What do you do when someone hurts you so bad that you think you won’t recover? Because my husband is a pastor, I am often asked how to forgive when those feelings of hurt and resentment continue to surface. I guess people think we have it all together, but we struggle with forgiveness too. So, the best thing I can do is to share what I have learned along the way.
What happens when friends hurt friends? Grace needs to be extended to each other. We all have a different perspective on life and work out of that lens. What we see may be something that is invisible to another. What they see may be blatantly obvious to them but a blind spot for us. And sometimes, it may just be a freak occurrence. When my toddler went through a biting stage, I received some harsh criticism from the mother of another biting toddler. Those angry words stayed with me for years. But Colossians 3:13 commands us to forgive as the Father has forgiven us. I surrendered the bitterness to the Lord and asked Him to help me forgive her.
But I had a hard time forgetting what she did to me. Is forgiving, forgetting? No, I don’t think they are interchangeable. Why can’t we forgive and forget? Maybe God doesn’t wipe away the memories, so that we’ll learn to depend on His power to forgive. My favorite example is one from Corrie ten Boom. Years after she had been released from the concentration camp, she met one of the prison guards who came to hear her talk on love, forgiveness and the power of God to heal. Yet, here he stood in front of her, hand outstretched and asking her to forgive him. Corrie said in that moment, all of the horrors of watching her sister die in captivity resurfaced. Wanting to recoil, yet knowing she had to make a choice, Corrie cried out to God for the strength to forgive him. When she extended her hand, Corrie experienced God’s power pour through her. She knew that she had to forgive and be forgiven.
If we have a hard time forgetting, then does God hold our sins over us, waiting for the next slip-up? NO! 1 John 1:9 says that the Lord is faithful to forgive when we confess to Him. Psalms 103:12 tells us that He throws them as far as the east is from the west. That’s an endless distance! Maybe God lets us remember, so that we won’t continue to fall into that same pit. Or, maybe it’s so that we’ll remember our own depravity and have compassion on others. It’s easier to forgive someone else when I know I’ve made the same mistakes. And my propensity to be judgmental changes drastically, when I see how much I’ve needed forgiveness throughout my life.
Forgiveness is a process. Peter thought he was being generous when he asked the Lord if seven times was enough opportunity to offer forgiveness to someone else. How surprised he must have been to hear that he could never quit forgiving. Jesus used that moment to teach us a parable about forgiveness. It has to be a wholehearted event, even if it takes 70 tries!