It’s a Lot Easier to Write About Forgiveness When You’re Not Actually Having to Forgive Someone

It’s a lot easier to write about forgiveness when you’re not actually having to forgive someone.

Christians quote Bible verses and point to Jesus’ example of forgiveness as they encourage readers to “. . . forgive as you have been forgiven”.

Psychologists cite studies of how people are released from their own bondage when they forgive someone else, and how when we fail to forgive someone, it’s like “drinking rat poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

For the first time in my life, I don’t want to forgive someone. I want them to feel the weight of what they’ve done. I want them to pay for the toll their actions have taken on my health, my family, and every decision we have had to make over the past year.

I want my offender to feel deeply the ramifications of what they have done. I want them to know personally the betrayal, the financial disaster, the damaging lies spread behind my back. I want them to get a taste of their own medicine.

I’m in the thick of it.

This past spring I was smiling artfully for an old high school friend-turned-celebrity-photographer in a funky, light-filled studio in Hollywood. We laughed through conversations of funny memories about being teenagers who ate Cap’n Crunch and read junky Enquirer magazines while we rested between matinee and evening performances at the theatre where we both learned to act, sing, and dance.

His elegant make-up artist touched up my eyeliner and he draped my arms just so over antique chairs and table props. Then he said it:

"Look at me with the eyes of forgiveness."

This man I had known since high school, slender and handsome, peered through the lens and snapped a photograph. He was trying to see my soul.

"Mercy. Let me see mercy and understanding."

Click. Click. 

I had told him our story succinctly: the baby in a coma, the car accident, the septic shock. He understood my passion for Jesus, for forgiveness, for mercy, for understanding. He believed that somewhere in my soul was a deep-seated capacity for empathy and understanding.

He believed it, but the truth is, the moment he said the words, my mind raced to the depth of my heart to try and find those things. I struggled to make my eyes convey what he wanted to see. I learned the terrifying truth about myself that morning: I don't possess forgiveness, nor mercy, nor understanding. I possess my own self-seeking, wilting soul.

This is why I am struggling so to forgive my offenders. I don't organically own forgiveness. I think my photographer friend is on to something, though. 

"Look at me with the eyes of forgiveness."

That sounds a lot like, "Put on love." My capacity to do so is less than minuscule at the moment. My exhausted body doesn't want to. My brain tells me it isn't even logical; the offense is so monumental, the ramifications poisoning every choice we have to make right now. 

Put on love.

I'll try, but if I'm being absolutely honest, I don't even have the energy to try. Forgiveness, love, mercy, understanding -- these will have to come from somewhere outside of me. They'll need to flutter down over me like a flowing chiffon scarf, barely announcing their arrival and tenderly touching all the ugly hurt that has taken over my life this year. They'll have to seep in slowly, warping the floorboards and causing indelible ripples to unsettle all the pain and anger. 

All that forgiveness will have to be taken and given as a gift. And that brings me right back around to the gospel. Because He did, I can.