When I woke up this morning, for some reason the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “Lady, drop all the pettiness. Let the bull go. Forgive.” I got in my car with a little more yeehaw in my giddy up despite the coughing fits and dripping eyes. When I arrived at Bible Class, the topic was forgiveness. “Okay, God,” I said to myself. “I hear ya.”
Forgiveness has been the hitch in my giddy up for as long as I can remember. True, those closest to me will attest to my growth in this area, but there used to be a time I’d tell people, “You’re dead to me” and REALLY mean it. I would treat them as if they had vanished from the realm of physical existence if they “crossed me.” I actually left my ex boyfriend’s love letters on his porch in a packet that was marked, “Return to Sender. Love don’t live here anymore.” Yeah. I did that. I was that girl. I specialized in wiping the footprints of a human’s existence from the map of my life. I was unforgiving. Actually, unforgiving is an understatement. I was vindictive. I would be so purposeful in my plot for revenge that it became scientific. How can I do the most damage with the least amount of energy? And then one day I bumped into a former friend and she told me, “I have spent many an hour in my therapist’s office talking about you.” How do you respond to that?
I went home that day in tears thinking back on how awful and unforgiving I had been to her for reasons I cannot even remember. I had impacted someone’s life in an eternal way over a temporal thing. Who does that? Me. Why? Because I didn’t appreciate being hurt. But who does? No one. And who’s always standing in need of someone’s forgiveness? Me. You. All of us. Because we are human and for some reason we believe it is ok to hold human-ness against one another. I knew I couldn’t go back and change what I had done, but I vowed to never be that girl again. I said, “Lady, you’re going to have to learn to let things go. You’re going to have to learn to forgive.”
That’s easy to do, right? Nah. Not at all. And realizing it wouldn’t be easy was the first step.
So here’s what I have learned about forgiveness over the past several years:
Forgiveness is a decision. You have to make a choice to forgive. And when I say “choice” this is not to be misconstrued with a “snap decision” to say you forgive someone just so you don’t have to face the wounds. Forgiveness is not a Band-Aid choice. It’s a stitches choices complete with mending, medicating (not drugs and alcohol, my dear non-coping friends), healing time, and scars. This choice doesn’t say “I disregard what you have done” but instead says, “I am letting go of my right to punish you for what you have done.” You still have to hold people accountable for their actions, but you don’t have to hold it over their heads. That hurts you. Your arms are the ones that will eventually tire of carrying that weight.
Forgiveness is a sacrifice. You will sacrifice payback (which momentarily feels so good…until it doesn’t). You will sacrifice the comfort of concealing your pain. You give up avoiding your emotions. You relinquish your walls so that you can do some real work. You forego your anger to get down to the real reason you are wounded. You forfeit gossiping about it with your superficial, bitter friends and instead turn to a person who can offer guidance in the most righteous way. You have to give up all the #pettyBetty ways that help you hide your true feelings. And sometimes the sacrifice is the relationship that is bringing you these constant betrayals. From time to time, you have to give up that person so that you can move forward. That does not mean you stop loving, praying for, and being genuinely concerned about the other party. It simply means you love them from a distance.
You have to trust that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). This is also a tough one because we all have more trust issues than Drake. Let’s just be honest. We don’t trust ourselves. We don’t trust our peers. We don’t trust God. And now you have to trust that this embarrassment, this hurt, this betrayal, this crappy situation is going to work out for your good?! Yeah. You do. You have to believe that. And it’s not easy. We don’t like to be made to look like idiots. But when people say, “Oh, you just gonna take that?” Yes. All things are working together for my good. “You gonna let them just get away with that?” Yes. All things are working together for my good. “You gonna forgive someone who didn’t even apologize for what they did?” Yes. All things are working together for my good. The reality is, when we try to exact justice, we usually make the situation worse and extend the pain for ourselves and all other parties involved. We start a ripple effect of heartache. Don’t muck it up any further. Let God work it out for your good.
Lastly, forgiveness is a process. It does not happen overnight. Sometimes it’ll be easy. Other times the memories will be as fresh as the day it happened and you’ll want to go fifty shades of Cray on someone. It’s a process. Does it mean that you let bad things keep occurring to you while you wait or you just forget? No. It’s not forgetting. It’s transferring. It’s a conscious effort to transition from a focus on that person’s actions to a focus on your own attitude towards their actions. At the end of the day, the only mind you can change is your own. Again I say, it is not easy. But it is worth it. You will push through. One day you’ll look up and say, “You’re not dead to me. Instead, I am free and alive with possibilities.”—Sean Johnson