Sometimes forgiveness really sucks. I mean, when you’ve been wronged in a big way, the last thing you want to do is forgive. It seems like you’re doing a favor to your offender and that’s definitely the last thing you want to do. Holding a grudge, especially when you feel you’re entitled to it can feel somewhat validating. Bitterness becomes a way of life and after a while you start holding onto it like a badge of honor. After all, being bitter is a right you have earned.
I have wrestled with forgiveness for a long time. I’ve had extensive conversations with God about it. I know he wants me to forgive but I really didn’t want to. I was holding onto my unforgiveness and bitterness because I felt entitled to it. After all, I had been through more heartache than I had ever imagined possible, I had earned the right to be unforgiving and bitter. And in some weird way, I think I found it comforting.
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.
But the problem was, refusing to forgive and insisting on staying bitter wasn’t helping me heal and I knew it. So, I decided to forgive. That’s what I knew I needed to do to heal myself. It's also what I knew I needed to do in order to be forgiven. I declared that I had granted forgiveness but it was in word only. My heart was still holding fiercely to the offense and was not about to forgive. If you had asked me I would have told you I had forgiven but on the inside, anytime the wound was touched, the bitterness bubbled right up to the surface like a dormant volcano. It hadn’t gone away, it was just quiet.
I could physically feel my resistance to forgiveness and I knew that it was holding me back from the healing I desperately desired. I prayed about it. I cried about it. I asked people to pray for me. How do you forgive the unforgivable? I didn’t know how to do it. I knew it was something only God could do and I knew it was going to take some time. Because I’m stubborn like that. I knew I was going to be in a tug-of-war with God over this issue.
If I didn’t forgive, I could continue to blame. I could also continue to wallow, which I think sometimes we get addicted to when we’ve known it too long. However, I knew that if I stayed mad, if I continued to be unforgiving, I was going to stay stuck. Fortunately, I was more stubborn about not staying stuck than I was about not forgiving. Stuck was a thing I just couldn’t do anymore.
I knew I needed God to change my heart if I was going to reach this place of forgiveness. I knew that I would need to be patient with the process. Sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Progress is not linear. Ever. Accepting that forgiveness is a process just like any other kind of change, is a big part of taking the first step. We want immediate results and forgiveness is one of those things that often times, is not immediate.
How do we know when we’ve finally arrived at forgiveness? I wondered how I would know this. Last week I came up against a situation where the wound was touched. I should say, the wound was broken open. It was bleeding and it hurt. But instead of being overcome with anger and bitterness, my heart was softened toward the offender and I responded in a much different way than I ever had in the past.
You will know. The wound will be touched again and when your healing has progressed you will notice your response is much different than before. And this is what real forgiveness looks like. Little by little.