I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. Trying to fit it into a specific, narrowed-in situation and stepping back to see it from the view of the universe.
What does it really look like to forgive?
If you’d asked me a year ago, I probably would have given you a bible-belt answer polished with feigned humility. Something along the lines of, “Forgiveness means wishing the best for someone who has hurt you, whether or not they’ve apologized. And it means forgiving yourself.” Then I definitely would have added a, “but I don’t really know and sometimes wonder if I even know how to forgive.” You know what I’m talking about. The perfect response with a convenient self-deprecating addition that actually makes you look better?
Now, though, I just can’t give an answer.
How do you forgive? Or, better yet, how do you know you’ve done it?
Yeah, I’ve looked at Scripture. Most of the go-to verses have lived in the back of my mind in Sunday School storage boxes for two decades. Matthew 6:12, Colossians 3:12-13, Luke 23:34, and Matthew 18:22.
I blew the dust off boxes, cracked open forgotten journals from youth camps, and completed forgiveness plans on the bible app.
Today, my journal is filled with lists. Every week, I write down a name and all the things I can think of to possibly forgive them for. Then, I write out that I forgive them. Then, I write down a blessing for every single thing I forgave them for. Finally, I write out a list of things to forgive myself for. End it with a prayer, tie a bow on it, set the journal aside for next week, move on.
But what does it really look like to forgive? Truly? In my heart? What does my heart look like when I’ve FULLY and TRULY forgiven?
The heart of forgiveness is mercy. The type of mercy that God shows us daily. A fraction of the mercy Jesus showed us when he died on that cross. It’s a mercy of understanding. Stepping outside of our tiny worldview and setting down selfishness and pride to show the purest form of love. To find and share a sliver of the perfect kingdom of heaven, free of anger and pain.
Forgiveness is a salve on wounds. It’s a bandage that saves limbs and lives. There may be a scar but the wound is healed.
Forgiveness is not meant to be given to actions, but people. It’s the choice to turn your back to an action and look at a heart. I think this is the hardest part for me. Stopping the loop of sins and wrongdoings in my mind so I can truly look at the child of God and give them forgiveness, rather than the masochistic movie I have on repeat.
I can say all that. I can learn it. I can repeat it. I can do my journaling. I can make the decision to forgive daily.
But what if the wound still hurts, despite the salve?
How far does forgiveness stretch? What about forgiving those I have never met? Ancestors who were careless and selfish and were careless with human life, creating a culture where some are born with fewer opportunities just because of their skin color, gender, or who they love? Do I forgive the people who discovered fossil fuels and chlorofluorocarbons which eventually led to the destruction of our Ozone? In that case, what about every human who has dropped a candy wrapper or flown on an airplane? Now I’m adding onto the list of things I need to forgive myself for.
At the rawest center of my heart, forgiveness feels painful. It doesn’t feel like a salve. Or a journal exercise. Or a selfless act of mercy and love. Forgiveness feels like a betrayal to human promises.
It looks like choosing to ignore the fire in my heart because someone I don’t really know is telling me that will put the fire out.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. It is not reconciliation. I can do it and still feel pain, right? I can forgive every day for as long as it takes and the wound still hurts, right?
When will it turn into a scar?
What does forgiveness look like?
Because it can’t look like this.