Last week, my friend wrote about forgiveness. After reading it twice, or thrice, I found myself asking this question: why is it hard to forgive?
During the Living Waters Leadership Training, one of the speakers discussed forgiveness, a topic I thought I am very much familiar with. As much as possible, I try not to hold grudges against people who hurt me, and I know I already forgave them.
Growing up knowing that forgiveness is a command and even part of the Lord’s Prayer, I can’t understand why most people find it hard to forgive their offenders. Didn’t Jesus even say that we should love our enemies, right?
I just found it so easy to forgive, or so I thought, until I recalled incidents about what others did against me and didn’t do for me.
Forgiving to Escape
As the speaker continued his topic and I listened intently, I just felt my heart beginning to harden and get numb. I seemed not to care whether I forgive or not.
After that session, the team invited us to declare forgiveness symbolically by tying a white string to the cross. And the challenge was to forgive even just one person.
At this point, I became aware of my heart becoming hard even more. I asked the Lord, “Who should I forgive,” because I know I already forgave those people who fired arrows of hurtful words.
Feeling very uneasy, I just knew something wasn’t right. I tried rationalizing to pacify my heart, but it made the turmoil stronger.
Eventually, I gave up groping for reasons and tied the string to comply with the session. Somehow, I sensed guilt for my uncertainty, so I sat down and just stared at the cross for almost 30 minutes.
That time, I asked these questions over and over again:
Why is it hard to forgive, Lord?
Is it really that hard to forgive?
Why is it now an issue for me?
Why can’t you just remove the pain easily?
Looking through a Vacuum: Why is it Hard to Forgive?
The following day, I shared my reflections and struggles with forgiveness to my small group. I thought we’re going to ask God to help me forgive others, but we did something I never expected.
One of the leaders gave me a mirror. She asked me how I see myself, but to my surprise, I can’t stare at the mirror. Someone suggested that the main answer to the question “why is it hard to forgive” is that…
…I haven’t forgiven myself, and most especially, God.
But how can I forgive myself if I don’t have a clear sense of self?
It was like I had been given anesthesia on sensing myself, but it was beginning to wear off.
Going Back to Memories that Didn’t Seem to Happen
That moment, God opened the eyes of my heart.
In order to truly forgive, I learned that we have to first acknowledge how others hurt us, because denial of their actions will never work.
In my situation, the lack of acceptance, affirmation, and attention from people outside my home has hurt me subconsciously, but deeply.
I buried these hurts and numbed the pain by somehow maintaining an identity who felt secured in academic, ministry, and familial achievements. And these were all effective pain relievers – but temporary.
An unforgiving attitude of myself could be one main cause of my depression. Upon learning the serious consequences of these things, I began unloading all my baggage of unforgiveness and realized I can’t be perfect.
The perfect God created me and you, and He created everything good (Genesis 1:31). This truth helped me see His glorious splendor and grace through the cross, which made the forgiveness of our sins, my sins possible.
I realize now that I haven’t fully accepted His gift of forgiveness because I felt undeserving. With self-hatred, I also unknowingly rejected the God, the designer of my being.
But God already forgave the worst in me, how much more should I forgive myself for my petty mistakes?
If He can forgive the “worst” of sinners, should I not forgive my offenders?
Extending the Overflow
After the training, I wasn’t sure if I already forgave those people who offended me. However, I saw one of them, and surprisingly, after many years, I didn’t feel anger or disgust.
No, I didn’t numb my heart from the pain, but I saw that person as one of God’s beloved and creation.
There are still moments and triggers that hurt, especially when others neglect me consciously or unconsciously. But Jesus Christ isn’t finished with me (and them) yet. He slowly reveals how beautiful His creation is, which include the people who are impossible to forgive.
The famous verse (Mark 12:31) says we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves, but how can we give love if we don’t have love ourselves?
And how can we love ourselves if we don’t know the love of God, the One who first loved (1 John 4:19) and forgave us?
The process of accepting and forgiving ourselves is parallel to the process of understanding, accepting, loving, and forgiving others.
Thus, we can experience the depth of God’s love for us through His forgiveness.
We don’t have to wallow in self-pity, self-hate, or depression.
We just have to trust Him, just believe that we can forgive as God forgives, especially ourselves.
Then, we can answer the question why is it hard to forgive, and be free.
If you’re reading this, I’m not sure if you know I’m talking about you. Yes, the wounds still hurt sometimes, but I want to share that God’s love for me and you makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible. I pray that we could talk again someday. And yes, I forgive you, I set you free.