Forgiveness: The Power to Heal
Holding a grudge and refusing to forgive hurts you more than it hurts the other person. I liken it to being held captive by a ball and chain. Unable to move forward in life we remain stuck in the past, continually ruminating on what someone did to us. Unforgiveness makes it more difficult to “live well” in spite of having a mental health diagnosis.
It’s human nature to want justice. We want the other person to pay for what they did. At the very least we want an apology. Deep down we even question whether the way we were treated contributed to triggering our mental illness or worsened it.
How were you hurt at the hands of another? Were you bullied, made fun of, or stigmatized because you were different from your peers? Maybe you were hurt, or continue to be, in a relationship. They didn’t understand so they said hurtful things, ignored you, or walked away, leaving you feeling abandoned and alone. I’ll let you fill in the blank.
As is true of all things in God’s kingdom, hope for healing is found in Christ alone. Are you thinking that there’s no way you can possibly forgive your enemy? Jesus tells us “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27). I think that pretty much covers everything, no matter how grievous the violation. If we invite God into the process, then forgiveness is possible.
Refusal to forgive is often the result of not understanding what it means to forgive a person. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget what the person did or tell yourself the hurtful experience didn’t matter. As much as you might want to, you can never erase those painful experiences from your memory.
Forgiveness does not mean you let the other person off the hook either. They are still responsible for what they did. The person who hurt you may never come to you and say they’re sorry. In fact, they may have already passed away. Regardless, it’s comforting to know they’re accountable to someone greater than you: “Never take your own revenge….’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).
Probably the greatest misunderstanding about forgiveness is that it involves reconciliation with the offender. That’s wonderful if it’s something you want but in most cases there’s no desire to restore the relationship. Why risk the chance of being hurt again? Part of caring for ourselves and maintaining stability requires choosing healthy relationships.
Forgiveness is a process, one that takes time. You don’t wake up one morning and decide you’re going to forgive someone. Telling yourself “I forgive ___” won’t take away the hurt and resentment you feel.
A better place to start is by asking yourself some questions: Do I honestly believe the person who hurt me will someday tell me they’re sorry for their actions? What if they did apologize and beg for my forgiveness? Would that make up for the damage it caused in my life, the happiness and peace of mind I could have had, or how my life may have turned out differently? If that day came, it honestly wouldn’t be enough.
The process of forgiveness begins with accepting the reality that in all likelihood there will be no admittance of guilt, no apology, nor will they have become a better person over time. Letting go of those expectations and the need to get even will enable you to break free of the ball and chain.
The past and its memories will always be a part of you but you’ll no longer be weighed down by them emotionally. Although the length of time it takes to heal varies from person to person, forgiveness is something you do for you. In return you receive freedom, joy, inner peace, and the ability to move forward with hope.