What is forgiveness? Simply stated, it is giving up my right to hurt someone else for having hurt me. Forgiveness, like the law of gravity, is one of the foundational principles God has woven into the fabric of our universe. We can choose not to forgive, just as we can choose to ignore the laws of gravity, but we do so at our own peril. Forgiveness means bestowing freedom instead of the punishment my abuser deserves. Forgiveness means giving love and understanding when the enemy expects only hatred and revenge. Forgiveness means turning over to God my desire to blame, defame, and punish my offender. I cannot be released from my offender or from the anger-arousing, shame-evoking, esteem-shattering memories connected with his/her offenses against me until I accept wholeheartedly God’s way of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a releasing, transforming experience.
Time spent tending the foul crop of hatred, resentment, and grudges is time spent in futile, senseless pain. So, hurry to forgive as soon as you are offended before the first root of bitterness begins to take root. Even though you extend love and forgiveness to your offender, you have no guarantee that you will not receive evil in return. Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, and love is not some temporary strategy or a clever form of manipulation. Love is supposed to be the Christian’s way of life.
When we extend forgiveness and show love, we have no guarantee that our offender will repent or beg our forgiveness. But we are not responsible for the offender’s actions. We are only accountable for our own. We must beware of pressuring ourselves or others to forgive and forget. Forgiving does not change the past. Facts are facts; events happened. The past cannot be altered, but when we truly trust God’s promise that He makes all things work together for good, the meaning of the past can be changed, and the painful sting can be removed from our memories.
We must not struggle to hasten the process of healing by attempting to force forgetfulness. Stubbornly insisting that forgetting must come first is like trying to pass the final exam before you have enrolled in the course. Constantly fretting and trying to forget just short-circuits and undercuts the healing process. Although God sometimes heals instantly, removing all the pain, guilt, and grief in one miraculous moment, for most of us the healing process takes time. You and I can will ourselves to forgive, but only God can make us forget. And what is it that we forget? The memories themselves? Probably not. But God helps us forget the raw, stinging pain of those memories.
Gradually, the memories that pop into our minds begin to decrease in frequency and intensity. No longer do we constantly recall, rehash, and relive the events. Instead, as the healing process nears completion and the last of the poison is drawn from our souls, we find ourselves occasionally recalling the memories but in a vague, detached sort of way, almost as if the experiences had happened to someone else. They no longer have the power to infect or agitate. If you have been unable to escape the pain of the past, take a moment to meditate on these beautiful words from missionary Amy Carmichael:
“If I say, ‘Yes, I forgive, but I cannot forget,’ as though the God, who twice a day washes all the sands on all the shores of all the world, could not wash such memories from my mind, then I know nothing of Calvary love.”
Never doubt that your Good Father can perform that wonderful, cleansing work within you.