In some shape or form, we have all experienced betrayal, rejection, aggression and hatred at the hands of another person. I share some myths about forgiveness and how to move forward.
Though what I’m about to share with you on forgiveness applies to anyone but today I would like to address my brothers and sisters of color whose stories, feelings, and pain may have been stirred recently by the outcry of injustice. Maybe the pain you’ve suffered has been lying dormant for years as you’ve tried to put it out of your mind. Maybe for you, it’s always been at the forefront of your daily life. Or maybe you felt like you’ve forgiven but the pain has been triggered as you watched your black brother breathe his last words. Maybe it’s a mix of all the above.
I have wrestled in the quietness of my home and in my heart with my own stories of injustice simply because I am brown.
Some days the pain and memories kept me up late at night as I internally fought my desire for revenge and the lies of the enemy coming against God’s desire for unity. Other times I had to remind my forgetful heart that the situation whirling around in my mind had already been forgiven. That I had already done the work and I wasn’t going to go back. My friends when this happens–fight or flee. Don’t let the enemy have his way. “Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt. 5:44)
I believe in the power that comes from healthy processing, acknowledging, accepting, grieving, listening, and finding healing from the past and our pain at the feet of Jesus. It’s important to tell our stories. It’s important to grieve. It’s important to advocate for ourselves. It’s important to speak up.
As a person of color who is a follower of Jesus Christ and who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, I also believe it’s important to–forgive. Before I focus on forgiveness I want to mention that I also believe there’s the devil, the father of lies, who is prowling around ready to pounce and cause division. So dear friends stand firm on the truth of God’s word my brothers and sisters and flee the lies.
The word that the New Testament uses for forgiveness is the word, aphiemi, which means to “release” or “set free”. This means that when you forgive, you are really releasing the other person from your right to judge them and hurt them back. Far from saying, “It’s okay,” what you’re really saying is, “What they did was wrong and it has really hurt me. However, instead of holding onto my right to punish them, I will allow God to judge them justly.” ~Aaron Truong
8 Myths About Forgiveness
- Forgive and forget. We often think that if we forgive someone we must forget what was done. The reality is our memory bank doesn’t just let go of our memories because we want something to be erased. So it’s not physically possible to forget but it is possible to forgive.
- Forgiveness means we instantly let go of it all. I remember the first time my husband hurt my feelings and when he came to me in the midst of my anger and asked for forgiveness I found it hard to just let it go in an instant because he apologized. Here’s the thing, sometimes we are able to instantly let go and other times we need time and God’s work in our hearts to process the pain. Which brings me to this next point.
- Forgiveness is only real if you don’t still feel angry or hurt by it. Often we confuse grieving with forgiveness. We think once I’m done grieving I can think about forgiveness. But the reality is I can continue grieving the hurt and process the pain during and even after I’ve forgiven.
- Forgiveness is optional. As believers, we don’t really have an option to forgive. It’s what God requires of us but it is a process of constantly surrendering our broken hearts at the feet of Jesus. Obviously, we can choose not to forgive but we have to understand that when we refuse to forgive we are disobeying God’s word.
- Forgiveness is a one-time thing. I remember seeing the person who offended me shortly after the situation and thinking I must not have forgiven them because when I saw them I was angry again. We can actually forgive someone and then in the surge of thoughts and feelings we may need to bring it back to the feet of Jesus and ask Him to help us continue to forgive. It doesn’t mean the first time you forgave them was fake. In Mark 11:25 it says, “When you are praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” The word “forgive” is a present-active command telling us that it’s a continuous act that we exercise over and over again.
- Forgiveness is reconciliation. Often we say I don’t want to forgive that awful person because I don’t ever want a relationship with them again. Here’s the thing we have to remember that forgiveness is separate from the relationship. I can choose to forgive you but not have a relationship with you. Sometimes it’s important for us to have boundaries and not continue in a relationship but to forgive the person for the hurt they’ve caused you.
- Forgiveness requires someone to ask for forgiveness. There will be times that the offender will never come to a place of repentance in their heart so they will never seek to ask you for forgiveness. When this is the case we can still go to God and release the offender not because we owe them anything but because we need to release them from the power they have in our life.
- Forgiving means I’m okay with what the offender has done. Early on in my marriage, I used to withhold forgiveness because I thought if I forgive him then he’ll think I’m okay or that I approve of his actions. Thankfully God showed me the error in my ways and that didn’t last for long. Forgiveness is not approving it’s saying I release you.
Forgiveness is not easy to do. In fact, it’s impossible for me to forgive without Jesus. But even with Jesus, I have miserably failed because sometimes I struggle with letting go.
You see there are times you don’t want to let go of the pain you want to take it with you to the grave. The devil likes to fool you into thinking that by holding on to the pain, the sin, the bitterness you’re making that person pay.
You’re not! You’re only allowing it to continue to eat at you, rob you of your peace, steal your joy, and sometimes we even unknowingly pass it on to our children.
Forgiveness is letting go of the bitterness we carry not because I owe it to the aggressor but because it’s the only way to freedom. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mk. 11:25)
Forgiveness is giving up my pursuit of revenge and trusting God to bring justice (in a situation).” I believe unforgiveness is at the heart of our lust for revenge. As a follower of Jesus, I lay down my “right” to revenge. Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death was the greatest good ever done. And out of that good comes the power to overcome all evil done by mankind.” ~Scott Savage
Maybe at this point you’ve tuned me out but please read this carefully–Grieving and forgiving are two different things that we often confuse.
I CAN continue to grieve the pain but still choose to forgive as mentioned above. I forgive because I am also a sinner in need of forgiveness. Because I owe it to myself and my children. Because I need the freedom and peace that comes with forgiving. I have to remember forgiveness happens over and over again in my heart even if I never hear the words, “Will you forgive me?” Forgiveness is not a feeling, it’s an act of obedience.
Forgiveness is Still Relevant
These days it feels like the word “forgive” is antiquated. It’s easy to brush off and say, “That was for another time. We are beyond forgiveness what we need now is revenge and payback.”
If you call yourself a believer don’t forget that God still sits on the throne and justice will be done. God may even use you to bring justice but never confuse justice with evil.
He will bring justice, we have to trust His timing and His way as we surrender our pain to Him.
If God’s word is true and it is, we must remember He has come to set the captive free, and heal the brokenhearted. Jesus came to save the lost, Redeem our past. Give us a new life. To forgive you and even the generational sin of those who came before us. These are NOT just little sayings we tell ourselves–It’s God’s word.
I don’t know what kind of injustices you’ve experienced, the pain you feel, or have felt, but what I can tell you is God is not a liar. He sees you. He has not forgotten you. The light shines in the darkness and darkness has NOT overcome it. (Jn 1:5)
When Forgiveness Feels Humanly Impossible
Let me share with you this “brutiful” (brutal yet beautiful) story of this amazing woman who experienced horrific injustices towards her and her people.
“This man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.”
No, he did not remember me. (Corrie thinks to herself.)
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well.”
“Fraulein,” his hand came out, “…will you forgive me?”
And I stood there—I whose sins had every day to be forgiven—and could not. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow, terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.
“If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” …And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart.
But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that, too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
“Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently.
“I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment, we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
~Corrien ten Boom
I pray as we recall the hurt and pain of our past or of those who’ve gone before us that we stay alert for the enemy’s attacks because he loves nothing more than for bitterness and division to grow in our hearts, homes, and community.
May we be like Joseph and say, “What the enemy meant for evil, God will use for good. (Genesis 50:20)