Throughout my ministry, I have seen many youth, young adults, and adults struggling with various battles in their lives. One of the most difficult battles is to be unforgiving. A young girl came up to me and said, “Pastor Peralta, I cannot forgive my mother; she hates me and she abandoned me.” A youth from the state of Michigan once said, “I hate my father for being unfaithful to my mother.” I remember on another occasion after I finished preaching to thousands at a youth retreat, a church elder told me that he can’t forgive his son for the horrible things he has done to his family. At one time or another we have been wronged by someone or someone has hurt us. The question is, “How can we forgive when it hurts so much?” The Bible says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”—Ephesians 4:32, NIV. The Bible is clear when it states that we need to “forgive one another,” but how and where do we begin?
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness means dismissing a debt. Forgiveness is the act of pardoning an offender. In the New Testament, forgiveness denotes a dismissal or release of penalty when someone has wronged you. In other words, when you grant forgiveness, you dismiss the debt owed to you. June Hunt, author of How to Forgive When You Don’t Feel Like It, suggested that forgiveness is dismissing the demand that others owe you something, especially when they fail to meet your expectations, fail to keep a promise, or fail to treat you justly. Additionally, I say that forgiveness is to extend love and mercy; to give a gift of grace and compassion. Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment, bitterness, and thoughts of retribution. You might think that forgiveness is excusing the wrongdoer, but instead it is acknowledging that unjust behavior is without excuse, while still pardoning the offender.
How can we forgive when it hurts so much?
One thing to remember is that to not forgive will add more pain to your wounds. When you refuse to forgive you become stagnant and you are drained emotionally. A pattern of not forgiving will dominate and harden your spirit. It’s important to note that forgiveness is a journey: the deeper the wound, the longer the journey, but the deeper your relationship with God, the quicker this journey can take place. So begin your journey with God. Ask God to do in you what you cannot do for yourself. Ask for the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Allow the Spirit to start a healing process in you, and recognize the benefits of forgiving. Louis B. Smedes once said that “When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us.”
Forgiveness is not something we do for others; we do it for ourselves. Mary Karen’s last words in her journal entry before her death in the Virginia Tech shooting was, “When deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive; forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Almost everyone has been hurt in life by the actions, words, and attitudes of others. Perhaps your father mistreated you, your parents’ divorce hurt you, your classmate offended you, a teacher dispraised you, a relative violated your trust, your mother criticized you, or you’ve experienced other offenses. These wounds can leave you with long-lasting feelings of anger, bitterness, or even revenge, but if you don’t forgive, you might be the one who pays the most. Pray for a heart of forgiveness toward those who have hurt you. Forgiveness is a supernatural response empowered by God. It takes time, that’s why it’s a journey, but when you let go, you become free. In the new year that is approaching, let’s embrace forgiveness, hope, and love. Shalom!
Andrés J. Peralta is director for the Youth and Young Adult ministries, Pathfinder, and Adventurer departments in the Atlantic Union Conference.