It is hard to understand how anyone can forgive some atrocities, like the murder of a child, the killing of a family member by a drunk driver or even being swindled out of your life savings. We know these things happen, all too frequently. We also know that people have to live on after the events suffering the devastating effects of the wrong. But how do they forgive when life carries so much pain?

I am sure we all have been subjected to false accusations, misunderstandings, unfair or unjust criticism or even outright lies. This too is not easy to handle. You experience an overwhelming desire to put the record straight. You want people to know the truth, that the criticism and lies are false. Yet the opportunity is not always available. You find yourself forced to live with the hurt and the unfairness of others not knowing the true facts. The only release from that frustration is forgiveness.

The other side of the coin is when we are wrong. My father left school at the age of 14 so his formal education was not great, but at times he came out with some wise words. On the occasion of my starting full time employment, his parting words were “Never be too proud to say you are sorry.”  In other words he knew that I would make mistakes along the way and encouraged me to be willing to admit being wrong and seek forgiveness. It can be hard and humiliating to say “Please forgive me, I was wrong.”

Along with the words, “I love you” three of the most powerful words in the English language are “I forgive you.” There are times in our lives when we need to use these words and other times when we need to hear them. It’s so easy to see the wrong in others and overlook our own shortcomings. Forgiveness is a two way street. So how do we handle these delicate situations?

What is forgiveness?  Forgiveness is to pardon a wrongdoing. It is to remit a debt, to release someone from further remission and remorse. It means totally closing the book on the incident. Forgiveness is certainly not excusing or overlooking bad behaviour, – that’s tolerance. Neither is forgiveness approving or condoning whatever was wrongly perpetrated. Forgiveness recognizes the wrong but no longer holds the act against the perpetrator. It frees them and it frees you. You no longer look for retribution. Forgiveness is a choice. You can grant it or you can withhold it.

Why is it so hard to ask for forgiveness? It is hard because we are admitting that we have done wrong and we have to eat humble pie. We have to walk the path of humility. We like to think that we are better than we really are. By asking for forgiveness we are saying that reconciled relationships are more important than our feelings. We have to climb out of the pit of self-centredness and self-righteousness. We give up our rights to pride. When we ask to be forgiven we admit the problem is within us. Every time we ask for forgiveness we are reminding ourselves we are human and we make mistakes and that we need to be forgiven. At the same time we have to offer genuine remorse and be willing to make amends.

The benefits from offering forgiveness are multiple. Although you may be releasing someone else from their debt, you release yourself from prison, a prison of anger and resentment, a desire of retaliation, an attitude of vengeance, of hurt feelings and broken relationships. Once offered the sense of freedom is overwhelming. It’s like experiencing a new birth, a new day, a new release on life. Why would we ever hold on to the thought “but I was right!” Does it really matter when compared to the big picture and in the light of healed relationships?

Forgiveness is a choice and we live with the consequences of the choices we make. The experience of freedom from forgiveness is superlative – difficult to describe. It is worth all the time and the effort, to put things right. If we have the opportunity we need to take advantage while we have it. Forgive and be forgiven. You have heard the phrase, “To err is human. To forgive is divine.” In the light of God’s readiness to forgive us, should we do any less?

In my book Discover Your Hidden Self the chapter that keeps getting mentioned is the chapter on forgiveness, especially the aspect of forgiving oneself. If you want to check it out you can do so using this link