Edgar Degas, 1834-1917, France.
My Darling Child,
So many things will happen in your life that will be difficult, if not impossible, to forgive. Some of the people I’ve trusted most implicitly have betrayed my confidence, wrongfully judged me, or simply were not spiritually mature enough to comfort and counsel me through my struggles.
Someday, when you are married, your spouse will hurt your feelings more than you ever thought possible. Someday, you’ll realize that your mother isn’t actually as wise or comforting as you once believed I was when you were a child, and I will disappoint you.
Everyone who your heart puts on a pedestal will eventually fall. The higher the pedestal – the deeper your trust – the bigger the agonizing crash will be.
Sometimes, you’ll have to let go of people and discontinue friendship with them. Sometimes – while you may forgive them – you cannot trust them or feel comfortable with them again. Other times, you will love the offending person very much, and be deeply invested in your relationship with them. During these times, the grace and skill of forgiveness is a vital necessity.
I call forgiveness a “grace,” because true forgiveness is a power given to you by Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is not something you can usually muster on your own, especially for serious hurts. I call forgiveness a “skill,” because forgiveness takes a lot of time, effort, and practice. Sometimes, even if your forgiveness is genuine and thorough the first time, you’ll find that your injured heart still aches, and you’ll have to forgive that person again, and again, and again, and again.
My Darling Child, we cannot genuinely love each other by sweeping hurt feelings under a rug, or pretending that bad things never happened. We cannot un-say cruel words by trying really hard to forget them. Time doesn’t really heal all wounds. Often, time lets wounds fester and grow even more painful and deep than they were to begin with.
The apostle Paul described love quite beautifully in his letter to the Corinthians:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b
True love desires a relationship to heal, grow, strengthen, and endure. A relationship cannot do any of these things if it is haphazardly bandaged together with lies, denial, and false pretenses of happiness. True love desires to be joyful – not merely content – in a relationship. True love wants to blossom and thrive, not stagnate in a limbo where we avoid touchy topics, fake our smiles, awkwardly force cheery greetings, and pretend to be sad when we part company.
But forgiveness is hard. Often, you will find that you cannot bring yourself to forgive even the people you love most dearly. That is because forgiveness is not a natural thing to do. Our instincts tell us to stay hurt, hold the offending party at arms length, and wallow in our justifiable indignation. Our gut tells us to demand an apology, to punish the offender for being so offensive, and to remind them again and again of how disappointed we are in them.
I will not lie; I have a great deal of trouble forgiving loved ones for deeply hurt feelings. That is how I know that in order to forgive – really forgive – we must ask God to heal our hearts and empower us to forgive like Him. How amazing it would be, if even on the brink of death we could plead, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Forgiveness isn’t a feeling you can muster like you would a positive attitude. It’s not a pill you manage to swallow with enough effort and water despite gagging. Forgiveness is a miracle! Thus love – genuine love which entails continual forgiveness – is an even greater miracle.
As I mentioned before, the pains of already-forgiven wounds may sting for years after the fact. You may hear insults ringing in your ears long after they’re spoken, and your mind replay and reconsider painful memories until they bleed afresh. Pray through it. Read the Bible through it. Rely on Jesus Christ, the Lord of Forgiveness, to endow you with the power to install forgiveness – not just as a one time act – but as an all-consuming, character-defining lifestyle, that heals your wounded heart, stills your restless soul, and brings you peace and fulfilling joy.
“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” ~ Colossians 1:11-14