As promised, here is my two-cents worth of advice to complete our 3-part discussion. This time of year, we tend to reflect and assess our lives, our purpose, and our impact on others. Invariably, there are people we have hurt and repairs that ought to be made. Likewise, there are people who have hurt us that we ought to forgive. Forgiveness is powerful and important for the extender and the receiver. Forgiving another releases both the forgiver and the forgiven from the imprisonment of resentment and negativity so that each can experience the fullness of God’s love in us and through us.
I make it sound easy, don’t I? I do not mean to. In fact, extending forgiveness is exceedingly difficult because there can be such incongruence between what our mind knows we must do and what the heart feels. Discomfort is expected on the part of the one offering forgiveness, but discomfort can also be experienced in the one being offered this grace. In addition, both individuals can carry deeply rooted scars in their memories, hearts, and bodies that obscure the peace God offers. It is unnatural to step up and say to someone who has hurt us, “I forgive you.” It is unnatural to the one who is carrying guilt and shame to accept that they are forgiven because they do not see themselves worthy of such a gift. Moreover, we may not want to offer forgiveness for many reasons. We may tell ourselves:
Our offender does not deserve it.
Forgiving them signifies it was okay to hurt me, that the offense was no big deal.
I do not want to disrespect myself and my pain.
I want them to continue to feel guilty for what they did. It is fair. It’s retribution.
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25-26)
This frightful and challenging directive is all about love, not threat. Corrie ten Boom wrote, “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” This statement was written shortly after she extended forgiveness to one of her Nazi prison guards. Corrie writes of the disgrace she and her sister endured in the camp, and the pain of watching her sister die before they were set free. The tension between her heart and mind was significant. But she forced herself to extend forgiveness and in doing so immediately felt a shock of healing warmth flow through her and pass into the man she chose to forgive. Amazing grace not of her own.
So first, acknowledge your pain.
Then, consider how the hurt impacts your present existence.
Recognize that withholding forgiveness will not change what happened.
Understand that you may be using anger and resentment as protective shields.
Make the decision to forgive for your sake, even if they refuse to accept your forgiveness.
The important take-away here is that you have the power to let go and move through the situation. Your decision to forgive models Christ’s directive and sets the forgiven person free to work on forgiving themselves and others in their own life (part 2). Know that you may need to repeat this process for yourself, because pain does not simply evaporate. Give yourself credit for taking these steps. You are making progress. I think this is worth every penny, don’t you?
Until next time!
Dr. Marie Yvette Hernández-Seltz is the director of Candescent Counseling, Consulting & Coaching. She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology and an MS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She has spent the past 15 years studying self-esteem, self-confidence, responsibility, and the effects of environment and culture on the individual.