Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. (Mark Twain)
For most of us, forgiveness is one of the most difficult virtues to master. I’m no exception; I’ve been known to hold a grudge and make it last a lifetime.
After he hurt me?
After he offended me?
After he dared to cross me?
But the more I’ve grown in my desire to follow Christ, the more I have realized how important forgiveness is. And I’m beginning to understand why I am supposed to forgive and how I am supposed to do it.
What does it mean to forgive?
Forgiveness is an act of service and love. It’s choosing the deepest form of love you are capable of, and releasing your anger and resentment (which can feel more than well-deserved) towards someone, despite the pain they have caused you. Forgiveness is choosing to dissolve the experience and the person’s actions with grace.
Let me be clear: forgiveness doesn’t mean you suddenly get amnesia or that you must maintain a continuous relationship with the person. In some cases, you can forgive a person and then decide to part ways. (Ever heard of loving someone from a distance?) Forgiving is replacing any ugliness you have stored in your heart towards the person with love and compassion.
Why should I do it?
I forgive others because I love Jesus, and He gave up His life to forgive me. If you grew up going to Sunday School, your eyes have probably glossed over. But think about it: a man who is also God, died so that I, someone who struggles with lying, gossiping, and boasting, can be forgiven. I’m constantly given opportunities to show my gratitude; to forgive others as He has forgiven me. How ungrateful would that make me if I vehemently refuse and choose to hold onto grudges instead? Because I love Him, I should want to do what He asks of me. And one of those things He makes very clear is that we’re to follow His example. We need to forgive.
How does forgiveness happen?
As hard as it is, I have found that what makes forgiveness possible is the acceptance of these truths: I am capable of anything and I am not better than anyone else. Maya Angelou said, “I am human and nothing human is alien to me.” What differentiates us is our choices: we can either choose to use our energy to love God and to love others, or we can choose to use our energy maliciously. When I get caught up in these destructive thoughts, grudges become easier for me to release when I “step in another’s shoes” and find enough empathy and love inside myself to forgive.
I’m not saying forgiveness is simple or even painless. Trust me, I’m still getting the hang of it. What I am saying is that being a Christian goes hand in hand with being a forgiving person. There is no way around it.
To have the consistent peace and joy of Christ in my life, I need to get into the habit of letting go of any anger, bitterness, and resentment I might be holding towards another person. Jesus was all about mercy and forgiveness — He sacrificed His life in the name of it. If I choose to hold on to anger and bitterness, I pull myself farther and farther away from Jesus which won’t work. I am too dependent on the love and mercy of Christ in my life.
And I’ve come to believe that it’s only fair I extend that loving hand of mercy to others who, simply put, are imperfect people struggling with daily temptations just like me.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Erik Burdett.