Part of life is being hurt by others, but do we have to hold onto that pain? As believers in Christ, we have been forgiven so we are expected to forgive, but what does forgiveness actually look like in our lives? What happens when we find it hard to move past a particular hurt or pain caused by someone? What can we do when others find it hard to forgive us?
I have recently struggled with the disappointment of an abandoned friendship. I have seen the impact of the loss on my life in small and large ways. There have been many moments when it has felt more like a death than a broken relationship. Essentially the bond that was so strong is no longer there, mimicking the feelings of loss when you can no longer pick up the phone to your lost loved one after a passing. It all just feels so foreign, so surreal. In so many ways, this process feels so similar to the stages of grieving.
Moving forward without clarity is the toughest part.
We may not have the chance to hash-out all the details, nor would that even help in some cases. People have their reasons for believing a certain way or acting a certain way, and we may not ever get the opportunity to fully understand those reasons. Many times we will never, ever get the apology we really want. Many times we will never hear the words we yearn to hear from those who have hurt us. Ultimately, our strength and our guidance comes from something outside of us, something even stronger than earthly, humanly love. Our choice to forgive must be separate from the actions (or non-actions) of those who hurt us. They are connected, but not mutually exclusive.
There are four ancient principles established by the Toltec religion, which pre-dates the Aztecs, called “The Four Agreements.” They are super helpful to me in times of confusion.
The Four Agreements state:
1. Be impeccable with your word.
2. Don’t take anything personally.
3. Don’t make assumptions.
4. Always do your best.
I know they seem so simple, but man, are they tough sometimes! I have always admired these ideas and they have helped bring me peace when I felt that I was not enough. When my ended friendship was slipping away and I was feeling all sorts of emotions, I could take comfort in the fact that I knew I had been truthful in my words to my friend. Even when I knew that the situation would not change, at least I could walk away with my head held high, knowing that I did my best, I told the truth, and I aim to move forward without strings attached.
It is normal to be angry.
I have beat myself up over the anger I feel toward my friend. I have been damaging to myself in these thoughts, and I have lost focus on my positive outlook in my quest to “feel better.” What does feeling better even look like, anyway? Some days I just want to feel angry, and I don’t know how to move out of that sinking feeling. It may just be a day where I allow myself to feel the anger, but then I move toward a goal. Its okay to be angry; we were given that emotion for a reason! Drawing the line and not giving the anger a foothold (Ephesians 4) is the key, which is much easier said than done!
Forgiveness may feel different depending on the day.
This one really comes into play when I watch others try to forgive me. I know that my actions have caused immense pain to others, or that my words have sparked hurt in those close to me. I can think of a handful of examples of this from just this past year. Within these experiences, I have noticed that as we all move forward, some days I feel so…forgiven. I feel like the tone in the voices of my loved ones are loving, caring, and supportive. I feel like I have a team, a partner, etc. But then…other days rear their ugly heads, and I’m left sitting on the floor, staring at the wall, wondering how in the world I can ever move past this pain.
When we cause others pain, it will hurt us as well. When we have been in a place where we need forgiveness, we may not always feel “resolved” all the time. Forgiveness is a choice much like real-life, committed love. It may not always “feel right.” Even though our loved ones may choose to forgive us, we may have to learn to live with the pain of hard days as we all work through our hearts.
Paul’s teachings in Ephesians tell us that forgiveness will actually set us free.
Once we have released the anger, bitterness, and hurt from our hearts, we can actually move forward into the life that God wants us to live. We can gain that clarity that we were missing. We can walk the aisles of the grocery store and not have to worry about who we might run into or what they might say. No matter what the person did to us, we know that we are no longer connected by anger or hurt. We have released it from ourselves, regardless of what the other person has done to atone for…or not atone for…their actions. This allows us to live in the truth of a fulfilled life. This is the greatest representation of our creator’s love for us. After all, we don’t deserve it for a second, and yet we live in his forgiveness every single moment of every single day.