When I was a young girl, and someone (like my brother) did something to hurt me, my mom would tell me to forgive him. I didn’t know what that really meant, and Mom didn’t detail it. So, I developed my own idea of forgiveness based on what I thought and what I heard. As a result, I knew I couldn’t do what was required to forgive. Consequently, I grew up not learning and not practicing forgiveness. My ignorance led to widespread dissatisfaction, an absence of peace, and counterfeit joy. I became a grudge holder and scorekeeper, which cheated me out of complete happiness. Through constant prayer, profound thought, and deliberate study, I figured out how to stop cheating myself out of joy. I learned how forgiveness creates happiness. Keep reading to know the truth about forgiveness and how forgiveness makes you happy!
In this post, you will learn:
- Myth vs. true definition of forgiveness
- What forgiveness requires
- Why it’s so difficult to forgive
- Outcomes of unforgiveness and forgiveness
- How to forgive when someone asks or doesn’t ask for it
- How forgiveness makes you happy
Misleading Ideas about Forgiveness
Growing up, I was told to forgive others, and I read about its importance in the Bible. Moreover, I mentioned it to God every night in my prayers. But I just didn’t get it. I didn’t know how to forgive or what it meant. Most likely, it was because of the misinformation given to me about forgiveness. Here are some of those distortions:
“You have to forgive and forget.”
“I can forgive, but I won’t forget.”
“Just don’t think about it.”
“Put it behind you.”
“Hug, kiss, and make up.”
“Say you’re sorry and shake hands.”
You have to forgive and forget; I can forgive, but I won’t forget.
These statements are contradictory and counterintuitive, which makes them confusing. For example, my mom and dad told me to forgive and forget, and then I heard my mom say, “I can forgive, but I won’t forget.”
Our subconscious brains remember painful experiences for self-preservation. You don’t forget the painful burn from a hot stove or the pain of a break-up where you got burned. These reminders make you more cautious. The sting of punishment makes us remember not to be disobedient.
It’s easy to forget things that aren’t important to us. But, it’s difficult to forget when the event, the person who caused the pain, or the injury is significant.
Just don’t think about it.
Try not to think of warm jelly donuts. What happened? When you try not to think of something, you think about it more in an attempt to not think about it. People try not to think about things by distracting themselves with other thoughts or activities. Distraction only works as long as you have something to distract you.
Put it behind you.
When I think about putting the pain someone caused behind me, it becomes a pain in the behind. How many times have you or someone else called someone or something “a pain in the butt?” The sound of this makes it more comical and less serious. However, less severe issues can linger and become provisions for more severe problems.
Hug, kiss, and make up.
In truth, the last thing I want to do when someone has caused me great pain is kiss or hug and make up. Hugging a person who just stabbed me in the heart pushes the blade in deeper and causes a more severe wound. So now, I have to recover from a more severe injury.
Say you’re sorry and shake hands.
How sincere is a forced apology? In addition, when you add a “good sport” or handshake (what people frequently did before the Covid fiasco) indicating respect to it, that’s adding insult to injury. Similar to the kiss and make up situation, there is no genuine repentance.
When You Don’t Understand Forgiveness, You do What’s Natural
When you have misperceptions about forgiveness, you become confused and frustrated, which doesn’t help you disengage from the pain and the pain-maker (wrongdoer). This attachment to pain is a constant alert to the danger you must survive. Therefore, you spend your time in survival mode, and you’ll do what’s natural. You’ll rely on your natural emotions, so you’ll experience the additional pain of fear, anger, contempt, shame, and guilt. You must understand forgiveness to practice it.
Definition of Forgiveness
Like me, many people struggle with forgiveness because they don’t know what it means. One of the best definitions of forgiveness comes from Charles Stanley’s book, “The Gift of Forgiveness.” Dr. Stanley defines forgiveness as “the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you.” He goes on to explain, “…a debt is forgiven when you free your debtor from his obligation to pay back what he owes you.”
