As someone who was raised in church, I heard the word forgiveness many times. I knew what it meant, I knew how to do it, I even memorized many of the forgiveness verses that were taught in Sunday School. The way I understood it, if someone was unkind to me, I had to forgive them so God would forgive me. I certainly wanted God to forgive me, so it was a no-brainer.
As a child, it seemed easier to forgive others. When my sister took something that belonged to me, she got in trouble, gave it back to me and I forgave her. Or when a friend ignored me for a day or two but soon wanted to be my friend again, I forgave them too.
It wasn’t until many years later that I began to ask myself the question, “What does forgiveness really look like?”
Forgiveness can be far more difficult as an adult. The stakes are much higher than just losing a toy or a having a hurt feeling. It can be when someone close to you breaks your heart and then walks away with no regard, or when trust is broken and the outcome of their behavior completely changes your life as you know it.
Most, if not all of us, have gone through times when forgiveness just seemed impossible, but this is when it’s important to understand what forgiveness truly looks like.
Let’s start with what forgiveness isn’t. Forgiveness doesn’t always mean allowing the person who broke your heart to come back into your life as if nothing ever happened. Set healthy boundaries for yourself and don’t let them cross those boundaries again.
Forgiveness is, however, deciding that you will not allow that hurt to control your life. It’s also about letting someone, or something, leave your life to allow healing to begin. Forgiveness isn’t just about the other person — it’s about you, about your healing, about your life and about moving on.
Yes, it hurts and it does take time, but knowing I don’t have to accept pain to forgive someone allows a place for forgiveness in my life, and it can do the same for you.