Following yesterday’s bloggage about ‘sorry’ I want to offer some reflections this morning about forgiveness: the other side of the coin. Yesterday I suggested that Elton John was wrong when he sang that “Sorry is the hardest word” because I think it can be harder to forgive than to ask for forgiveness.
Often I am asked about forgiveness by people who are finding it difficult to forgive. They hear the Lord’s prayer where we are told to pray: ‘forgive us as we forgive…’. They read Jesus’ commentary on that from the Sermon on the Mount:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
And they worry. Because the hurt they have experienced is so strong that forgiveness eludes them. And that causes them guilt, or they worry that God won’t forgive them. Which makes them feel worse.
I want to suggest that forgiveness is a process. It goes something like this:
I have been hurt.
I don’t want to forgive and it doesn’t bother me.
I don’t like not being able to forgive, but I can’t forgive.
I want to forgive but I can’t forgive.
I want to forgive and I will forgive.
I do forgive.
I have forgiven and we will work at a fresh start as we are reconciled.
I did forgive and it is in the past.
That is not a well-researched psychological analysis but it hopefully gives you an idea of the process and is based on my own experience and the experience of others I have pastored. It can take time to work through that process, especially if the hurt is deep. We need to be honest with ourselves and with God (no point in lying to either is there?). If we feel unable to forgive someone there is no point in pretending that we can. God knows where we are in that process and he looks at our intention – do we want to forgive, even though we are unable to? I believe Jesus’ commentary is about those who don’t want to forgive, not those who want to but can’t.
When people come to me and express that they are bothered because they can’t forgive someone I suggest to them that they are already on the journey towards forgiveness. If they were not bothered, they would not be able to make progress. But the fact that they are bother suggests that God is already moving them gently in the right direction. My suggestion is that they consider the next phase of the process and pray that God will help them to be able to get to that point. Ask for his grace, his healing, and his love. Tell him that this is what you want to be able to say.
And he will help you. In some circumstances he may also need to give you help through a professional who can guide you, but he will help you to move to a place where you can forgive. And, if my experience expressed in the process above is right, he takes us beyond forgiveness towards reconciliation and a fresh start.
And in case you have any doubts, let me remind you that God’s forgiveness to us is instant and absolute because of Jesus’ death on the cross. It is always available because he has a limitless supply of grace and love for us. That’s not to say that we can take it for granted, it cost him everything. But it is freely available to all who ask for it.
Be blessed, be a blessing.