This past weekend I have felt extremely challenged to deal with some personal failings. Like most of you, I have friends and family. And where there are people, there are misunderstandings, tensions and fall outs. Over a period of two days I have had to deal with two instances where I needed to apologise for something I had said/done in the past.As Christians we know we should forgive, but how often do we actually do it? These episodes caused me to think about the whole issue of forgiveness, what it means, how we can benefit from it and the damage that can be done if it is withheld. Here are some thoughts :

What is forgiveness?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:
•stop feeling angry or resentful towards (someone) for an offence, flaw, or mistake
•no longer feel angry about or wish to punish (an offence, flaw, or mistake)
•cancel (a debt): he proposed that their debts should be forgiven
•used in polite expressions as a request to excuse one’s foibles, ignorance, or impoliteness

All these are useful in helping us understand, yet I would like to think about forgiveness like this:
•Forgiveness means letting go of those things which hurt and damage our well being. It does not deny we were wronged (or we have wronged ourselves), rather forgiveness allows us to be free of it.
•Forgiveness has more to do with the forgiver, than the forgiven. Forgiving an offence or mistake means the offender hasn’t got away with it, rather that the forgiver chooses not be burdened by it.

What are the potential benefits of forgiving oneself?
•It provides a route for healing personal hurts
•It can free us of guilt
•It makes room for greater self worth/self esteem
•It allows for personal restoration
•It can create greater well being

What are the potential benefits of forgiveness in relationships?
•It can pave the way for a rebuilding of trust
•It allows space to share other other past hurts/shame-cleared air
•It creates an avenue for greater equality in the relationship
•It can lead to reconciliation

What damage is done if forgiveness is withheld?

For an individual:
•Overwhelming guilt
•Continual poor choices in an attempt to cover the guilt
•Reduced self esteem
•Limited potential in every area of life

For a couple:
•More arguments
•More blaming
•More unhappiness
•An inability to trust again
•An inability to put wrongs/mistakes behind
•An inability to move forwards

I’m not suggesting for one minute that forgiveness comes easily. It certainly doesn’t to me. And yet, without it, there is little hope for our future. We cannot go through life trying to avoid getting hurt, it is inevitable that we will. What matters most is how we handle that inner pain and whether we allow it to destroy our inner peace or embrace what life has to offer. Forgiving doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting, it does mean letting go of the offence and being free of it.

As Christians we are in relationship with someone who set the greatest example to us all. Through Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven. Allow God’s grace to flow through you as you forgive and let go of those hurts which keep you captive. Feel the peace that follows and enjoy the freedom of living the life God designed for you. Why not make 2012 the year you wiped the slate clean by forgiving those who have hurt you?

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