Forgiveness: the act of forgiving

I have recently been reading a book written by Adam Hamilton called, “Forgiveness-Finding Peace through Letting Go”.
He prefaces his book with these words, “Forgiveness is essential to our lives. Without it, no marriage can survive, no family can stay together, and no society can be sustained. It is a necessary part of lasting friendships and work relationships.” He believes that that forgiveness is essential because our human nature means that we are bound to hurt others and others are bound to hurt us. He believes that if we are ever to know freedom and joy then we need to be able to say. “I am sorry” and “I forgive you”.

I have been wrestling with the concept of forgiveness. Particularly, struggling with being forgiven when it felt undeserved; not being forgiven when my repentance was genuine and brought about deep change in my life, as well as needing to examine even the hidden parts of my soul to determine whether I have truly forgiven those who have hurt me.

Many years ago, I attended a course on prayer where one of our tasks was to hold a stone in our hand and think of all the people who had hurt us in some way and those whom we needed to forgive. Once we had done that we were asked to transfer the stone to our other hand and think about all of the people whom we had wronged. As I sat there quietly with a small group of women reflecting on the people we had hurt in our lives, I realized what a burden it seemed both to forgive someone who had hurt me as well as to admit to needing to be forgiven.

Being forgiven is a healing experience that is encouraging and brings hope. But there are times that we face not being forgiven by those whom we have wronged or have felt wronged by us. Is God’s forgiveness sufficient to ease or remove the burden? Sometimes forgiving ourselves is most difficult and in a society that seeks justice and frequently favours retribution over mercy, we feel we need to suffer in order to ease our guilt. But does that mean that we expect others to suffer to be free of their guilt too?

When we have been hurt, we can seek justice or offer mercy and we need to ask for mercy as well as show mercy.
Forgiveness is most freely and fully given when the person who has done wrong repents.
Repentance is a process that should include awareness, regret, confession and change.
• We need an awareness or a consciousness that something we have done has caused pain to another
• When we acknowledge that and do our best to understand how that made the other person feel, we experience true regret or remorse.
• When we understand the impact our actions have had, we are ready for confession- for taking genuine responsibility for what we did and asking for forgiveness. This is about acknowledging the wrong we’ve done and asking for grace.
• Change is the most important step and means “changing one’s heart and mind, leading to change in behaviour”

Hamilton talks about what we are actually looking for when we seek forgiveness. It is not a request for the other person to excuse what we have done, but rather to pardon us. We are looking for reconciliation and for the restoration of our relationship. We are asking for that person to release the right to retaliate. In seeking and finding forgiveness, we experience pardon and restoration, which offers a new beginning.

There are times that we need to forgive without repentance from the person who has hurt us. How does one forgive someone who has inflicted great hurt, much destruction and will not take responsibility for it? This feels like an almost impossible task, but choosing forgiveness means that we choose power rather than powerlessness- we choose not to give the person who has hurt us any more power over us.

In Tim Keller’s book, “Reason for God”, he talks about the need to grant forgiveness before it is felt and that releasing the anger, hurt and bitterness through choosing forgiveness is a process that leads to peace and new life. A process that is difficult and often needs to be repeated. But brings restoration.

I hope that as I continue on my sometimes challenging journey of life, that what I have learned about forgiveness takes hold of me in a way that leads to sincere and absolute forgiveness of myself and others and brings peace and new hope.

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future” Paul Boese

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