I have always had the mindset that forgiveness is given only when it is earned, but recently, I have learned very different.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Forgiveness means that you let go of the file of that person’s sin. You stop holding on to it. You stop holding it against them. It’s over. Forgiveness is pure grace. The person doesn’t deserve it. That is the point. And because of this, there are no limits to forgiveness.
You never reach a point where you can say, ‘That’s too much, now.’” BUT forgiveness is also like giving someone a gift, or giving someone the hand of friendship. I can offer it, I can put out my hand to you, but if you don’t take it, if you don’t put out your hand to accept mine, then the it will be left half done. I think sometimes, we tend to think of forgiveness as an emotion, especially as women, but the bible actually talks about forgiveness as a decision of the will….Emotional change may happen, but forgiveness itself is a willful decision.
After being in an abusive marriage for over fifteen years, I never thought that I would be able to forgive. For many years after finally leaving, I carried that burden, that anger, around with me. It made me bitter, it made me angry and it stole my sunshine. I would often ask myself why I was so unhappy, thinking I should be ecstatic because I had gotten out of that situation! When you carry a burden long enough, it doesn’t feel like a burden anymore. It just feels like life. I thought about it rarely.
Day after day my burden would grow heavier, and bitterness would grow, and I would be reminded of it again—my need for forgiveness. I have always thought of myself as a very loving and forgiving person, never really one to hold a grudge, and I actually didn’t think I was. But when I started to go to church more and started to read about forgiveness, I found deep inside that there was still something there. The truth about forgiveness is that it is not a natural response and it isn’t for the person you’re forgiving. It’s for you. Matthew 6:14
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Slowly but surely, I feel it happen, like a release valve on a too-tight container. It doesn’t make it okay what he did, but it makes him forgiven. And that feels good. Of course, the hardest thing to do is to think back to the place where this all started, the place where it seems almost impossible to find forgiveness there. But strangely forgiveness seems to come in that place as I practice it in the rest of my life—especially to myself. Not all at once, but it comes in phases and waves each time I forgive the man who cuts me off in traffic, or the woman who called me a name because I didn’t do what she wanted, or the friend who misunderstands and gossips behind my back.
I take a few deep breaths and whisper to myself:
Most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can.