Forgiveness can be the hardest thing, especially when people have done hurtful or horrible things to us or those we love. More often than not, forgiveness is not a one-off action but a process we have to work at.

Unforgiveness distorts how we see, especially in those areas where we have been hurt

If we hold on to unforgiveness it will eat us up inside. Unforgiveness distorts how we see, especially in those areas where we have been hurt. It corrupts our thoughts and feelings. If we are not careful, it can lead to disfigured actions like revenge in the mistaken belief that this movement of retribution will somehow bring us relief. The irony is that the only true way to bring release from the hurt and anger that we are experiencing — and see with as much purity and clarity as possible given our imperfect humanity — is to forgive those who caused the pain.

It takes a moment to forgive some people. With others it takes years.

I have been through situations that have taken me years to forgive. I am still working through others. There was a time when I badly wanted someone to know how much personal pain had followed their actions but it matters less now. I think perhaps that this is part of the process of forgiveness. Not one of us is perfect. I have hurt people too — both knowingly and unknowingly — and I have been forgiven by those I have hurt. Hardest of all can be the journey of forgiving ourselves.

One way I know that I have finally forgiven is when I am able to think about that person and the memory of that situation and feel no anger, hurt, or bitterness towards them. When I can look kindly upon them, truly wish them well, release what happened into the past, and move on.

Retribution and revenge are not the same as justice. Forgiveness is a hard and painful but beautiful and necessary action.

Photo by Jason Hogan on Unsplash

Note 1: One of the key tenets of Christianity is the principle of forgiveness. This comes from the bible accounts of Jesus who forgave those who misunderstood him and abused him. The stories tell us that as Jesus was dying on the cross suffering unimaginable pain, the people who had put him there taunted him and watched him die. In the midst of all of that, Jesus, filled with compassion, prayed to God and said “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus forgave those who hurt him the most. 

Millions of Christians all over the world (along with those as those who might not describe themselves as Christian but adhere to its values) follow this example of working to forgive those whose actions have caused them pain. In private, professional, or public life the principle is the same: forgive, even when it hurts to do it.

Note 2: These personal reflections on forgiveness were written after hearing US President Joe Biden’s statement after the ISIS-K terror attacks at Kabul airport, 27 August 2021. On behalf of the US government and people, Biden said: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” Biden is a practicing Roman Catholic Christian. His words do not reflect the faith he has said he follows.