We met the summer before I entered university. He was handsome, sporty, and impressively intelligent. A year my senior, he looked out for me during my first months as a frosh.
It was a close but ambiguous relationship. We talked on the phone for hours, lead our campus Christian group together and he’d invite me to hang out with his buddies some weekends.
I really enjoyed his friendship – and he obviously enjoyed mine. Then, without warning, we hit The Fallout. He made a comment and I got offended. I wrote him a letter in response and he got offended. Just like that, he stopped talking to me or even acknowledging my existence. Emotionally, it was the most devastating experience I had ever faced.
In my head, I knew that forgiving this guy was the right thing to do. But how?
In the months of silence that followed, I wrestled long and deep about what it meant to forgive him. I poured over all the scripture passages that spoke of forgiveness. I reflected on Jesus’ interactions with his disciples who had betrayed him (namely Judas and Peter). I pondered what it meant that God had forgiven me. I prayed over and over again for God to help me forgive him.
Eventually, I came to a place where that broken relationship no longer consumed me. Along the way, I learned some things about forgiveness:
1. Forgiveness does not equal reconciliation.
Forgiveness is a transaction mainly between you and God. Regardless of whether the other person wants to make things right with you, you have to let go of that expectation. It is an act of faith that says, “God, I believe you have my back regardless of whether this person does. And You will judge fairly in the end so I don’t need to demand justice now.”
2. Forgiving is not forgetting.
Forgiveness is letting go of the debt (real or perceived) that’s owed to you. It doesn’t mean you completely forget about it. A part of you may still hurt when you think back on what happened. Forgiveness is accepting Christ’s death as payment for the other person’s offences toward you in the midst of your pain.
3. Forgiveness is a process.
It’s easy to get down on ourselves for needing to forgive over and over, for not being “there” already. Forgiveness requires time. The emotions will re-surface. Certain situations will trigger the pain and you’ll have to come to God again to ask for grace. It may take months, even years. There may also be various levels on which you need to let go. In the process of forgiveness, you give your heart the grace of time to catch up to your head and you give God the time to work His healing in your soul.
4. You know you’re on the right track when you can wish the other person well.
A number of years after The Fallout happened, I heard that the guy got engaged. I remember seeing a picture of the gorgeous engagement ring, sincerely hoping things would go well for them. It was at that moment that I realized I was on the path toward healing.
Since my university years, I’ve learned that forgiveness isn’t as much about the destination as it is a series of instances where I can choose to let Jesus meet me in my pain. As long as I keep making the choices of letting go, wishing the other person well and turning my heart toward Jesus, it doesn’t really matter if I’ve arrived. Eventually, the work of forgiving will shape me to become more like Christ. And that’s what matters most.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Bart Booms.
Originally published in Issue 18 of Converge Magazine.