Father, Forgive Them. But...
But only after they figure out how much they've hurt me
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” These are some of the last words Jesus said while nailed to the Cross. If it were me on that Cross, I wouldn’t have been so gracious. I probably would’ve said something like, “Father, forgive them…but only after they figure out how much they’ve hurt me.”
Forgiving someone who doesn’t know how much they’ve hurt you, or worse yet, who knows how much they’ve hurt you but they’re not sorry about it—this is where the forgiveness rubber truly meets the road.
So what is forgiveness? According to the American Psychological Association: Forgiveness is the mental and/or spiritual process of ceasing to feel resentment, indignation or anger against another person for a perceived offense, difference or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.
Put another way, forgiveness is us giving up our rights to get even. When someone has deeply hurt you, they owe you a debt. They have taken from you your sense of happiness and wholeness. I’ve forgiven in the past when I decided to stop trying to get someone to pay me back the money they owed. The forgiveness freed me and them. Though it was costly to me. To forgive means not to say it didn’t happen, it did, but I no longer need to seek recompense from the other person. There is nothing owed to me.
I spent time this morning thinking about a handful of people who I need to forgive—people who have hurt me the most. I didn’t immediately go to “Father, forgive them.” Just the mention of their names opened up the gates of sadness; remembering pain isn’t fun. Then I moved from sadness to anger for the loss of relationship and the feelings of abandonment and betrayal I’ve been carrying for years.
These feelings pop up from time to time, and, depending on my mental state, can hold various levels of sway over me. It’s like these people are anchors in my spirit, tempting to pull me under.
I love what author Lewis B. Smedes said about forgiveness: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” There is no way to get away from our past and its effects on us. We can learn from it, but we can’t escape from it. We may forget it, but we can’t erase it. The only thing that can release us from the insane grip of a painful past is forgiveness. In fact, not to forgive is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die.
Forgiveness sets others free, but mostly, frees us.