Forgiveness is a tricky thing, isn’t it?
I know, it’s another one of those things that Jesus says is so important and he makes it sound so simple. But it’s not, is it? Yeesh, Jesus really isn’t easy. And he’s demanding.
The thing about saying “Jesus isn’t easy” is needing to remind people that’s not a bad thing, nor is it something to fear. Jesus isn’t easy in the same way that life isn’t easy. Which makes sense, since Jesus offers a way of living that’s life-giving.
Jesus also doesn’t have expectations for us or demand perfection. Jesus knows you’re perfectly you, just as you are, and there’s only one of you, so that’s enough. Especially when we need to struggle with something that’s part of that life-giving nature that moves us forward and builds – or re-builds – relationships.
So maybe start by allowing yourself a little grace.
Grace and forgiveness aren’t the same thing, by the way. Grace, in a spiritual sense, is proactive. It’s going into the world with an open heart and mind, with love and compassion, and embracing life as it happens. Forgiveness is reactive. Something happens that causes hurt or brokenness, especially of a relationship, and forgiveness is offered in response to it.
I think that’s where we can get tripped up by forgiveness. It’s offered in response to the hurt, not the baggage we weigh it down with. It’s unconditional, as near impossible as that may be for us, and yet, we attach conditions. We expect an apology. We expect compensation. We expect retribution. We expect an ironclad guarantee that it, or anything like it, will not happen again. And we expect all that before we forgive.
But forgiveness is about you, the forgiver, not the person, persons or world that hurt you. It’s about grieving the hurt – that should be the hardest part – and letting go of the anger, the bitterness, the need to blame, the hate and the fear, and the expectations of what you’re owed in order for forgiveness to happen. It’s about you letting go of the things that will hold you back from moving forward and living again after the hurt. Those other things, those conditions, will chain you down, build walls around you, imprison you and keep you from reconciling the relationship that’s been broken. Forgiveness breaks the chains and opens doors to a new relationship.
Let’s be clear, though: just because forgiveness isn’t about those other things doesn’t mean some of them might not be necessary. Forgiveness isn’t about saying it’s okay, excusing it, or allowing it. Injustice must be challenged, abuse must be stopped, truth must be spoken to power and hurts healed. Things need to change. So don’t “forgive and forget.” Forgive and remember. Remember you forgave, and why, and remember what needs to be challenged, addressed and healed.
That’s where you need a little grace for yourself and a little understanding. In this world, “unconditional” anything is hard. But Jesus knows that, just as God does. Being perfectly you is enough. But imagine what a world it would be if we went with grace and offered forgiveness.