Have you ever wrestled with the area of forgiveness? I have. I know it’s not always the most popular word. There have been two situations in my life where forgiveness was particularly challenging for me. Neither of those are stories that I intend to publish on the World Wide Web! Suffice to say that on both occasions, no apology had been offered, and the situations had enormous repercussions and caused me emotional turmoil that was long-lasting and not easy to let go of. I wrestled with the desire to forgive, and the attempt to do so while trying to process the anger and hurt.
Forgiveness doesn’t Mean Accepting the Platitudes
Following my MS diagnosis, there were platitudes, comments and even enforced prayers that were unhelpful and added to my pain. At times, questions or comments about my lack of offspring have been phrased in such a way that I feel as if I were being stabbed in the womb. Sometimes the pain has been so strong that it’s felt physical as well as emotional. The fact that such comments and platitudes are usually made during a moment when the listener is vulnerable can intensify the pain and make it harder to forgive. Yet as we consider how we survive the platitudes, I’m convinced that forgiveness is essential. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we accept the platitudes. It doesn’t mean that we don’t challenge them. I’m not talking about becoming a doormat here!
We can challenge, educate and forgive without any of those elements having to take away from the others. We can put boundaries in place, break off unhealthy relationships if necessary, and still forgive. We can forgive, recognising that we all need forgiveness from others at times. Let the one who has never put their foot in it, who has never in their whole life made an insensitive comment, be the first to condemn. I consider myself to be a fairly sensitive person, but under the scrutiny of past comments, I cannot stand. I haven’t always got it right. I cringe just thinking about it. I too need forgiveness.
Why is Forgiveness Necessary?
Why do we need to forgive those who say insensitive platitudes? Why is it so important? It’s vital because that’s the way that we protect ourselves from a far worse life circumstance than whatever we’re already dealing with. That’s how we protect ourselves from the disease of bitterness. If we let it, it’ll eat away at us more than cancer. It’ll attack the very essence of who we are, far more than an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis attacks the body’s immune system. It’ll take the life out of us far more than infertility ever could. If we’re going to survive our life circumstances, and the reactions of others towards those circumstances, then we need to overcome the hurdle of bitterness. It’s a disease that’s not compatible with survival.
Who is Forgiveness For?
We often think that forgiveness is for the other person. Perhaps it is, if they choose to accept it. However, I’ve come to realise that forgiveness is often more for our benefit. On both of the occasions mentioned above, the very act of forgiving, while I was still in pain and turmoil, was an enormous step towards starting the healing process. I know what it is to wrestle with forgiveness, but I also know what it is to be set free by it.I know what it is to wrestle with forgiveness, but I also know what it is to be set free by it. Click To Tweet
The Ultimate Example of Forgiveness
There are times when forgiveness seems pretty incomprehensible. I agree. Perhaps we can imagine forgiveness being possible when the damage done has been healed, when it doesn’t hurt anymore. The idea of forgiving while it still hurts can be a challenging one.
The ultimate example of forgiveness is Jesus, and Easter seems like a good time to consider what we can learn from that. If we do a comparative study of the four gospel accounts of His crucifixion, there are seven phrases that Jesus is recorded as saying on the cross. The first is in Luke’s gospel. Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” By that point, He’d been betrayed by a friend, denied by another and abandoned by most of the rest. He’d been beaten, humiliated, falsely accused, misunderstood, ill-treated, judged and condemned. In His moment of suffering, He wasn’t getting sensitive comments from the soldiers that crucified Him! There is no platitude, no hurt that we’ve experienced that He cannot identify with. If we explore the timing of those words, they were said just after the soldiers had nailed Him to the cross. Crucifixion was not a quick process. With the knowledge that He’d still got hours of pain ahead of Him, Jesus chose to forgive. He chose to forgive knowing that, in all probability, the soldiers would continue to insult Him and ridicule Him, knowing that the pain and suffering could only get worse.
The penultimate thing that Jesus is recorded as saying, in John’s gospel this time, is, “It is finished.” His task was finished, completed, over, forever, done! When Jesus left the cross, it was final. He won’t ever be returning to that place of torture. He committed Himself into His father’s hands, and He breathed His last, moving towards the future.
I suggest that if Jesus had not gone through the process of forgiveness, He would not have been able to later say, “It is finished.” That’s what forgiveness does; it frees us to move on to something new. Maybe not immediately; Jesus continued to suffer and had to maintain an attitude of forgiveness long after He’d first uttered the words. But later, He was free. To move towards Easter Sunday, He had to forgive the pain and suffering of Good Friday.
With Forgiveness Comes Easter Sunday
When we don’t forgive those who hurt us then, we are effectively giving them the power to continue crucifying us, day after day. If we refuse to forgive, then we are hurting ourselves more than we’re hurting them. We are choosing to return to our place of torture. Good Friday is a place of death, but Easter Sunday is a celebration of resurrection, of new life and new beginnings. I know which of those I prefer.
I’m not saying that it’s always easy. Sometimes it’s a decision and a process, and the emotions follow later. I forgive because I’ve been forgiven. I forgive because I want to be free. I forgive because Good Friday happened, and it was awful, but I believe in Easter Sunday. I forgive because I do not want the nails of bitterness to take root and keep me in a place of pain.
I have a life to live, and that does not involve giving others the power to continue to hurt me. I forgive because Jesus forgave, and I’m doing my best to follow Him and to live the life that He died to give me. In spite of the challenges and pain, I’m convinced that forgiveness is the way to go. I’m convinced that Easter Sunday is the hope for all of our Good Fridays, for every single nail that has pierced us, whatever cross we’ve had to bear. Happy Easter to you all!