Forgiveness is a simple concept, but it is often quite difficult to practice to the fullest extent. Anyone can say, “I forgive you,” but the truth is that we often do not truly let go of all offense; rather we linger in a “gray area” between forgiveness and unforgiveness. To truly forgive someone is not just to release them from obligation to repay a literal -or metaphorical- debt, but to then also welcome them back with open arms; to once again be vulnerable to the risk that that person could wrong you again. Just as Jesus forgave our sins (forgave us for literally causing His death), then immediately welcomed us into intimacy and fellowship with Him, we are to model the same. If you say to someone, “I forgive you,” but from that point on you avoid interaction or show distrust, you have not chosen to fully and completely forgive them. True forgiveness has no “gray area,” and it leaves no space for excommunication, dissociation, or distrust. It takes a deliberate choice to begin walking in true forgiveness, and a concentrated effort to continue walking out that forgiveness over time. All too often, we will truly forgive someone from the depths of our hearts, only to, minutes later, have thoughts begin to creep into our mind, saying, “watch out! They did it once, they will do it again!” and, if we are not careful, we will begin to subconsciously show distrust toward that person.
One of the most important, yet often overlooked, components of forgiveness is “seeing people rightly.” When you see someone rightly -that is, to see the good in them- you will find it much easier to truly forgive the “good person” you now see, as opposed to the hard-to-love “bad person” that is much easier to pay attention to. If you cannot see someone rightly, ask Jesus to show you how He sees them. If Jesus sees past our flaws, then we must strive to look past the flaws of others, just as we hope others do for us.
Another important truth to focus on is that most people do not seek to harm others. There is a famous saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” and it is very true. Many times, the people who cause us pain are not doing it out of malicious intent or spitefulness, but rather are acting on a self-protective impulse that has been formed as a result of past wounds in their own life. While we should, of course, use discernment to judge whether a person is acting from a position of maliciousness or trying to protect a wound, we still must choose to fully forgive them. This is what Jesus did when He spoke aloud, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.” Learning to walk in true forgiveness allows us to move forward in life without being slowed down by things we are carrying from our past. You see, the value of true forgiveness is that it allows you to free yourself.