I saw a quote online attributed to Suzanne Somers that said “forgiveness is a gift you give yourself”. This is a nice sentiment, and while forgiving someone who has wronged you is certainly liberating for the individual who is choosing to forgive, forgiveness is so much bigger than that.
Don’t get me wrong, forgiveness is extremely essential to your peace of mind, your relationship with God and even your physical health. Dr. Karen Swartz from the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at the John Hopkins Hospital was referenced in an article on hopkinsmedicine.org as saying “There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed.”
And this is true. I don’t say it merely because someone made a compelling argument and convinced me, I say it because I have lived it. Heart disease, hypertension, unwanted and unexplained weight fluctuations and diabetes have all been cited as physical ailments stemming from emotional hurt, and coming from someone who weighs 110 pounds on a good day weight loss was not welcome, it was not wanted, it was not a good look and it was definitely not a good feeling.
Learning to let go
Forgiveness sounds good. It sometimes sounds like something strong people do. After all it must take tremendous courage to look at someone who has caused you or someone you love immense pain and be able to sincerely say “I forgive you”. And for this reason too, forgiveness will sometimes, based on the nature of the infringement, sound like something only a lunatic would even consider, much more to do.
But even when it is difficult it is something you have to do for yourself because you don’t deserve to be kept prisoner because of someone else’s crimes. You don’t deserve to become so bitter that you disqualify people before you even give them a chance. You don’t deserve to live an unfulfilled life because you have become so filled with hate and rage that you can’t see past what happened to you.
The people in your life deserve your best and you will never be able to give them your best if you are hung up on what someone did to you. It is not fair to the people who love you and it is certainly not fair to you that you subject yourself to a life sentence for a crime you are a victim of. You deserve to live your best possible life and you will not accomplish this with unforgiveness in your heart.
I can almost hear somebody saying it’s so much easier said than done and I’m in complete agreement, again not because I heard someone’s version and believed it but because I’ve been in the position. So yes, it is hard, as life sometimes is, as the right thing to do often is, but it is a necessary good.
Here comes the but…
I don’t think anyone would disagree that extending forgiveness because it sets you yourself free is a really good reason to forgive. But here’s another reason and I daresay it’s an even more important one.
The most important one. Your Father in Heaven requires it. Because you see, God’s love is unconditional but His forgiveness is not. That might sound harsh but it is true. Even the salvation of our souls has terms and conditions attached.
The gift is free, yes, but we didn’t just wake up one day and ‘choose salvation’ and that was it. We are required to believe and confess. “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (Romans chapter 10, verses 9-10).
When Jesus was giving us the blueprint for prayer in His Sermon on the Mount, He instructed us to say “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew chapter 6, verse 12). And to be sure of what He meant, He went on in verses 14 and 15 to make sure that we understood: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
If we fail to follow the very clear instructions given here, we are disqualifying ourselves from receiving God’s forgiveness. Imagine that you are praying while harbouring unforgiveness in your heart and this is what God hears: “I want forgiveness from you but I am aware that I have not forgiven my brother so I know I cannot receive your forgiveness”.
God wants to forgive us. He wants us to have a relationship with Him. It gives Him no pleasure to see us living in our worthlessness, in the guilt, fear, pain and shame that is attached to a life that has not experienced the grace of God.
And get this, when God sent His perfect Son into the world to become a sacrifice for our sins, when Jesus went to Calvary and died a disgraceful death on the cross like a common criminal it was one hundred percent for us.
There was nothing in it for Him. God wasn’t trying to avoid high blood pressure or heart disease when He offered forgiveness to us. Jesus wasn’t thinking about His mental health when He laid down His life so you and I could live. Love was on His mind, and we owe that to every single person who has ever wronged us because we are called to emulate our Saviour. The bible tells us that we owe our fellow men love and there cannot be love without forgiveness.
Let’s get this clear, it is ok to forgive someone and not want a relationship with them anymore. Forgiving your brother or sister does not necessarily mean reconciliation. It is ok to let them go, wish them well and mean it but choose to end that working relationship, that acquaintance, or that 20-year friendship.
There is no rule that says you must allow people to continue to abuse and hurt you but there is a rule that says you have to forgive them, not just because it will make you feel better but because it is required of you.
Fortunately for us “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter chapter1, verse 3) so while forgiveness is not the easiest task in the world it is not impossible.
Natasha Young is an accountant and mother of one from the land of wood and water (Jamaica) in the West Indies who feels like she has missed her true calling which was to have become a teacher, or writer/director (or all of the above!). She is the only person she knows who works with numbers everyday but had English as a favourite subject in school. The most used app on her phone is Kindle so you know what that means. She is a lover of music and can oftentimes be heard belting on the top of her voice even though singing is not a talent of hers. But ultimately, she is just a sinner saved by grace who believes we all have a responsibility to use our gifts for the growth of God’s people and His glory.