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You Can’t Forgive Someone Once & For All…
Forgiveness – what a big subject. I really didn’t know how to even begin. But since forgiveness of others and for ourselves is necessary for living life fully & more joyfully, here it goes.
There are so many people who live their lives under the burden of unforgiveness – not truly forgiving those who have hurt them. This important little detail, believe it or not, can ultimately negatively affect every aspect of their whole life.
Unable To Let Go & Let God
Unforgiveness can lead a soul down a path of life full of anxiety, anger, regret, dysfunctional relationships and eventually becoming immersed in depression. All because of not being able to let go of the hurt and to let God heal the wound.
I have witnessed many adults who have chosen the road of unforgiveness only to have many of the possible life blessings denied to themselves, to their children, and to those around them.
Holding a grudge does not really hurt the one who has caused you the pain. But, it does hurt you. It will deny you peace & happiness in life and also for those you choose to take up and carry that grudge along with you.
You will be wasting precious energy and strength, whether you believe it will or not. It is exhausting to hold, embrace, and carry a grudge.
How many people do you know that have had a bad or even unhealthy relationship with their parents or parent, or even a sibling, only to tightly hold onto an unhealthy grudge so that they can justify keeping their children away from their relatives?
These children will never know the blessing or grace of experiencing the company or intimacy with the person or persons whom they have so much in common, and who they probably resemble. As sad as it is, this does happen. Probably more than we even can imagine.
The real hurt that someone has experienced from years of harsh words, humiliation, and neglect can be the very ingredients for living a life of self-created physical and mental isolation.
Yes, there are instances where there may be a history of horrendous abuse and current danger in having anything to do with the people or person who has offended us.
This is when, yes we still forgive, but we keep a safe distance and put up healthy boundaries to protect ourselves and those we love from further danger or abuse.
But, I do think, many of the long-held grudges are due to just one or a few isolated incidences caused by typical human ignorance, shortcomings, or honest mistakes made by those we have held close and love so much.
And, yes these can cause a significant wound. But, if not forgiven promptly these can feed someone’s hurt feelings & pride, and then begin to create an unwillingness to forgive and let God take care of the offender in his time.
This will undoubtedly lead to a place where healing just cannot begin. The grudge is then left unaddressed and begins to snowball. We become consumed, led, and governed by the unforgiveness.
Love Your Enemies? No, It’s Too Hard…
Matthew 5 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Very simply we are told, throughout Sacred Scripture, that we must love our enemies, pray for them, forgive them, and do it often. More than we probably want to or like, we are asked to do it over and over again.
But, why is it so important? How can we really forgive and forget? And if I forgive someone, does that mean I am letting them off the hook? Are they just getting away with the harm they have caused me or someone I love?
These are the questions we usually ponder when we are faced with the opportunity to practice forgiveness.
So let’s break it down and really look at this deep topic.
Why Is Forgiveness So Important?
The importance of forgiveness and why we are asked to do it is very clearly explained in Matthew 6.
Matthew 6 9 “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread; 12 and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; 13 and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one. 14 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.
This passage taken from the Lord’s Prayer is very clear. It is basically stating that if we want God to forgive us of our sins, we must first forgive those who have sinned against us. Even the ones who have caused our deepest hurt.
Notice, it doesn’t say anything about our offender asking for our forgiveness or does it even say that the person who trespassed against us must recognize their trespass or be sorry in any way.
That, right there, is a little hard to take. If someone has hurt us, we really want them to feel sorry and express it in a way that convinces us that they are. They should try to make up for it. Then, maybe, we can offer them some kind of forgiveness with some minor stipulations attached.
But Jesus is very clear that we need to forgive in the same manner we expect God to forgive us. With totality, sincerity and with love.
And he also goes on to say that if we do not forgive those who have made an offense against us, then neither will God forgive us.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
2840 Now – and this is daunting – this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.
Here it is obvious that forgiveness is necessary for our own salvation and life eternal in heaven. It doesn’t matter if it is a large or small offense, our forgiveness is necessary.
If we harbor unforgiveness, our hearts are actually closed, fenced off, and unable to receive the forgiveness that God promises us. We are literally hurting ourselves and limiting the blessings we can receive when we hold on to that grudge and refuse to forgive.
Simply put, we absolutely have to forgive if we want to live a full, joyful life and desire God to forgive us. No exceptions, no excuses, and no gray area.
