Two weeks ago, I shared about the dangerous nature of our understanding of forgiveness. Far too many of us embrace bad teaching about forgiveness. Inaccurate beliefs prevent us from experiencing the power of true forgiveness, worsening the pain we’ve been processing. I shared the first five myths here and today I’ll be sharing the final five.
MYTH 6: Refusing to forgive shows I value accountability.
TRUTH: Refusing to forgive can mean you’re lusting for revenge and struggling to trust God to do the best thing.
My best definition of forgiveness is “giving up my pursuit of revenge and trusting God to bring justice.” Unforgiveness fuels our lust for revenge. But revenge doesn’t overcome the evil we experienced. In fact, as a follower of Jesus, I’m called to lay down my “right” to revenge. When Jesus was hanging on the cross in Luke 23:34, His words are recorded for our instruction. “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” How do we overcome evil? We forgive like Jesus forgave.
MYTH 7: Forgiveness and reconciliation are the same thing.
TRUTH: Forgiveness and reconciliation are very different things.
Ultimately, reconciliation is God’s gift as everyone involved has forgiven themselves and forgiven others. This process can take a very long time. But, reconciliation will move you forward, not backward. You can’t restore the past; you can only move forward.
Reconciliation is often based upon evidence of life change. If we’re honest, there are times when reconciliation doesn’t always work out, such as cases of abuse where someone is not safe. Unfortunately, some of you reading this have been encouraged by a well-meaning (but naive) spiritual leader to forgive and reconcile with someone who abused or assaulted you because they’re “sorry” or “they’ve really changed.” If this is you, I’m sorry, but it’s just not that simple. Being married to a lawyer who prosecuted domestic violence cases for the first five years of our marrage ruined me on this subject. Some Christians live in fantasy land here. I’m so passionate about the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation because the myth that one guarantees another often produces more pain. Reconciliation requires something from both people. What happens if one person never changes? Maybe you are the person who was hurt and you cannot ever or should not ever trust the person who hurt you again. You could be the person who did the wrong and you desperately wish you could undo it, but you cannot. You believe you’ve changed, but the other person does not. Forgiveness without reconciliation can be incredibly tough. However, it is the experience many of us will encounter.
MYTH 8: I need to tell the person I forgave them.
TRUTH: You don’t necessarily need to tell them.
Please do not go to someone who hurt you and tell them, “I wanted you to know you unknowingly hurt me years ago. I’ve been a wreck over it for years. But don’t worry, after thousands of dollars of counseling and months of prayer, I can forgive you. Welp, see ya later!” If you’re thinking of telling someone this (and yes, I’ve been told something similar), first ask yourself why you need to let them know they unknowingly wronged you. Is it possible that this is one last attempt to get even? You can forgive someone without ever telling them because forgiveness is about your freedom, not theirs.
MYTH 9: Forgiveness is something I can do on my own.
TRUTH: We need help processing the pain and letting go.
The hardest things and the most important things in life are often done in community. Maybe you’ve tried forgiving someone and you haven’t made progress. If you were going to make it alone, you would’ve done so by now. Forgiveness is all about God opening our eyes and discovering our blind spots. I met someone recently who specializes in mediation. His first goal in mediation is “to get everyone involved to pull the log out of their eye.” His goal comes from Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:1-4 where Jesus talks about how we’re to remove the log from our eye before we help someone else remove the speck from theirs. Jesus reminds us that we all have blinders and we need help seeing what we overlook.
MYTH 10: I can follow a few simple steps to forgive someone.
TRUTH: Forgiveness is less about quick steps and more about a long obedience in the same direction.
Eugene Peterson wrote a great book on discipleship entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The book’s title echoes the kind of patience and fidelity following Jesus demands – the kind of patience and fidelity involved in forgiving someone who deeply hurt us.
So, how do we forgive? Well, it’s not easy. It’s not quick. And it’s not the same for each of us. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t lay it out step by step for us. But beginning to understand what forgiveness is and is not, and what reconciliation is and is not are two key steps in the right direction.
Each of us has wounded others and been deeply wounded ourselves. We’ve all needed forgiveness and needed to forgive someone else. After this post today, we could all take these 3 steps forward.
1) Identify someone you’re still in the process of forgiving.
2) Begin praying for God to enable you to let go of the bitterness and desire for retribution.
3) Begin praying for God to work in their life, transforming them with His love.
What we believe about forgiveness directly impacts our experience of it. I’m praying that you grasp God’s unconditional love for you and the complete forgiveness you have because Jesus sacrificially died for you on the Cross. I pray you experience the freedom that comes as God heals your wounds. Once you’ve experienced true forgiveness, you’ll leave the inaccurate, incomplete version behind and embrace the full, freeing version instead.
You’ll know Scott Savage has entered the building because his laugh always precedes his arrival. Scott lives in Phoenix, where he writes and serves as a pastor in a local church. Scott is married to Danalyn (a lawyer) and the father of 3 children, including a set of twins. He blogs at scottsavagelive.com, where you can get a free copy of his ebook, The Greater-Than Challenge: A Guide for Reframing Your Life. You can follow Scott on Twitter @scottsavagelive.