“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
“How does one know if she has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to say about it all.”
Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Every once in a while I’m reminded that I’m human. I make mistakes. I hurt people. I offend people. I rarely do it on purpose, but I do it nonetheless. I do it more often than I’d like. It’s hard to be reminded of one’s humanity. When I write, I can think. I can plan. I can edit. I can even go back and delete what I said or say it differently and better. Life doesn’t always afford such opportunities.
So I go on, making my mistakes, even repeating them sometimes and realizing I need grace every day. I need grace from those I’ve hurt or offended. I need grace from God. I need grace for myself…from me. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is one’s self. For years I was very hard on myself but over time I learned to forgive, though not forget. It seems what I forget sometimes is to not repeat a behavior that caused problems in the past.
Still, and this is the wonderful thing, there’s a good side to this. Awareness of my own shortcomings generally makes it easier to forgive others. The only person I have trouble forgiving sometimes is the person who consistently treats me or others badly, but most of the time, I’m willing to let things go. I realize that no one is perfect and we all need grace and forgiveness.
There’s a story in the bible of a man who owes a king a huge sum of money. The king threatens to throw the man in prison until he can pay the debt. The man begs for mercy and, surprisingly, the king gives it. He erases the man’s debt. Completely. This not only spares the man; it spares his wife and children as well.
I know what it is to be in financial debt. Never once in my life has any company ever forgiven my debts. I’ve been sent threatening letters. I once had my tax refund taken. My current phone company sent a collection agency after me because I returned a non-working phone, one that lasted only a month, to a different branch than where I purchased. But no company has ever said, “It’s okay. The debt is forgiven.”
If that had happened, I would be spreading the story far and wide, telling everyone I knew how much kindness was extended to me. I would be ecstatic. That’s how I imagined the forgiven servant would feel. The most sensible response would be joy and relief. And if, after being forgiven my debt, I met someone who owed me a bare fraction of what I was forgiven, I would probably laugh and say, “Don’t worry about it! Let me tell you what just happened!”
Surprisingly, the forgiven servant does completely the opposite. He accosts someone who owes him far less money and has him thrown into debtor’s prison. When the king hears about he has the man dragged before him, tells him he should have forgiven the other man because he was forgiven, and then has the man thrown into debtors prison too.
The price of non-forgiveness is high. It imprisons us.
Years ago a dear friend hurt me deeply, the way only dear friends can. It created in me a bitterness that I could not escape and it lasted for about a year. Then one Sunday night at a church I didn’t normally attend, a pastor who was not normally there preached on forgiveness. He said that sometimes we had to ask God to enable us to forgive because the hurt was just too deep. I asked God to help me forgive and He did. That night, in an instant, the bitterness of a year was gone…completely and forever. It was a wonderful and freeing experience.
Today I unintentionally hurt someone and when she extended forgiveness to me, I again felt free. Her forgiveness also kept her free. But the story doesn’t end there. Tonight someone came to me and asked my forgiveness for hurtful things she had said. I understood why she said what she said, but it still hurt. Mostly I felt bad for the burden she was carrying. Tonight she was able to let it go as she asked my forgiveness. She was crying and I was crying. Once more two people were freed.
Forgiveness isn’t a choice; it’s the only choice if one wants emotional freedom.
Without forgiveness, it’s hard to Get Started and Keep Going. It’s hard to find Purpose, because bitterness keeps us blinded. Bitterness gives us strength, energy and adrenaline, but it sucks the life out of us at the same time. I appreciate all the forgiveness I’ve been granted and I appreciate the forgiveness I’ve been able to extend.