If I Forgive, Does That Mean Forget?
As a human, like you, I have been hurt many times, by different people during my life. Some strangers and some I love very much. I have had many opportunities to practice forgiveness. It can be a difficult and long process! And I certainly can’t say that I truly ever forget!
Can you really forgive someone? Yes, it is possible through surrendering the hurt to God, and through the constant and persistent power of prayer. You have to be alert and constantly aware of your ‘stinking thinking’ and intentional in where you let your mind wander.
Then you again lay that grudge down at the feet of Jesus. Always remind yourself that you have chosen to forgive that person. In doing this consistently and intentionally – in time, I believe you can really forgive.
It has never come easily or without some kind of intentional decision to do it. But, forgiveness will come or will be in the, sometimes long, process of coming.
Forgetting on the other hand just doesn’t really happen. Except maybe for the few blessed ones who God gives that special grace.
You may be able to put a memory to the back of your mind, but one repeat offense that even slightly looks familiar will thrust that memory and the hurt that goes along with it, right to the forefront of your mind. And the hurt emerges again.
So, no, we don’t truly forget. We just start to move ahead and refuse to spend time rewinding and reliving the hurt in our thoughts. We intentionally hand that person and that thought or many thoughts over to God.
But again, don’t think you do this once and it is over. In my experience, you will have to hand that hurt, offense, and desire for revenge over and over again to God. It really is a process of healing, strengthening, and a learning journey for us.
If I Forgive, Am I Letting That Person Off The Hook?
When we make the right and healthy decision to forgive someone who has hurt us, we are freeing ourselves. We are giving permission to the only one who can heal us, and allowing Him, God, to do so.
Forgiveness is an important requirement and instruction that Jesus himself gave to us. It is for our own health, healing and holiness that we are asked to do it.
Yes, We Need To Forgive…But How?
Not on our own. We do it with the guidance, support, and help of the Holy Spirit.
The person who caused the hurt, either intentionally or not, is responsible for their wrongdoing. They have the responsibility of asking for God’s forgiveness & mercy.
They are certainly not ‘off the hook’. Their sin is their’s to contend with. It is between them and God. And we have to leave it at that.
On the other hand, if you don’t work towards forgiveness, you are actually picking up their sin, their wrongdoing, and carrying it with you. You will have it slung heavily over your back throughout your life.
This is exactly what un-forgiveness feels like – a heavy load that you carry and carry and just can put down.
You have to decide to put their sin down – it doesn’t belong to you…
Again The Catechism Reminds Us
2843 Thus the Lord’s words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end,142 become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord’s teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”143 It is there, in fact, “in the depths of the heart,” that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense, but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.
The Catechism explains This So Well! – It’s Not By Our Own Strength…
Honestly, it is just not in our own power to be able to forgive or forget an offense done against us.
It can be especially difficult if we are offended by someone we see and interact with every day. This is where we really can see that we desperately need to offer our hearts to the Holy Spirit.
It is in that offering our hurt heart to God for healing that turns our hurt feelings, our injury into actual compassion, and even true forgiveness for the offender.
We can then look at and begin to clearly see that person as a child of God who acted out of some deep wound, a learned habit, or hurt they may have experienced in their life.
Even in minor offenses, it is important to take these same steps of offering up the offense and putting the offender into God’s hands. Attending rightly to these little offenses will not only strengthen us, but it will also prepare us for the bigger ones that will undoubtedly come.
When we turn to pray for the one who hurt us, the Holy Spirit powerfully begins to purify that memory we hold of the hurt and begins to transform it into an efficacious prayer of intercession for the one who trespassed against us.
We begin to not only deeply forgive, but actually love and develop compassion for the very one who hurt us so deeply.
Even if for our self-protection and sanity, there can be no future relationship or contact with the one who has caused us such pain.
By praying for the person who hurt us and deciding to forgive them, we are using that hurt or offense as a stepping stone toward holiness and ultimately heaven.
Forgiveness is a big deal. One that sometimes doesn’t come easily. But through prayer, surrender, and God’s help, we can put down that grudge and begin to let ourselves live with more peace & joy.
Finally free of that burden that was never ours to carry…
A Catholic mom of 10 & a Deacon’s wife.
I Help Inspire Christian Women to Grow in Their Faith & Share with Others, Improve their Health, and Create Whole-Life-Wellness From the Inside Out.