I have been working on forgiveness lately. Essentially, whenever I have a negative thought about a person, I say to myself, “I forgive that person.” I try to remember that I myself have made my share of mistakes over the years and need forgiveness. And, when I am finding forgiveness particularly difficult, I think to myself: “I have to forgive that person, otherwise my bitterness will eat at me, and I don’t want that.”
I am forgiving others primarily for my own sake: because I want neither them nor my bitterness to have a hold on me. Some may say that my forgiveness is not good enough. They may say that unforgiveness can disrupt my relationship with that other person, and that is why I should forgive. Maybe they’d say that I should forgive out of obedience to God, and doing it primarily for my own benefit shows that I reflect the narcissism of my culture (and, of course, these righteous ones are so immune from that). They may say that my forgiveness is not adequate because I am not trying to reconcile with people and have them back in my life; remember, they’d say, Jesus forgave us so we could have a relationship with God, so I cannot just forgive and let people be. I have to pursue a relationship with them. Forgiveness should lead to restoration of the relationship, otherwise it is not real, we are told. Overall, these detractors and self-appointed gatekeepers may say that my forgiveness does not flow from love: it’s just letting bygones be bygones so that I can feel better.
A lot of this is me second-guessing myself. A lot of it, though, is based on what I have read and heard about forgiveness.
Primarily, I am forgiving for my own sake. At the same time, there is a possibility that my forgiveness could lead me to an improved relationship with others. I’m not talking about a deep relationship. I’m just saying that, if I see someone I dislike, forgiveness may help me to be affable and loving towards that person rather than tense, hateful, passive-aggressive, or outwardly nice while inwardly boiling. The thing is, when it comes to many people I have tried to forgive, there is a good chance that I will never see them again. They have their lives, I have mine, and I have no desire to put myself in their lives, nor would they necessarily want me to do so. In having this attitude, am I developing an attitude of indifference to certain people rather than the deep love that Jesus has? Well, perhaps. I cannot pretend that I have deep love for these people. But indifference is better than hate, in my opinion. Galatians 5:15 states: “ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (NASV).
In some cases, separation is better. If a person is going on one path, and I am on a different one, why should I try to make that person walk on my path, and why should he try to make me walk on his? It’s better for both of us to walk on our own path, to grow in the direction that we want to grow.
Another issue: can I truly forgive a person when what that person did was not necessarily wrong? Perhaps my pride was hurt by what the person said. Well, not being considerate to others is something to forgive. But, even if the person did not technically wrong me, I should still forgive, rather than letting what that person said or did to eat at me.
In any case, I am finding that saying to myself “I forgive that person” has helped me. I hope it continues to do so!