Offenders Debit Victims’ Accounts
When someone hurts you, the offender takes something from you. The person debits you. People can rob you of material goods, wealth, health and well-being, innocence, or joy. Or, they can cheat you out of an opportunity. According to Christian and civil laws, the offender must atone for or pay back the deficit imposed on the victim. But what happens if the wrongdoer doesn’t get caught or confess to his crime? Furthermore, how do you determine how much someone owes you if he stole your innocence or cheated you out of an opportunity?
Payback is easier to collect when the perpetrator gets caught, and the offenses are quantifiable, like damage to property or stolen material goods. But, how do you get compensated for damage done to your soul, heart, mind, values, or livelihood? Even if the judicial system punishes the perpetrator by putting him in jail, the punishment isn’t a direct payback to you. Conversely, it’s another debit because you help pay for the wrongdoer’s prison stay if you pay taxes.
It’s Easy to Remain an Anti-forgiveness Victim
Victims can be disappointed in a perpetrator’s punishment or lack thereof. Moreover, the victim’s deficit can leave her financially crushed, physically impaired, and emotionally distraught. Now, she’s confronted with the choice to restore herself or remain a victim.
For someone who feels cheated and defeated, restoration can feel overwhelming. Therefore, it’s easier to remain a victim. However, people who choose the victim lifestyle are chronically dissatisfied. It doesn’t take long before these poor unfortunate souls develop an aversion to forgiveness because it’s more convenient for them not to forgive.
Forgiveness takes away a victims’ excuses for failure. It means they must be accountable and held to specific standards. Forgiveness takes a person out of the victim role. Therefore, she no longer gets pity or what she views as tender loving care.
If a victim chooses to restore herself, she must forgive. And, to forgive, she must be willing to experience more discomfort.
What Forgiveness Requires
Forgiveness requires willingness, determination, strength, courage, and faith. To forgive, you must be willing to experience additional pain. Moreover, you must be determined enough to endure it, strong enough to confront the unknown, and courageous enough to humble yourself. All of this comes from faith in God.
The kind of pain that occurs when you forgive is a good hurt – like the kind you feel with a deep massage on tight, sore muscles. This pain comes from giving up hope, surrendering control, and lowering your importance.
Surrender and Submit
Give up hope: Hope keeps us going. It’s the last line of defense against depression and defeat. Therefore, we don’t want to give it up. To release someone of a debt, you must be willing to give up all hope of getting what a debtor owes you and rely on your hope in Jesus Christ.
Surrender control: When we think of surrendering, we think of defeat and submission, which oppose our nature to dominate. To forgive, you must surrender the need for control you developed from constantly reliving the event and imagining an outcome you can control. After a while, your need will deepen, and you’ll need to control people and situations so you can create effects that suit you. To give up control, you must be strong enough to know you can handle unpredictable outcomes. This strength comes from faith and trust in God.
Lower your importance: When you let go of a significant situation in which you were involved, you lower its importance and your own. It’s scary to make yourself less important, especially if you have low self-worth. But, this lowering is not the same as devaluing yourself, which means you disrespect, discredit, and dislike yourself. To lower yourself by relinquishing the major role you had in a significant event gives you no status. It can make you feel like you’ve submitted to the enemy. But in truth, it allows you just to be you – humbled.
The fear about being humble is that you won’t get the attention you need. The fear of being unnoticed is inherent. As infants, if we don’t get noticed, we won’t get cared for and fed. We mitigate this fear by giving attention to our Lord and Savior and emulating His courage and humility.
Humility and Forgiveness
Instinctually, we want justice and revenge, which oppose humility and forgiveness. People tend to associate humility with meekness and associate meekness with weakness. On the contrary, humility requires love, strength, courage, and faith, which require purposeful thought. Humility occurs when you think then consider your emotions. Reason and emotions create a stronger foothold for decision-making, especially the decision to forgive. Humility leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to happiness.
