"Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future."

Spiritual Wellness

You've been wronged--now what? When you have been victimized, what does your response say about forgiveness? How do you react to someone who has committed an offense against you? Is it really possible to take the advice of spiritual quotes that try to encourage us to forgive and move on? For example, sometimes it may be harder than we might think to take the advice of Lewis B. Smedes when he said that:


"Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future."


Everyone finds themselves on the receiving end of an offense from time to time. When that happens to you, your first option is to cling to feelings of betrayal, anger, and pain. However, this inevitably leads to bitterness, a loss of joy in life, the potential for health complications, and spiritual bondage. The second option--the better option--is to forgive the offense.


Most of us would sure like to be able to live our lives with a willingness to forgive, but we often find it pretty difficult to do. This is because many people have a misunderstanding about what forgiveness is and what it requires. If you would like to change that and to take control of your resentful feelings in order to have a better future, then you've come to the right place. Here are four clarifications of what it actually means to forgive.


1) Forgiveness does not excuse a wrong; it puts it behind you.


Contrary to popular belief, offering forgiveness does not excuse or condone an offense. Rather than saying, "What you did is okay," forgiveness says, "What you did is not okay, but I am going to forgive you anyway."


The benefit for you as the forgiver is that forgiveness frees you from bondage to the wrong. Otherwise, you could never move beyond it. Withholding forgiveness ties you to that moment in history, whereas forgiveness enables you to leave the wrong in the past. You can be set free to move forward in life.


2) Forgiveness depends on the forgiver, not the offender.


Ideally, the person who committed the offense will approach you to seek your forgiveness. This is the standard Jesus set in Matthew 5:23-24. Even if that does not happen, however, you can still choose to forgive and reap the benefits of forgiveness. You can still move forward in life unhindered by the wrong that was done to you, regardless of whether or not the perpetrator seeks forgiveness. "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13, NIV).


3) Forgiveness is a sign of strength, not weakness.


In 2006, a gunman in Pennsylvania took the students of a one-room Amish schoolhouse hostage. Before the ordeal was over, the gunman had fatally shot five children and then turned the gun on himself. In the aftermath of this tragedy, the public was shocked to learn that the Amish community had extended forgiveness to the family of the gunman. To many people, this was seen as an act of weakness.


In truth, however, offering forgiveness in such a circumstance is extremely difficult. The easy thing to do would have been to remain angry and hostile. In choosing to forgive, the Amish displayed great strength.


4) Forgiveness is an act of mercy, not trust.


The old cliché says, "forgive and forget." In reality, that is neither possible nor advisable. You can forgive, but it is unlikely that you will ever forget. At best, the wrong that has been done to you will fade until it is a distant memory. Since you will not forget, forgiveness is really a display of mercy. You are choosing to not use the wrongdoing as a weapon against the offender.


This display of mercy, however, does not mean you have to leave yourself vulnerable to a similar offense in the future. Forgiving does not mean you allow the wrongdoer to repeat the offense. Instead, until the wrongdoer regains your trust, you can and should take the appropriate precaution to prevent a repeat offense.


Forgiveness is not always easy but it is always worth it. Not just because of what it means for the offender, but because of the benefits it holds for you.