Why is forgiveness sometimes so hard? I hear some people speak as if forgiveness should be a routine matter or a casual process, but it isn’t, is it? Sometimes, in spite of all we know or all we would like to be or do, we just can’t seem to bring ourselves to the point of forgiveness. Wonder why that is?
Christian ethicist, Lew Smedes, once suggested that it is for this simple reason: It is because a person did something to us that seriously wounded us and wronged us. Think about that for a moment.
Forgiveness is hard because it involves a person. If I stump my toe, I don’t stay mad at the sofa or the coffee table. If my computer crashes, I may scream (or cry), but I don’t stay mad at the hardware. Unless we’re nuts, we don’t put our hope and trust in lifeless objects. But because God has designed life to work on the basis of relationships, we invest ourselves in people. So when individuals, especially those close to us, fail us, it can hurt.
Forgiveness is also hard because a person did something to us. Something was done. We didn’t make it up. Something actually happened, though we may debate what actually transpired. That’s often what makes forgiveness so difficult; people disagree about the facts. Nonetheless, something happened that calls for some kind of resolution.
It is also hard because a person did something that seriously wounded us. Most of us experience slights or irritations at the hands of others every day. Someone forgets to say please or thank you; they are late for the appointment or cut us off in traffic. We don’t have to “forgive” these sorts of things necessarily. We might need to discuss them, but we probably can or should just shake them off.
But there are some actions we cannot just rise above. Somebody wounds us. They strip away our trust or tear away a piece of our life. They savage our people, or our pride, or our possessions in some way that leaves us reeling.
It’s hard, because not only did it hurt us, but it was just plain wrong. Some important principle or sacred boundary was violated. A promise – spoken or unspoken – was broken. To not be upset about this would just be wrong. Some kind of strong response seems demanded. To forgive someone who has acted wrongly just feels like weakness.
I’m not sure there is any word more important to the quality of our lives, or more essential to the health of our relationships, or more determining of the destiny of our souls than that one little word.
Our peace of mind hangs on it. Our connection with one another depends upon it. Our eternal future turns on it.
Question: How do you forgive when you have been wronged or hurt? What motivates you?