On the contrary, justice and revenge are led by emotions and followed by thoughts. This natural order for resolution results in pride – the nemesis of humility. It’s easier to feel than think. Thus, it’s easier to fall into pride than rise into humility.
Pride: The Nemesis of Humility and Champion of Sin
We develop pride when we lack pride in ourselves. It grows from insecurity and feeds on fear, anger, and contempt. Pride is the nemesis of humility and champion of sin. The haughty spirit and stubbornness characterized by pride, at first blush, can make a person appear confident. But a closer look will reveal the absence of trust, which is the foundation of confidence. Moreover, pride steals one’s joy, prevents peace, and puts conditions on love. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
Pride destroys the glory of forgiveness. But, it isn’t only one obstacle for giving and receiving the gift of forgiveness.
Why It’s Difficult to Forgive
Here are eight reasons why it’s difficult to forgive.
- No understanding: If you got contradictory information or didn’t learn what forgiveness really means, you won’t know how to forgive.
- To avoid pain: We subconsciously remember the pain we’ve experienced so we can avoid it and continue to exist. Likewise, we can consciously avoid pain if we deny the existence of hurtful events.
- Hooked on Adrenaline: Our memory of pain also activates a natural negative bias which raises our adrenaline. As a result, some people get hooked on higher adrenaline levels. Therefore, they hold onto the pain of adverse events for the adrenaline high.
- Confused: When someone hurts you, it doesn’t make sense. So, you can’t comprehend the person’s actions and rationally resolve the issue. Therefore, you don’t know what to forgive.
- You thought you already forgave the person: Perhaps you acknowledged the violation and even prayed or talked about it with someone. But in truth, you just packed it away and continue to divert your attention away from it.
- Fear: I’ve had several clients tell me they’re afraid to let go of hurtful situations because they’re scared of repeating the same mistakes and get reinjured.
- Emotions take priority: Our emotions develop long before our intellect. They were the first to come, so they are often first served in that people give them priority over their thoughts. Therefore, people don’t think wisely.
- Subconscious memories are triggered: Our subconscious mind takes in 11 million pieces of information per second. So, when you recall details of a catastrophic event, some portions of information don’t get transferred to the conscious mind. After you’ve recovered, you may experience something that awakens some of the information that didn’t transmit. This information triggers the original painful memories, thoughts, and feelings.
An Example of Triggered Subconscious Memories
Say you’re involved in a horrible attack where you struggled against someone. You’re aware of the sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes in your immediate view, but your subconscious mind collects information from the surrounding area beyond your conscious awareness. Now let’s say it picks up a song playing in the distance that you don’t consciously recall. You recover from the attack and feel better. A long while later, you’re walking through a store and hear the song. Your subconscious reminds you of the pain and alerts you to danger. So, you have a panic attack.
It’s difficult to know how many pieces of information didn’t transfer. You might experience something years later that triggers the painful memory. Therefore, you may have to forgive someone more than once.
Forgive Seventy Times Seven
Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. It also requires forbearance. Think of the agony Jesus was in when he forgave all who wronged him. Since memories of hurtful events can randomly pop up, the pain associated with those memories also recurs. Therefore, you might have to forgive someone over and over. Jesus gave us this message when Peter asked him how many times we had to forgive someone.
My Personal Seventy Times Seven
Many years ago, I loved a man whose emotional issues eventually evolved into violent and abusive behaviors. The situation became so dangerous that I had to get out. So, I got divorced. Even many years later, and after my ex-husband passed away, memories popped up and sent me reeling with fear, resentment, anger, and contempt. I’d become irritable, short-tempered, impatient, and bitter. Finally, I told God I needed to forgive entirely and asked Him what to do. He told me to pray for my ex-husband. Admittedly, that is not what I had in mind. But I did it. I remember my first prayer. It felt like a volcanic eruption in my soul as I held onto the arm of my chair and grunted out, “God help him!”
