So I hope yesterday you became convinced of that forgiveness is more about our own well-bring than it is about someone else and what they did. For when we release others from the wrong they committed against us; when we give up our desire for revenge, it’s actually ourselves whom we are setting free. We are actually freeing ourselves from the anger, judgment, and revenge that threatens to “cause us trouble and defile many.” We know forgiveness is what’s needed if we are to move on and live free from the weight of all this. We know it us who suffers under the burden of unforgiveness. We know that we need to forgive with the same grace as we have been forgiven. We get it. There are enough blogs, articles and sermons about the need to forgive…for our own sake. But what do we do when our actual experience of forgiveness often feels completely different than we imagine it to be.
Perhaps you had the courage and stepped across that line and took action: you made a phone call or met face-to-face over coffee or wrote a difficult letter. Maybe those that hurt you are not available for such restitution, but you vividly remember releasing your need to get revenge or see them suffer. Maybe you even said out loud, “I forgive you!” knowing that this came from a deep part of our soul and it was the realest thing about you. Why is it then that every time you remember the moment of betrayal, all the pain comes rushing back again? I forgave them! You protest. Why does the pain persist? You thought forgiveness would stop the pain. And you feel ashamed or confused that it didn’t “work.”
It does. But forgiveness is not just a one-time event. It’s not a single moment in time. Forgiveness is on-going. Forgiveness requires that we forgive, again and again and again. So what’s with that? Does that mean we will spend a lifetime in a cycle of pain and forgiveness? Does it mean we will never really be free from the hold our pain has on our lives?
It helps me to think of forgiveness like a very large…huge… bell. Every time it makes its monstrous clang it causes you to remember that unforgettable moment of hurt and your pain comes flooding in. Yet with each clang, instead of this being a place of shame or anger, this becomes an opportunity of grace in your life to extend forgiveness. It is a sheer act of surrender but it becomes a place of healing. Then it clangs again. The pain returns and you tenaciously offer forgiveness again. And again. And again. Eventually, however, as all bells do, the clanging loses its momentum and power. Each subsequent clang gets softer, losing its strength. The frequency between clangs lessens and your healing comes, grace upon grace, with each intentional act of forgiveness. This must be what Jesus implied when asked how many times one should forgive and he answered seventy times seven. You don’t keep track. You just keep on forgiving until one day you wake up and, much to your surprise, you are no longer angry. There is no searing guilt. You are no longer consumed with the need for revenge. Forgiveness has completed its work. You feel truly free…for the first time.
The amazing thing is…you are now in a place of actually blessing those that hurt you. When fear and shame no longer control you, you stand at a place of living from a place of wholeness and are able to offer something life-giving to others.
Khaled Hosseini, in his novel The Kite Runner beautifully depicts this place of freedom: “Then I realized something: The last thought had brought no sting with it. Closing Sohrab’s door, I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things. Packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (Penguin Group: New York, NY, 2003), p. 359.
Life will always be messy. Injuries occur even when we are following the rules. The reality is we don’t have to hobble around any more. Is this easy? It’s incredibly difficult. Daily we are confronted again and again with the choice of surrendering our pain or retaining it. True freedom and healing from our hurt is avaialble but we must partner with the process. Yet, 2 Cor. 5:19 reminds us, “I want to remind you that you have a mighty God inside of you, he has not left you helpless.”
May you set someone free and find out it is you.