How is Forgiveness Possible?
Freedom is the endeavor of life.
We fight for it from birth to death. Babies yell to be free from the high chair at dinner. Kids skive to be free from school. Adults lie and manipulate to be free from responsibilities and poor-choice consequences. The ultimate civil punishment is to take someone’s freedom of movement and choice.
We want free rides and free time and free stuff.
And for sure when it comes to freedom, I’m going, ‘Pick me!’ I want to live free. And I want my kids to live free. Free to run, climb and shriek happy and learn and think and worship unashamed. Free to be all they were created to be.
But the truth is that we can give our kids the best, the freest, the fairest education and set them free to explore unthinkable opportunities and live in the freest and fairest and most benevolent of all democracies – and still they will never be free and they will never maximize their time and live out loud their astounding potential if their hearts are locked up behind anger, bitterness, resentment or hurt.
Because they won’t ever be free, if they don’t ever forgive.
I realized that was true for me too. So I made a you-owe-me list. The names on that list were the answers to:
1) With whom am I angry?
2) Who has taken something from me that they had no right to take – my lane in the traffic, my innocence or dignity?
3) Who ignored my requests or ignored me entirely? Who disrespected me?
4) Who purposefully left me out when they knew it would hurt me?
Who do I need to forgive?
I wrote down the names, if I knew them. From the neighbor playing loud metal at midnight to the teacher who humiliated me when I was nine. I was honest with myself about the angry memoir I was writing in my head. I didn’t call or email those people. Those who had hurt me probably didn’t know, and didn’t need to know. This was for me to take to God – to wrestle and sob out angry – and then to remember how much I’d been forgiven – and then to pray, pray, pray.
Until I could forgive.
Say with lightness:
‘I’ve cancelled the debt. They owe me nothing.’
‘Huh?’ you ask. ‘How?’ Because I just said all that like it was easy.
But how do you really get past the harm done or the time lost or the reputation damaged or the dignity stolen?
How do you get past the rage?
I can only tell you what I did. And what I do. Because people keep hurting each other, right? You’ll never reach some spiritual pinnacle and go, ‘Awesome. I’ve done all the forgiving I’ll ever need to do.’ But you can get better at it – and quicker – with the practice that forms the habit that changes the heart.
I can also tell you that sometimes it’s a long, stuck-on-repeat process of going back to God again and again and laying it all down – again – just to clutch it back close because it’s just too hard to cancel the debt. But I keep up the rhythm of hitting repeat because the God who gives strength wouldn’t have told me to forgive if it wasn’t possible.
So, first, I pray.
I tell God about the hurt or anger. And yes, He knows. He saw the whole thing. He even saw it coming. But I still unravel my stories in strings of words to the One who listens and loves and knows the nuances of every side to every story.
I tell Him what happened and how I feel about it. I tell Him that I don’t want to forgive the person but that I want to want to want to forgive. Kind of. Like the father of the boy with the evil spirit – how he cried out to Jesus, ‘I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!’
Then I dredge up the difficult Scriptures – like the one that says ‘Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.’ And I pray into and over and through those words until I start to feel them just a little – and find a way somehow to live them just a little.
Then I picture myself standing with the people whom I believe owe me something – like a big apology. And maybe flowers. And a tiara. I picture the truth that I’m forgiven much and that all these other people have also been forgiven much and how if Jesus could look at them and say, ‘It is finished,’ then who am I to keep their sin on life support?
Because most of these people, they’re walking around in the world just fine. Light and free and unaware of my grudge. Oblivious to how I’m inducing a coma in my own heart and quietly dying.
And then, instead of watching the machines beep incessant when it’s in my power to switch them off, I tell God that I’m pulling the plug. Clunk. It falls ugly-heavy from my heart. And I live into the idea that I am free. I’ve let go. No one owes me. I’ve released the offenders to the God of everywhere-all-the-time justice whose grace in my life has been so extraordinary that the thought of withholding it from someone else feels filthy.
But to forgive like this? You’re going to have to be brave. Because God will hold you to it and you’ll have to get used to the din of earth-moving equipment in your heart.
Dig. Loosen. Release.
Let it go.
But it’s so worth it because if we don’t transform our pain, we’ll transmit it, and finding the courage to forgive can change the world. Forgiveness is our most powerful secret weapon for living full and free.
Do you dare?
This is an extract from Dalene’s book, Dragons and Dirt: The truth about changing the world – and the courage it requires.