The F-Word

Twenty-six years of hearing sermons, speeches, and workshops about forgiveness, and I still don't quite understand it.

Probably because it's this intangible thing that doesn't quite have a "follow these seven steps to forgiveness in 30 days" instructions guide. And when someone asks me, "Do you forgive me?" there's no gauge I can check or meter I can read that proves I've accomplished all seven steps and forgiveness has been achieved.

I have always considered myself a forgiving person. I like when brothers dwell together in harmony. I like conflict only because it produces resolution. I like peace and healthy relationships. I like loving people, because we all make mistakes, and I don't like dwelling on unpleasant things. I like being happy! Let's all be happy.

But a few weeks ago I realized that this whole time I've been forgiving all wrong.  See, I thought I was forgiving because:

a.) I continued to love that person even after she hurt me.
b.) I gave that person a second, third, or fourth chance.
c.) I understood why the person did what he did.
d.) I still wanted to be with that person, and around that person, and have that person in my life.
e.) I know that Jesus has forgiven me for much worse, and continues to forgive me every day.

Then I realized that all of the above can be true while still harboring unforgiveness. Which is exactly what I've been doing.

Here I thought that forgiveness was something you bestow upon the other person, as in, "Here you go, I am forgiving you, take this gift and let it water the barren ground of your thirsty heart." That by giving forgiveness to someone, you are packaging up all the hurt, anger, fear, and brokenness and giving it away so that you don't feel it anymore.

That's not forgiveness.

That list up there, that's how you treat someone even when they deserve to be punished, and we call that grace. Grace is what you give the other person. But forgiveness is what happens in your own heart.

I realized that I haven't truly forgiven people for things they did to me years ago. I don't walk around begrudgingly and curmudgeonly, fostering hateful thoughts towards them, but I still get angry when I think about it. I still feel like chiming in on discussions about their faults. Sometimes I still want the world to know what they've done to me and how they've hurt me.

That's not forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the process of letting go of the anger every time you feel it. (As defined by my friend Courtney.) And that's something that happens in me, and has very little to do with anyone else.

I'm thankful for a God who is more patient with me than I am with myself. I'm thankful for a God who I can trust to work in other peoples' hearts as kindly, graciously, and firmly as He works in mine. It's not my job to show other people where they've screwed up. It's only my job to ask God to continue to reveal what needs to change in my own heart, and ask Him for grace and strength to change it.
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. - Proverbs 17:9 NLT

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