So how do you know you’ve forgiven someone?
What difference does it actually make?
I’m going to share three benchmarks of forgiveness, but first, please know this: you may still experience difficult feelings from time to time around the thing you forgave. That’s because any major hurt begins a grief process over what we’ve lost and grief is experienced in waves. Not everyone thinks of hurt initiating grief, but in many situations, there is loss that can’t be restored. If we lost connection with someone we trusted, we may find ourselves sad and missing what we imagined that relationship was or could become. If we’ve lost hope in an organization treating us well, we feel the let down of reality. If we need someone basic in our life, like a parent who isn’t there, it will ache sometimes.
Forgiveness doesn’t change our reality, like a magic wand and it doesn’t restore things to the way we hoped they’d be, but it does change things.
The first benchmark of forgiveness is being able to see our past accurately, the good, the bad, the neutral. For years, I actively ignored my pain and it (much like a child who’s scraped their knee but their first whimpers are ignored) got louder. The pain was like a hand waving in front of my face, frantic for my attention. All I could see was the abuse. It skewed my view of my past. This is the body’s wise way of helping us toward healing. Emotional pain signals that something needs addressed, just like pain from a broken bone. Now that I’ve addressed the pain and found forgiveness, I can see there were good times with my father right next to the bad times. Some people call this assimilation and it’s such a relief. I feel calm now, grounded in reality and able to see the whole truth of my life, not just the bad.
Second, I wish the person or entity well. Even if we can’t reconcile or our relationship will never be what I wish, I no longer fantasize about the whole world knowing what an imposter they are. I stop craving the chance to bring justice down on their heads and don’t feel the urge to punch them in the face. All these feelings are normal and okay when you’re working through your pain. In fact, when we are “too Christian” to admit these feelings, we get stuck with them. I take my que from how aggressively David prayed in the Psalms about being avenged. It’s a normal thing to want, and after forgiveness (while we still seek justice) we don’t long to watch our offender suffer. With harmful people, I envision our future lives moving in parallel lines, never crossing. The relief comes from not wishing their line would lead them off a very high cliff. Over lava. I can actually hope they find wholeness in Christ.
I let go of my pre-fall notion that all will be well. We were created for a just world and when things go wildly wrong, we react to the discrepancy. We get indignant about how this should not be. Being on the other side of healing work and forgiveness is where you find you’re no longer actively galled that something terrible happened to you or someone you love. The word in the Bible for righteous also means justice, so it makes sense that in our unrighteous world, justice will be lacking. There will be suffering. This is true for everyone who lives here and I’m no exception. While this is terribly disappointing, denying it causes me to spend futile energy avoiding suffering and then blame myself when it comes. Accepting the inevitable presence of suffering allows me to suffer without adding on the pain of resisting. I submit. I stop struggling and while it may look like giving up, it isn’t. My hope is God Herself will repossess this planet and end suffering forever. Not one more thing will need forgiven. Until then, I can accept suffering, stepping in the footsteps of Jesus, Who loved me enough to go before me. He walked and now I walk with the same bracing knowledge, that I am returning to full-strength communion with God Almighty, where no suffering can exist because She is love, She is righteousness, She is justice.