This time of year, my office is flooded with phone calls from people whose holidays have been affected by deep unresolved relationship wounds. Often, they are caused by conflicts that happened years ago. You know, most arguments and conflicts aren’t about the immediate topic, but about old pains, and family and love and all those things can conjure up those old things. While this may make the holiday season a painful time, it is actually an opportunity to experience great healing. Old wounds can be healing and relationships restored. Really. However, this first takes working on forgiveness.
Forgiveness can be very difficult for some because of the intense anger they have toward those who hurt them. Their anger may be justified anger, and there is a time to be angry. However, this sense of injustice should lead a person to take positive steps to foster healing and reconciliation. It is not healthy to hold onto the anger longer than necessary. There comes a time when one must let go anger and forgive. As Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 states:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time for war, and a time for peace.
You might have difficulty forgiving someone because you believe they don’t deserve to be forgiven. Some people hold onto anger because it gives them a sense of power. They believe it protects them from being hurt again. It doesn’t. Un-forgiveness is a form of bondage. Anger is like a cancer. It eventually consumes and destroys a person. It grows in subtle ways making life miserable. It’s important to remember that forgiving initially is not for the person who hurt you. It’s for you. When you let go of the anger, you will find the freedom to truly heal. It’s a gift you give to yourself.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened to you is okay, that you deserved it, or that it was justified. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you will receive justice in this lifetime and it doesn’t require an apology. To forgive simply means letting go of anger and cancelling the debt. (See, it acknowledges the injustice – the debt the person owes you.) This doesn’t mean you will simply “forgive and forget” or that you will be a doormat. You may even need to set clear boundaries in your relationships to prevent from being hurt again.
When working on forgiveness it helps to remember that you initially do it for yourself because holding onto anger is unhealthy. However, it eventually becomes a moral gift to the person who hurt you. They may not deserve your forgiveness; however, you have chosen to forgive despite what they have done. God does the same when he forgives us. In Scripture God admonishes us to forgive those who hurt us. In Matthew 6:15 God tell us, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” In other words, even if you are not motivated to forgive, it is not optional if you expect forgiveness. Forgiveness brings freedom, healing, and restoration. This is a beautiful gift for yourself and for the people who hurt you! This Advent, make the commitment to forgive!