Relieved that I did what God told me, I asked Him again the next day. Thinking he would suggest I contribute to my favorite charity or something like that, he told me again to “Pray for him.” And, so I did. I prayed every day for many, many days. Maybe it was seventy? As the days passed, I prayed with more ease, the memories faded, and the pain ceased. Because I genuinely forgave him, I no longer felt any negativity towards my ex-husband. Instead, I feel sorrow for him. My mind is at peace, and my heart is soft with compassion. My soul rejoices.
Outcomes of Unforgiveness
When there is no forgiveness, there is no peace. If you find joy, it is tenuous at best. Love becomes conditional, and freedom is a farfetched luxury. Any satisfaction is imaginary, and contentment is undetermined. There is no real happiness.
Results of Forgiveness
When you forgive, you release the pain and the pain-maker from his debt to you. (It’s like pulling off a tick.) It may seem like the offender gets off without the pain of punishment, but in truth, you are the one set free. You no longer carry the burden of hatred, self-blame for not adequately protecting yourself (or others), and the desire for vengeance. The result is a cleansed conscience and refreshed soul. Love will fill your heart, and your mind will be clear. You’ll be physically healthier. Moreover, when you let go of the debt, you give it to the King of the Universe. And He’s got it covered.
“Repent! The End is Near”
During the 1960s, a familiar cartoon picture was a scruffy cloaked old man holding a sign that read, “The End is Near.” The cartoon poked fun of the street corner preachers and profits who warned passersby with signs that read, “Repent! The End is Near.”
In truth, that’s good advice. We should repent because we don’t know the end time for us or anyone we’ve offended. When we repent, we regret what we did that hurt someone and ask for mercy. We ask for forgiveness. It’s difficult to ask for forgiveness, but it’s even more challenging to give mercy. Both are risky. Therefore, each party must be strong in faith, love, and trust.
How to Repent
Many people give disingenuous apologies. Those do not promote reconciliation. To make a genuine apology, the offender must express his regret (“I’m sorry.”) and acknowledge the effects of his offense (“I must have really disappointed you when I ….”). At which point he may ask for forgiveness (“Will you forgive me?”) or make the statement, “I hope you can forgive me.” Then the victim can confirm or deny the request.
No Mercy, No Relationship
What happens when someone withholds mercy? This very thing happened to me a few years ago. I unknowingly offended a friend of mine. After she brought it to my attention, I apologized in earnest and asked for forgiveness. She answered by shaking her head, “No.” As much as I wanted to continue the friendship, I couldn’t. You can’t reconcile with someone who isn’t willing to release you of a mistake. Instead, you would spend your time trying to prove yourself worthy of someone who doesn’t trust you. The relationship becomes a winless competition.
Forgiving People Who Don’t Ask for It
Many clients who’ve recovered from horrible situations and forgave the perpetrator get the urge to tell the offender that they’ve forgiven him. I discourage this because it doesn’t yield a good outcome.
People’s consciences let them know when they’ve hurt someone. If they don’t repent, they don’t have a conscience, or they deny the pain they caused as a way to handle the shame and guilt. Someone who doesn’t have a conscience lacks empathy and could be a sociopath. These people are a menace to society and will see your forgiveness as superiority, which they can’t handle. Therefore, they could pose another threat.
People who have a conscience, but don’t listen to it, deny their guilt. Their constant battle to ignore their conscience causes them to live in constant denial. Soon, they lose sight of the truth. In addition, their shame and guilt evolve into anger and contempt. These folks become unapproachable. They’ve closed off their receptors to anything good. Therefore, if you try to give them something good, like forgiveness, they will resist and spew it back on you tenfold to make you go away. How dare you remind them of the truth?
Forgiveness Makes You Happy
When you forgive, you utilize all the spiritual gifts God has given you. Moreover, you love with your heart, soul, and mind, which is God’s command. Finally, the courage to forgive builds your confidence and faith and brings you closer to God.
Forgiveness gives you joy, peace, love, freedom, satisfaction, and contentment. It makes you happy!