitely something you can work up to, work through, and move beyond.
Coming to terms with forgiveness is life-changing, even though it is hard.
Here is how I know. I was married for 12 years to a man who was unfaithful. To keep this encouraging and empowering, I do not want to share details that will cause pain to others. But I do know what betrayal tastes like. I know how it erodes every bit of self-worth. I understand how trying to be all that you are not, all that the other women seem to be, can turn your soul into a ghost. I know what it is to become fragile to the core and uncertain of just about everything. I know how to pick up the shattered pieces of a life and glue them back together after he packs his things and walks out into the night. And I also know how convinced I was that even though forgiveness was the right thing to embrace, that I would never, ever be able to do it. Not only was my messy, forgiveness closet bursting at the seams, I was certain that it was also rigged with explosives and if I touched it I believed it would be the end of me.
Let me pause here. Sharing all that may have you wondering if I have forgiven anything at all. I have, truly. But I still remember the pain. I remember the weight of it, and the effort it took to move beyond it. I don’t think that will ever leave me. However, the sting is gone. The weariness and fragility have passed and a sense of certainty about who I am and who I am not have taken their places. I am whole in the places I was once shattered.
Forgiveness in the Bible
The Bible addresses forgiveness throughout its pages. We are to forgive because God has forgiven us. It makes sense—we offer others the same kindness we have been given. However, like so many things we try to put into practice, this can actually be harder than it seems. It can even seem impossible. When it feels impossible, we can believe there is no hope. The danger that follows is that bitterness or rage or anger brews in the hidden places of our hearts. But this doesn’t have to be the road we travel, because there is hope!
There are times that God asks us to do hard things, and forgiveness is one of them. But when we are asked to do something difficult and think we cannot, we need to pause and reflect on two things: God’s character and God’s promises.
The Bible offers us these words in Ephesian 4:31-32, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” These verses were the lifesaver I needed when I was drowning in unforgiveness. They were what supplied me with the perspective and strength I needed to work through all that was hiding behind that forgiveness door.
I was able to see both God’s character and God’s promise. We are loved by a forgiving God, we are created in his image, and we have the capacity to forgive as he forgives. We have the capacity for kindness and compassion. Remembering who created us and how he fashioned us helps to put our hurts and fears in perspective. When all I could see was the wrong done to me and all I could feel was the pain it caused, this verse moved my focus onto something more real and more powerful. When we forgive, we choose to live a life free of bitterness, rage, and anger and live a life marked by kindness and compassion. Although forgiveness can feel like it is all about the one we are forgiving, in reality, it is about freeing ourselves.
Bishop Desmond Tutu put it this way in his poem entitled “Forgiving.”
My forgiveness is not a gift that I am giving to you. When I forgive you, my forgiveness will be a gift that gives itself to me.
More than anything else, this is what I want you to know about approaching forgiveness when it feels impossible:
- Remember that just because it feels impossible doesn’t mean it is.
- Acknowledge that forgiveness may need to be worked through over a period of time.
- Repeat this verse when you feel overwhelmed with all the mess behind that door, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And if you cannot remember the whole thing, just remember “ever-present help” because God does not expect you to tackle that mess or that pain alone.
- Trust that there is freedom waiting on the other side of your brave work. In the end, forgiveness is about freeing yourself so you can live the life you were intended to live.
Trust that there is freedom waiting on the other side of your brave work. In the end, forgiveness is about freeing yourself so you can live the life you were intended to live.
For related articles on relationship advice for women, start here:
Ask Dr. Zoe – Grieving Divorce
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How a Woman of Grit and Grace Wears Her Faith
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