Forgiveness

My sister told me a few days ago that she was having a hard time forgiving a close family member for betrayal, and she said she was afraid she was sinning by not forgiving immediately. It was a statement but a question too. She wanted to know what I thought.

Funny how the woman who told me I was a sinner but she loved me anyway when I got divorced was now asking my advice about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an interesting subject. Forgiving is something we’re taught from a young age. Our parents urge us to forgive those who have hurt us even from the time we’re toddlers. We say, “It’s okay,” when someone says she’s sorry, whether it is or not, because it’s good manners.

In church, we’re taught that forgiveness is a much deeper concept. Christ forgave us so we must forgive others in return. Jesus instructed us to forgive each other.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.

Matthew 18:21-22

We aren’t even supposed to take Holy Communion until we’ve forgiven all who have sinned against us. No grudges allowed.

Forgiveness isn’t exactly an easy topic for me to tackle, but I wanted to both be honest with my sister and to comfort her.

I told her I don’t think being hurt or hanging on to that hurt, and being unforgiving are the same thing. And I said that I don’t think it’s sinning to hold back forgiveness until we’re able to truly follow through with it. It takes time, and betrayal runs deep, and it’s okay that it’s taking her some time to get there. I told my sister I don’t think she’s sinning.

This concept of “sinning” against God when we can’t forgive and forget the moment someone acts against us is such a backwards perspective. God, who has the greatest capacity of anyone to forgive, isn’t going to hold our pain against us.

My mom told me she hoped I’d fail when I moved away from my hometown with my kids and that I wouldn’t have too much pride to come back when I did.

My best friend quit talking to me when I told her I’d been pregnant when I got married.

My ex-husband raped me before and after we were married.

My church mentors told me I had to let the rape continue because he was my husband.

My sister told me I was a sinner for getting a divorce from the man who raped me.

No matter how many times I forgive these people, no matter how much I love my mom and sister and the children I had by my ex-husband, I still hurt so deeply. I still get angry and sad and depressed, and I cry. Sometimes I even hate.

But I don’t need to dwell on the things they did or said. They are over, and though I have the memories, their actions and words are no longer mine to bear. I can leave the burden behind. I can accept that what was done is now between God and those people.

I’m stronger today than I’ve ever been, and it isn’t something that was given to me by the people who betrayed me. They only helped me to see just how much was inside me. I don’t need a single other person to get me through this life or to determine whether or not I’m strong enough. I am.

I think this is what forgiveness means. It doesn’t erase the injuries or the scars. It doesn’t leave you suddenly at peace. It doesn’t secure the past in the past. It doesn’t take away your knowledge that something was done against you. But it frees you to move on from what happened.

I think Kesha says it truthfully in her song “Praying.” It’s about forgiveness and letting go and moving on and being better for all that’s happened. And it’s become my anthem, in a way, a song  that knows the truth of my heart.

No, Sister, you are not sinning. You’re hurting and it’s alright.

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