“I’ll never let him forget this. How could I?”
“I’ll make certain he pays for this.”
“No one treats me like this and gets away with it.”
Such statements reflect the acute pain when someone hurts us or someone for whom we care. This pain is understandable as emotional attacks always leave us feeling wounded. So it is natural in this pain to feel intense anger and a desire to seek revenge.
“You hurt me, and I’ll hurt you. You strike me, and I’ll strike you. You criticize my sister, and I’ll criticize your brother. You cheated on me and I’m going to cheat on you.” This vicious cycle of retaliation keeps neighbors on edge, families in conflict, churches divided, and business fragmented in a constant state of strife. Sadly, as long as the only cry heard among us is for vengeance, there can be no reconciliation.
If our hearts are so narrow as to see only how others have hurt and offended us, we will never be in the position to experience the healing power of relationships mended. If we are always calculating in our hearts how much this one or that one has violated our rights, we cannot experience the power of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is important because it breaks the cycle of retaliation. Forgiveness is surrendering the right to hurt back. When offended, instead of offending in return, we forgive. This is not an easy task. Wanting vengeance is much easier, to return anger for anger, to hold on to our chance for retaliation. So why forgive? Why not do what comes naturally?
Do we forgive so we will not feel pain anymore? Of course not. Even when we genuinely forgive, we can continue to hurt. Some emotional wounds that we suffer are deep, and they may hurt for a long time. The fact that we continue in the anguish of emotional pain does not mean that we have failed to forgive.
Do we forgive so we can forget? Repeatedly I have heard through the years, “I guess, I haven’t forgiven, because I haven’t forgotten.”
But forgetfulness is not essential to forgiveness. There are some things, especially a traumatic experience, that we will never forget. It is impossible to forget, but in forgiving we no longer allow the memory to be used against others or yourself.
Do we forgive by telling ourselves whatever happened really didn’t matter in the first place? We just needed better perspective. Most times we are kidding ourselves if we claim that the incident really did not matter. It did matter, and it does matter. There is no use pretending otherwise. But in forgiving we no longer allow the offense to control and dominate our behavior.
Do we forgive in order to make everything the same as before? It is foolish on our part to try to convince ourselves that things will be just as they were before. Things will never be the same. They can be a lot better, but they will never be the same.
We forgive because of our greater belief in reconciliation. We believe, in the depths of our beings, that surrendering the right to hurt back brings hope, peace, and the possibility of genuine love.
Such acts of forgiveness are certainly not easy. Such acts of forgiveness, which demand a strength of character, call for wisdom. Such acts of forgiveness demand courage. Such acts of forgiveness demand understanding.
The real question is not whether there will be occasions when we need to forgive or we need the forgiveness of another. The real question is “Although we have every right to hurt back, can we surrender that right to do so?”