Forgiving others who hurt us can seem like the hardest thing in the world.
- An elderly man could no longer live in his home after it was ransacked and vandalized by thieves. Forced to live out of his truck, he swore he would never forgive the people who did this to him.
- Twenty years after the murder of her twenty-five-year-old daughter, a woman continues to grieve and hold contempt for the killer.
- While still mourning the loss of her mother, a woman found herself in a battle with her siblings over her parents’ estate. Although their relationship previously had been friendly, now she will have nothing to do with her brothers and sister.
These people all share at least one thing in common: their inability to forgive.
Injury, Pain, and Justice
To forgive someone means to release the debt we feel they owe us as a result of an injury.
While the physical harm caused by another’s action can range from trivial to horrific, the depth of injury we feel depends more on our perception and expectations, which in turn are influenced by our prior experiences, the emotional attachment we had to what we lost, and our sense of fairness and justice.
We can have something tangible taken from us, resulting in a just expectation of recompense. But It’s our pain and sense of loss that usually cause the greatest suffering. In some situations, the wounds people experience are so deep, that the sufferer believes nothing can make up for what happened. From this perspective, the injured party feels justified in perpetuating a continual state of judgment and retribution, even to the point of seeking to take the offender’s life.
If someone has hurt us and owed us a debt, why should we let them get off easy and forgive them?
A frequent reason we hear is that forgiving makes us feel better. Yet, so many people would rather cling to their bitterness and desire to punish the one who hurt them. Holding the offender’s feet to the fire feels better to them. For these people, forgiving someone has become the hardest thing to do in the whole world.
Besides wanting to hurt the one who hurt them, we sometimes refuse to forgive because we think it will reduce our sense of loss. But just as you cannot make yourself richer by making others poorer, you cannot lessen your pain by causing others to hurt more.
Jesus repeatedly taught us to forgive others, neither placing a limit on the number of times we should forgive nor creating conditions that would make not forgiving acceptable (Matthew 18:21-22). Why was he so adamant? His reason: The Father’s mercy and love.
It is the Father’s nature to forgive and to show mercy. While it is true that we are imperfect, Jesus challenges us to go beyond our sinful nature and to love our enemies as our heavenly Father loves each person; to show mercy as God the Father shows mercy (Luke 6:27-36).
If for no other reason, we should show mercy to others if we are to expect to be forgiven by our heavenly Father. What sense does it make to allow the evil done by another result in our eternal separation from God (Matt.18:32-35)?
But holding onto resentment also causes us significant harm in this present life. We were designed for love, not hate. Harboring bitterness with a hardened heart doesn’t limit itself to one area. It wounds our soul and affects our whole being, causing us to sacrifice peace, joy, and healthy relationships. (Eph. 4:26-32).
You cannot lessen your pain by causing others to hurt more.
Forgiveness takes us one step further. If we want to realize our potential and live life to the fullest—to become like Jesus—we must forgive!
Sadly, to the one who denies Jesus Christ, none of these reasons will carry enough weight, and for some, their refusal to let go of resentment becomes THE basis for rejecting a relationship with Jesus. What a tragedy!
If you recognize that you’re harboring resentment toward someone and you’ve decided you want to let it go, what’s next?
Acknowledge the injury and the debt owed you.
This may seem a step in the wrong direction, but if we don’t fully recognize and admit our pain, our action could be superficial and allow areas of resentment to remain hidden.
Choose to show mercy.
Showing mercy may feel like the last thing you want to do. That’s why we don’t wait for our emotions to come around, but we make a decision to forgive.
Let go and don’t look back.
We release the emotional debt owed us and let go of our anger, bitterness, and desire for vengeance. We’ll be tempted to pick the whole thing up again—to replay the situation or the emotions. Don’t do it. Give them to Jesus, instead.
Pray for the one you have forgiven.
We pray for God’s grace to be active in that person’s life; that they experience conversion; that they receive his blessing. Jesus didn’t only tell us to forgive. He told us to love our enemies. I have found that this intentional act of blessing through prayer has helped to break the hardness of my own heart and has freed me from the evil seeking to destroy my soul and enslave me.
Finally, holding bitterness, resentment, and hatred for another, even if it seems justified, is a sinful act and separates us from God. We should confess our sin and restore our relationship with the Lord through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.