In the past two years, I’ve needed to be on both the giving and receiving end of forgiveness in ways I never expected. I experienced a mental breakdown, and during this event I said a lot of things to people that I would never have said while sober-minded. Much of what I said stemmed from my sense of reality being broken. I found myself picking up the pieces afterward by making lots of apologies and trying desperately to explain what had happened.
Unfortunately, many of people chose to abandon me during this time rather than offer support. It was devastating, and it left me in dire need of learning how to forgive in order to stave off bitterness before it set in.
What was incredibly difficult but essential to realize was that most of the people who treated me this way genuinely didn’t realize how badly they were hurting me. Much of the offending maltreatment stemmed from a lack of understanding of mental illness, and I’m sure there have been plenty of times where I’ve unknowingly been the one on the other side – not realizing how my lack of knowledge is hurting someone.
Forgiveness needs to come from a humble heart, which is incredibly difficult to have when you’re hurt. But learning to forgive well isn’t just for the sake of the person in need of forgiveness – it’s for your own sake. Here are four key truths about genuine forgiveness. I believe that taking these truths to heart can help us learn to forgive on a deeper level.
True Forgiveness is difficult because we are sinners.
Forgiveness is often hard for our revenge-seeking human nature to accept. The funny thing about having someone sin against you is that if you make the choice to forgive, the amount of difficulty that you find in forgiveness is a solemn reminder that you are a sinner too. If you weren’t, forgiveness would be a cakewalk. It’s nearly impossible to forgive genuinely without remembering the ways in which you’ve fallen short, and I think that this can help us to forgive more freely.
Forgiveness is a choice you make more than once.
Don’t assume that forgiveness is a one and done type of thing. You can genuinely choose to forgive someone one day, and the next you can decide against it and fill yourself up with a vengeful attitude. When you choose to forgive, you will have to make that choice over and over. Every time something comes up that triggers past hurts or reminds you of what happened, you’ll need to actively remind yourself of the decision you made to forgive.
Forgiveness needs to be deeper than surface level.
It’s easy to say you forgive someone and act like you’ve genuinely moved on, yet still villainize them in your heart.
When you forgive someone, it needs to be about more than just your words and actions – it needs to go so deep that it changes your thoughts towards them, too.
This is where many of us will be challenged to go deeper, because it’s so easy to hold on to our private ill-will toward people. If you’re struggling in this area, I would encourage you to start including that person in your prayers – and pray for good things. Pray for God to bless them. Ask God to change your heart so that you genuinely want good things for them rather than secretly wishing destruction.
Forgiveness doesn’t always mean restoration – but don’t use that as an excuse to write people off.
If someone wrongs you and never apologizes, you can forgive them without restoring the relationship. For a relationship to be restored, the person needs to genuinely move on from the wrong that they’ve done. But this isn’t an excuse to write people off that wrong us. If you have a close friendship with someone and they make a mistake, but are genuinely sorry and repentant about the mistake, I believe that true forgiveness means putting in the work to restore the friendship. Isn’t this what God does for us? He doesn’t forgive us from a distance – he forgives us and restores us to right-standing with him. If we aren’t willing to mend relationships with people that are genuinely sorry for hurting us, then we are missing a crucial part of the forgiveness that God offers.
Is there someone that keeps coming to your mind as you read about forgiveness? Have you genuinely forgiven them, or do you still hold something against them? If you’re struggling to forgive, I challenge you to remember a time that you’ve been the one in need of forgiveness. Offer the kind of forgiveness that you would want to receive.