From time to time, a person close to us lets us down. Maybe they didn’t seem to care enough, or they wounded us deeply with words. They made us feel as if we weren’t good enough as we were, or they simply didn’t build us up. They took something from us that can never be returned. In some way, our trust was betrayed.
Our first human impulse is to return pain for pain—we want the person who has injured us to suffer as well. Even if we are able to resist that temptation, we will most likely withdraw into the shadows to lick our wounds and brood. We build up walls of protection—maybe even a fortress. The longer we stay in that place of darkness, the harder it will be to leave. If we chose to wallow in unforgiveness, our relationship with the person who wronged us will die a slow and bitter death. Approaching them—or not—becomes a matter of pride.
If we wait until we feel like acting in forgiveness it will never happen. It goes against our very nature. We may cling to delusions of righteous indignation. We want acknowledgement of the wrong, an apology—
a reparation. A sense of justice that will likely never happen.
In my case, I could search every childhood memory without any recollection of being told that I was loved. I was disciplined harshly—without it being an obvious act of love, and I rebelled. I not only turned away from what seemed like unloving and unforgiving actions, I rejected the moral behaviors I was meant to learn.
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22
I grew up, left home, and communicated with my family only on rare occasions for more than a decade. It wasn’t until I turned thirty and began to contemplate the direction and purpose of my life (or lack thereof) that I confronted my parents with their lack of expressed love. The tearful response I received was that my mother’s parents had never told her that they loved her. Apparently, that had just never been the way of my ancestors. My mother sulked over the confrontation for a bit, and then eventually forgave me. I also embraced a slow process of forgiveness. Although my heart was not in it at first, I made an effort to let go of all my negative feelings. Eventually, the hurtful memories began to fade and I have grown closer to my family than ever.
Making the choice to forgive is not easy. I often come to it with a stubborn heart that softens slowly over time as my relationship with the person who has wronged me heals. The healing process can be painfully slow, but with persistence there will be progress. Forgiveness, however, is never a choice I regret. With it comes peace and a lightness of heart. When we act in forgiveness, forgiveness is what we’ll receive when we need it the most.
After the dust settled on my aired grievances—and I had produced a grandchild, my parents made a point of lavishing verbal love on my son. Twinges of resentment—maybe even envy—clouded my joy once again. Thankfully, I was able to push those dark thoughts aside and embrace the fact that my parents were not only enjoying their newfound comfort of verbalizing love, it was also a gift to me. Another decade later, all has healed, all is well. Our hurts are left in the past and we have moved on to happier times.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13
We are with the people in our lives for a reason. They may teach us patience and how to love unconditionally. They may teach us to return the grace that we have been extended. We can hold on to our grievances or we can let them go.
We each carry pain that seems unpardonable. The question is, will you choose a slow death by bitterness or fly free on wings of forgiveness?