I have struggled with forgiving people for a long time. I had thought that by withholding my forgiveness and affection towards those that hurt me, that I would, in effect, force them to “pay me back” for all the hurt they had caused me. Thus, they would never hurt me again, or so I thought. However, about a year ago, I had an epiphany that made me realize my bitterness and resentment were futile in getting my offender or offenders to actually change. I also realized that, not only did the offender not change their behavior towards me, but also, in many cases, they had either no idea or didn’t care that they had hurt me! I also found the incredible power of forgiveness and how it can changes lives—not only mine, but yours, as well.
The first thing about forgiveness that I found is that it gives the forgiver the power to love again. When I was bitter and resentful of some people I knew, I found that it significantly stunted my ability to love, not only them, but all those around me, even those who had never hurt me and had nothing to do with the offender or the hurtful incidents. However, when I forgave the people that hurt me, I found my love for everyone grew stronger than even before the offender had hurt me! In some cases, I even found myself compelled to be kind and reach out to the offenders! Another example of how forgiveness has helped people love again I learned from history. During the Rwandan civil war, when the Hutus and Tutsis were fighting so much that the Hutus wanted to commit genocide against the Tutsis, some of the Tutsis eventually forgave the Hutus, ending the war and paving the way for reconciliation.
Forgiveness also gives strength. Some people think forgiveness gives a free pass to the offenders or excuses their actions. Nothing could be further from the truth! First of all, the fact that someone needs to be forgiven says that they did something wrong. Second of all, one can forgive someone, and still expect justice to be served, but not out of a heart of anger and bitterness. Finally, radical forgiveness often requires much thought and emotional strength on the part of the forgiver to let things go that he or she naturally would want to hold on to, such as the desire for the offender to hurt like he or she has been. Forgiveness also gives us strength to move on with our lives and to love more radically.
Finally, forgiveness gives the forgiver power to bring about positive changes to the relationships. When I forgave several people at work who had said and done things that I considered hurtful to me, I often realized that despite all that happened, that there was still hope of reconciling our relationship. Moreover, I was also able to gain a deeper understanding, and sometimes an even greater appreciation of their perspectives on things. I have become more conscious of what I may have done to contribute to the strain in the relationship, often including my bitterness and resentment towards them, and resolve to treat them with more grace and mercy, even though I may feel that they don’t deserve as much. Thus, I found that the people that initially offended me later softened up and treated me with more consideration after I had genuinely forgiven them.
As one can see, forgiveness is a very powerful force in this world for good. Yes, it is often difficult to do. However, the benefits of persevering in forgiveness are considerably great. Forgiveness gives us the power to love again and like never before. Forgiveness also gives us strength to move on with our lives so that we are not trapped by our past. Finally, forgiveness can invite reconciliation and bring positive changes into the once-strained relationship. Who do you need to forgive? Who have you forgiven? I don’t know about you, but forgiving others has given me such freedom and such peace with others.