Recently I received an apology from someone who hurt me deeply. It was an apology I used to long for, thinking it was something I needed to move on with my life. I haven’t spoken to this person in 11 years, but when I randomly received that message, all I wanted to do was reach out and hug him. Crazy right?
I don’t remember the exact day, time, or place when I forgave this person. I just knew that I dwelled on it for far too long. When he first hurt me, I waited and waited, thinking he would understand what he did to me and how badly I was hurting. Understanding this, I thought he would reach out and say sorry so that I could feel happy again. Well, for one, you can’t depend on anybody for your happiness; and two, I realized I had to check my heart posture as I was praying the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday, ‘Forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us’, but yet I was struggling. I was filled with so much hate, bitterness, pain, and anger. I would bottle it up so much, that it ended up exploding on those closest to me. Like they say, “hurt people, hurt people.” I was distant from God, I was giving this one person so much power over my life. And he didn’t even realize he had it.
The first time I “forgave him”, I remember writing out an e-mail talking about my thoughts and feelings and ended it with “but I forgive you.” And I pressed send, thinking I would automatically feel this sense of relief. Not. At. All. I didn’t even receive a reply, but you see, forgiveness is more about yourself than it is about them. You could go your entire life with the other person not understanding, seeing, or even caring what they did, while you could be holding onto the hope of an apology.
In Matthew 18:21-35, there is a parable of the unmerciful servant. Peter asked Jesus how many times shall I forgive my brothers or sisters who sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, “not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Jesus wants us to always forgive others without limits. The parable ends in verse 35 saying that the Heavenly Father will treat us as the King treated the servant unless we forgive from our hearts.
When I started growing in my relationship with God, praying more, reading more, understanding the abundant love He has for me and the grace and mercy He has shown me - I started to understand forgiveness more. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” I can’t pretend that I had no part in everything that happened, that I made no mistakes or that I was pure. I looked back on my life and if God could still love me and forgive me for what I had done in my past, then who am I to hold hate and anger towards somebody else? Forgiving from my heart means it’s an ongoing commitment. It’s a prayerful choice that is unwavering. I cannot forgive and then the next day “take it back.”
I surrendered my past, my life and my emotions to God. I forgave as He has forgiven me. It doesn’t mean I forget, it doesn’t mean I haven’t and won’t experience hurt again and it doesn’t mean that I have to become friends or let anyone back into my life - it just means that I became free of the bondage that unforgiveness had on me. Even in situations where I had to forgive myself. I’ve messed up more than once. We all have a past, a story, pain and some wounds, but to heal a wound you need to stop touching it. I’ve learned not to dwell on the past and to instead put my trust in God and I’m so grateful for the life I live. I used to think that if I ever heard from or saw this person again, all of the negative emotions I felt back then, would creep back in and I’d be back to square one. But receiving that apology, although thankful, my heart was still so full of love, joy and peace that that moment honestly just showed me and reminded me of the goodness of God and the power of forgiveness. All these years God was healing that wound, even if I didn’t feel it at the time.
Everybody’s circumstances and journey in life are so different. Remember that forgiving yourself and others is a process; It's not easy, but you're not alone. Pray for strength and you'll be amazed at how much lighter you'll feel and freer you will be through forgiveness.