What Forgiveness is Not and What It is
Forgiveness is not saying that what they did is now ok, or can be forgotten about. It is not ignoring your hurt or pretending that nothing happened.It is not letting the other person get away with hurting you. For forgiveness to happen, the pain and suffering have to be truly acknowledged- but acknowledged to a point that there is a future beyond the hurt of the past. Forgiveness is choosing to bring an end to your suffering and pain by placing a light into the situation, by saying that this pain does not have to have the last word.
Hate: the Biggest Barrier to Forgiveness
Forgiveness is hard because most of the time, hating the person we want to forgive feels good. We do not want to lose the power that hatred give us- the power to get back at them and let them suffer as much as they made us suffer.
Yet hating the other person will not make their act of aggression go away.
Hating them will not change what they did to you or change events of the past. Hating them will only damage you, because hate cannot create good. Hating cannot stop the hurt you feel or heal the wounds you suffered.
Hating only feels good because we do not realise what the freedom of forgiveness feels like yet. We do not realize that this is a freedom better than the feeling of hate. We do not realize that the hate is hurting us too. We believe the lie that hatred will create a solution to this problem, we believe the lie that hatred will stop the hurt of the past.
“Hatred is Not a Creative Force”
If we think hatred is some kind of solution or medication to the pain we have been inflicted, we would be wrong.
As St Maximilian Kolbe said, “Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates. Suffering will not prevail over us, it will only melt us down and strengthen us.”
St Maximilian Kolbe knew a thing or two about hatred, and also a lot about love. He spent the last months of his life in Auschwitz, witnessing some of the most barbaric acts known to man. He offered his life in the place of a married man with children who was being sent to the gas chambers. In that moment he placed into the violence and death an act of love. An act that said, ‘I will not be part of this hate. I will put into this moment something that will create, instead of destroy’.
Why Forgiveness Feels Unfair
Even with all this understanding of what forgiveness is and is not, forgiveness still feels so unfair! It feels unfair because it requires us, the hurt one, to make the first move, that act of compassion. When we are wronged, we The person we are trying to forgive might never know that we are forgiving them, which makes the prospect worse- what is the point of forgiveness if the person doesn’t even know how much they hurt us in the first place?!
But seen logically, it is obvious that with holding forgiveness does not punish the other person, despite our best efforts. It only exhausts us.
What we don’t realize is that often forgiveness has very little to do with the other person who hurt us and a lot more to do with ourselves. Forgiveness is like God’s medicine. It heals us. When we are able to forgive, we actually free ourselves from the prison of hurt and pain the other person put us in.
We Are All in Pain in Someway
We are all suffering, we are all wounded and we are all inflicting our wounds on other people too. So someone has to step in and stop the cycle of suffering. Forgiveness speaks right to the heart of another person, and it takes courage and compassion to do it. It says: ‘I know you have fallen totally short of the beautiful plan God had in store for you, but so have I in many ways. I do not want you to stay in that place of darkness forever. What circumstances or darkness lead you to do that to me? I want something better for you too’.
Be Brave Enough to Tell Another Story
A friend of mine once visited Auschwitz. He described how he saw that outside one of the buildings, in a low alcove in the wall, someone had placed a lighted candle. It was such a small thing, but very powerful. It was an act of love in one of the darkest places on earth, and it said that the darkness did not get the last word. When we forgive, it requires us to rise above the situation and be brave enough to tell another story. Forgiveness is saying: ‘I know what happened is wrong, but I will not be part of that. I will not stand by and let the cycle of suffering continue. Instead, I will put into this place of hatred an act of love. It is the only way to break the cycle of hatred. It is the only thing that will bring life and something new out of this’.
The Final Word is God’s Grace
Sometimes forgiveness can come in a moment, other times forgiveness is the work of a long time, helped by new experiences and friendships. The soul moves slowly at its own pace towards healing and wholeness. God works with us in that because we never forgive alone. If you have been really wronged, if you have had some precious part of you taken away by someone else, if forgiveness is impossible for you, turn to the One who can put more than just His hand into yours. Ask Him to forgive through you, so that your pain and suffering can be healed and so that you are free to go on to give life to others. Pray for the person who wronged you, or at least pray that you can want to pray for them. The ultimate act of compassion and forgiveness is Christ on the cross. Here, He suffers with us (which is the literal meaning of compassion) and here His gift of laying down His life gives us new life. He paid the price of death and His resurrection shows that death is never, ever the end. The act of forgiveness change our lives and give us hope. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is an act.