I do not enjoy forgiving people because it makes me feel like a doormat. I would honestly rather get all Carrie Underwood/Miranda Lambert up in their faces flaunting a shotgun or a gossip column or a skilled shade-throwing rapper or some other medium of revenge. Essentially, I don't want to act like nothing is wrong because something is wrong and I would be deceiving the world to pretend there isn't. Honesty matters.
Additionally, people I love and I have been lied to, cheated, manipulated, scandalized, and verbally abused, to our faces and behind our backs. These are unacceptable behaviors that I never want to excuse. Consequences can impede the offender from inflicting further hurt. That's a good thing.
But I also don't want to be accused of "playing the victim" (even if I happen to be one), ruining someone's reputation, or judging someone solely for their mistakes. There are often explanations (not necessarily excuses) for the behavior of others that I may be unaware of. I am a mature and gracious 22-year-old woman who can handle herself. Sometimes.
The dialogue above usually leaves me stuck in a nebulous mess of emotions wondering what to do whenever I am hurt, thinking that forgiving = being a doormat but resisting = being a
Myth #1: Forgiveness means restoring the relationship to the way it was before.
100% FALSE. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate things. None of my relationships with people who hurt me stay the same after I've truly forgiven them. Keeping things the same is a sign that I'm burying the problem instead of working through the forgiving and healing process. When a friend or family member does something wrong, one of two things needs to happen, depending on the offense and on the degree to which remorse is expressed.
If the injury was less grave, and/or if the person shows true regret (key word shows, not says) then after an honest discussion and an offer of forgiveness, plus whatever amount of time I need to heal, the relationship will usually grow stronger. This is a result of the increased honesty that comes from confronting a conflict together and the increased trust that comes from seeing that person strive to treat me better. I call that reconciliation and it is obviously the preferred outcome.
Yet in some cases, the person has hurt me so deeply or has shown such a lack of respect or empathy that the relationship will suffer. This is the case especially if someone enacts a pattern of harmful behavior rather than an isolated instance. I will then choose to invest less time and trust, avoid one-on-one encounters, or even cease contact with the person all together. Minimizing or ending a hurtful or abusive relationship does not mean you aren't being forgiving. Forgiveness is not an arbitrary virtue; it has a purpose. The purpose of forgiveness is to treat all human beings with respect and love for their intrinsic value, and to put an end to the cycle of hurting them. If I withheld my forgiveness from someone, that would be reducing them to the sum of the bad thing(s) they did to me instead of treating them like a person with inherent goodness, and in my bitterness I would be wishing for or even instigating further hurt, this time directed at them and not me. I can instead choose to wish for or instigate healing for that person. But I am a person too, so I owe respect to myself as well. Therefore if I have reason to believe that a someone will continue to seriously hurt me by staying in my life, it is in keeping with the value of forgiveness to cut off that relationship. Healing the trauma, vices, and destructive habits of others is not my responsibility in every case.
Myth #2: Forgiveness is a one-and-done deal.
Usually, FALSE. Human existence is about progress, not perfection. I think a large portion of my reader demographic is familiar with the biblical advice of Jesus to forgive people "not seven times but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22). I used to interpret that as Jesus advocating for giving individuals second and seventy-seventh chances. I still think it can and should be read that way (God knows I've messed up more than 77 times in my life and could stand to have Him cut me a little slack,) but I also read it in a new way now. I think sometimes you need to forgive the same incident more than once, that it can take 77 times before the forgiveness really sticks. You have to come back to it and take it a layer deeper each time. I've thought I had reached complete forgiveness before only to grow in an unexpected way later in life and find out that the old wound is radiating a new pain now that I see situations in my past differently. It takes some reflection and self-awareness over the course of multiple growing periods, not a eureka moment of magic and grace, to heal some of the worse hurts in my life.
Myth #3: Forgiveness makes you feel better.
FALSE. (Unfortunately.) Forgiving people is not nearly as satisfying as throwing eggs at their houses. If forgiving someone feels crappy to you, it does not mean you are a terrible person. It means you have a conscience. Consciences come with a desire for justice. You might really want someone to make amends or suffer consequences for their mistakes if they hurt you. That's natural and even justified, and is not incompatible with forgiving someone. The neighborly old man forgives Johnny for breaking his window with a baseball, but Johnny still has to pay up for a new window. It's good for Johnny, even, because in theory it teaches him to be more careful in the future. If a not-so-neighborly old man whacks Johnny with the baseball bat and tells him to go drown in a creek, that's a different story. Wanting justice is one thing, wanting evil or harm for the other person is a whole other ball game.
Note: You may not get to see Taylor Swift and the Justice League show up to dish out a healthy serving of karma, because that's not always your job. You get to impose consequences in some cases. but in others you will feel a disturbing lack of closure. Forgiveness, however, is still your job no matter what. I'm still working on accepting this one. It's hard to love somebody who got away free in your eyes. It's hard to love somebody you aren't speaking to anymore. Personally, I have to ask the man upstairs for help regularly and trust him to sort things out for me. I also have to mind my own business and put my energy into the things I want and need to do instead of into uncooperative people beyond my control.
Myth #4: Forgiveness is selfless.
FALSE-ISH. This is one of my favorites. This is where the forgiver gets the good end of the deal in spite of the nasty painful stuff we just talked about in #3. Forgiving others is actually a form of self love, because being merciful to others forces you to be merciful to yourself. When you are extremely hard on others, you are likely to feel the need to apply the same severity to yourself when you make a mistake. But avoiding the habit of using mistake-making as a measure of personal worth can reverse some of that unnecessary emotional violence. You are more than your own collateral damage. You are not perfect. You may have done as bad as or worse than the people you are angry with. You will at times be angry with yourself. You deserve forgiveness, too (even for not being good at forgiving). You should be challenging and pushing the limits on your ability to forgive because it is good for others AND because it is healthy for YOU.
Another cool "selfish" thing about forgiveness is that when you are the injured party you get to make the rules. You know the situation and the harm inflicted the best, so you should be the one to choose what will best allow you healing. People will try to tell you that you are not forgiving enough or not forgiving correctly, or will even say you are "too forgiving." These people do not see your injured heart from the inside. Listen carefully to advice from people who know you well and whom you trust, but ultimately only you can know what is right and appropriate as far as the future of a broken relationship goes. You do not need to explain to everyone why you are ending a friendship, or why you are rebuilding one. Those who care about you should follow your lead in caring for yourself after a painful experience.
CHRISTIAN BONUS-- Myth #5: God doesn't forgive you till you forgive others.
First, God is outside of time, you puny human. In all seriousness, God doesn't forgive- he IS forgiveness. He enacted this integral part of his identity by sacrificing himself on the cross and that sacrifice is an eternal umbrella that covers every moment wherein you have screwed up and every moment wherein you have sought his forgiveness. God doesn't change. He exists as a constant source of love and mercy. What changes is our openness to those graces.
Also, as I said before, forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. God is always forgiving, but this is only the beginning of who He is. He also longs for reconciliation with us. He wants us to let Him back into our mistakes so He can help us to heal. This is a strong desire, not a condition. God's forgiveness is perfect and ours is human, which means that "forgive us as we forgive" is only half the story. God challenges us to forgive the way He does, but don't put God on hold because you know he expects you to forgive and you can't yet. Let him be a part of the process.
Love to you all,