What Forgiveness Really Means

Learning how to forgive someone is difficult when you feel betrayed or hurt. It is difficult to look at someone lovingly when you’re holding on to their unloving action. So how do you forgive when every fiber of your being resists?

One of the reasons why forgiveness is so difficult is because when someone has hurt you, you “hold on to the offense” — something you may see as a benefit to yourself. You may, in fact, believe that your anger is protecting you.

To begin, let’s talk about what forgiving is not:

  • Letting the offender off the hook
  • Justifying the hurtful behavior
  • The same as reconciling the relationship
  • Something you can accomplish all at once
  • Staying in a relationship which is dangerous to your children or to yourself

Now let’s talk about what forgiving is:

  • An act of your own will
  • Essential for your personal healing
  • Necessary for the offender’s healing
  • Releasing the offender from owing you anything
  • Letting go of bitterness and resentment

The Importance of Forgiveness

It’s easy to assume that if you forgive, the only person who benefits is the guilty party. But forgiveness runs much deeper than that. By forgiving, you — the innocent one — will heal and feel free. You believe that your determination to hold on to hatred is hurting the one who hurt you.

Your goal is to punish them for what they’ve done. But here is what is really happening: You are actually punishing yourself by refusing to forgive!

Think about this:

  • Who stays awake at night rehashing the pain? You do.
  • Who suffers anxiety at the thought of hearing that voice or seeing that face? You do.
  • Who avoids family gatherings and misses out on fun just to feel safe? You do.
  • Who wastes valuable time imagining conversations where you tell them off? You do.

Do you get the idea? Your offender may not even notice your aloofness or disdain. Meanwhile, they are consuming your thoughts, keeping you awake at night, affecting your social life and making you question the type of person you are. That’s a lot of power to hand over to someone you don’t trust.

Why and How to Forgive Yourself

Now here’s a radical thought — perhaps the person you need to forgive is yourself. There are times when choices we make cause great harm to ourselves or to the people we love. We hate ourselves for what we’ve done and/or for what we have failed to do.

By not forgiving yourself you live under constant punishment for something you cannot change. This not only affects how you feel on the inside, but it affects how you interact with others. Remember the symptoms we listed above in regards to wanting to punish someone else?

Let’s look at that same list and apply it to how you might be punishing yourself:

  1. Do you stay awake at night rehashing the pain you caused yourself and others?
  2. Do you suffer anxiety at the thought of hearing the voice or seeing the face of the person you hurt?
  3. Do you avoid family gatherings and miss out on fun just because you feel so guilty?
  4. Do you waste valuable time imagining conversations where you tell the person how sorry you are, and then never actually have those conversations?

Your self-hatred is making you suffer, but it is not bringing healing to the person you hurt and certainly is not bringing healing to you. You are giving power to circumstances that are in the past and cheating yourself and others out of the opportunity of experiencing the loving, warm and happy person you can be.

By lingering in the hurt you prolong the pain and prevent everyone from moving on. You must forgive yourself—not just for your sake, but also for the people who you love and who love you.

There’s Someone Else You May Need to Forgive

You may need to forgive God. Answer these questions:

  • Are you angry at God for not stopping the circumstance that caused your pain: the death, the car accident, the disease, the natural disaster, the job loss, etc.?
  • Do you blame God for how your life turned out?
  • Do you find it difficult to trust God with your future?
  • When someone talks about God do you shut down and turn off?
  • Do you think of God as distant and uncaring?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then it is likely that you are harboring resentment and bitterness toward God and you may need to forgive Him. This is probably a message that you are not accustomed to hearing. After all, isn’t it God who forgives us? Why would God need my forgiveness? Isn’t it a sin to accuse God of doing something that would require forgiveness?

God understands that you do not have the same capacity to love as He has. When someone falsely accuses you of wrongdoing, you find it difficult to love your accuser. But when you falsely accuse God of being the reason for, and source of your pain, He loves you anyway. He accepts it when you forgive Him because He knows that you are trying to make things right.

Remember this key point: Forgiving is as much for you as it is for the one you harbor resentment toward. You need to forgive God for what you believe to be His fault, even though it isn’t. He doesn’t need your forgiveness—you need your forgiveness of Him.

So, let’s summarize the benefits of forgiveness:

  • Emotional Benefits: By letting go of anger, bitterness and resentment, you make room in your heart for love, joy and peace. Your relationships will improve and you will feel a sense of satisfaction in all of your endeavors. You will find that you look forward to the future.
  • Physical Benefits: It is likely that you will sleep better, feel more energized and have less stress-related symptoms by letting go of the tension that anger, bitterness and resentment causes.
  • Spiritual Benefits: God loves you always—no matter what. However, it is difficult to feel His love and experience His presence when your heart is full of anger, bitterness and resentment. By forgiving you tear down a barrier between yourself and God.

So how are you feeling after reading all of this?

Are you ready to find out how to forgive? If so, read on.

FREE Forgiveness Ebook

How to Forgive yourself and others