I will go to church on Sunday and it is very likely that somewhere within the sermon that I will listen to, that my pastor will encourage forgiveness. He will quote scripture and draw a lesson on why we should forgive those who have sinned against us. If you go to church you probably have and will hear something similar on a fairly frequent basis. I have heard different variations of that same message my entire life and so have you. I do not disagree with the idea, the action or the encouragement to do so, however what is frequently lacking in these messages of “why” is the all important “how”. To explain the “why” and not the “how”, reminds me of the old Abbot and Costello comedic routine “Who’s on First”. It can only lead to confusion at best and frequently to long lasting guilt for those who are struggling with forgiving someone who has caused them harm.
Let’s be honest, we all struggle with forgiveness, no one is immune to it. If you have dwelled on this planet for any length of time perhaps you can relate to being haunted by problems from your recent or long ago past that seem insurmountable. Perhaps you have scolded yourself for not being “over” it, or at least further down the road towards forgiving the individual who hurt you. Many of you have gone so far as to attempt to convince yourselves that you shouldn’t even be feeling the pain that you feel, that somehow your pain is not legitimate. However the truth is, that your pain is legitimate and the good intentions of your friends, family, church, society, and finally yourself telling you that you are wrong for feeling unforgiving only magnifies and impedes your struggle to forgive.
There begins the motivation for the following series on “How to Forgive”. It is meaningless, pointless and cruel to instruct someone on why they need to do something, and then fail to show them how to do it. While I do believe that you should forgive, I will not tell you that you have to. If you choose to, then perhaps what I will write will be of benefit to you in that endeavor, if you choose not to then you need go no further then my first point.
Forgiveness is a choice
Read that again. Forgiveness is a choice. This is going to sound backwards, and it certainly sounds (at first) as if it goes against Christian theology, but as forgiveness is a choice, it means that you do not have to forgive. No one can force you to forgive, it is not mandatory. In other words, to understand how to forgive you must first understand that you do not have to. That the only way to truly forgive is to permit yourself to hold on to your anger and hurt feelings forever if that is what you want.
You can not settle upon which choice you are going to pursue until you have answered the same question we all must ask of ourselves. “Why should I forgive?” Or put another way “What benefit to you would there be if you choose forgiveness or if you choose to hold on to your hurt and anger?” You need to settle your answer to that question before you can move any further in either direction.
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