Several weeks ago my daughter dropped me on my head. We were roughhousing near the pool and she threw me in, forgetting there was a crawl-out bench inside the pool, and my head hit the edge of the bench. Dazed, I floated to the surface of the pool, and dragged myself onto the Sundeck. A bruise the size of a tropical banana swelled on the back of my head. Within days dark streaks ran down my neck and puddled above my clavicle.
My daughter was devastated. Over the next few weeks every time my hair fell behind my shoulders she saw my neck dyed purple and she apologized again. She was extremely sorry, and tried mightily to earn my forgiveness. She gave me hugs, kissed my wound, offered to do my chores, and promised not to be so rough with me in the future. But I had no forgiveness to give. I was simply not offended. I was not angry, not frustrated, not hurt (emotionally), not mad at her in any way. She was just having fun, accidents happen, she held no malice toward me, and I none toward her. I loved her just as much after she nearly knocked me out, as I did before, and treated her with equal kindness. Yes, she hurt me, but I was not hurt. There was nothing to forgive.
Two Ways to Forgive
There ought to be different words for the word “forgive” because there are two kinds of forgiveness and they mean totally different things. The type of forgiveness God offers is something man cannot, and is not supposed to offer. When God forgives us of our sins, our sins go away. Through the miracle of the atonement, we are washed clean, and God remembers our sins no more. Man can’t do that. I can’t wash anybody’s sins away, no matter how forgiving I am.
When men forgive it does not mean the offender’s sins are washed away. When man forgives, it means the offended no longer carries the burden produced by the sin. Man’s forgiveness means that we let go of our anger, refuse to hold a grudge, that we don’t try to punish the sinner with our emotions. When men forgive it blesses the life of the one who was offended. He is gets to throw off the burden he has carried. He gets to be relieved of the pain of having been hurt. When God forgives it blesses the life of the offender. The offender no longer carries the burden of sin.
If we had different words for the two types of forgiveness the scripture that reads “I The Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men,” could read, “I the Lord will absolve whom I will absolve, but of you it is required to relinquish bitter feelings towards all men.” When the Lord forgives, he absolves, when men forgive, they relinquish.
No Need to Forgive
Since we cannot wash someone clean with our forgiveness, the only thing we can do with our forgiveness is cast off the burden of anger we carry. Much is written about how to cast off the burden of anger. However, what if there was no anger in the first place? There is no burden to cast off if the burden was never picked up. We can avoid the need to forgive if we avoid the tendency to be offended.
Not being offended might seem much harder than being offended and then letting go of the anger, but I don’t think so. I think the longer we carry a grudge, the harder it is to let it go. It becomes our security blanket, our protection from ever being hurt again, our evidence that we were wronged, and our way of reminding the offender that he has offended us. It’s difficult to let go of that security blanket, once we become attached to it. It might just be easier, not to wrap ourselves in the grudge in the first place.
5 Ways to Avoid the Need To Forgive:
- Remember the offender did not mean to offend. Although I had a headache for days, I was not upset with my daughter because I realized, she did not mean to hurt me. Much of the time, not always, but much of the time, an offense is an accident. A car accident, wherein passengers are seriously wounded or killed, or a foul ball hitting a spectator sitting in the stands, a wakeboard not secured that falls into a boat are all called accidents because they were unintentional.
- Realize the offender knows not what he does. When Christ asked his father to forgive the Roman soldiers who crucified him, he acknowledged, “They know not what they do.” When Stephen was stoned, he said of his murderers, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Sometimes when an offender offends, he is oblivious as to the magnitude of his sin. It may not even occur to him that his actions have grave ramifications. For example, parents who verbally or emotionally abuse their children may not even be capable of imagining the damage they are doing.
- Understand that the offender, themselves, is hurting. Too often wicked people have been treated wickedly. A father who beats his child may have been beaten himself as a child. A husband who is so controlling that he suffocates his wife may have been abandoned as a child. We dismiss wicked behavior, such as acts of terrorism, with, “He’s just crazy,” but “crazy” is often the inability to successfully deal with one’s own hurt.
- Ask yourself, “Who am I not to be hurt?” Everyone in this life will be hurt at some point in time. That’s part of our trial here on earth, to learn forgiveness, or charity (which may actually preclude the need to forgive). When someone offends us, rather than saying, “How dare you??? After all I have done for you… This is me you’re hurting after all,” we could recognize, “This is it. This is my trial. It was bound to happen, let’s see how I handle it.”
- Trust that Christ will punish fairly. When we carry a grudge, refusing to speak to someone, or excluding them from our associations, our motive is often to punish them. However, it is not our job to punish the wicked. It is the job of the Savior. We need to let go and trust Him to do His job. When the offender truly gets what he deserves, which he will since God is just, we might actually feel terrible for him.
When we remember, before an offense even occurs, that we are all human, we all make mistakes, most of them are unintentional, and Christ will make right those that are not, then we can spare ourselves even a moment of carrying a burden it is not ours to carry.
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jacksonville, Florida. Her most recent book is Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance available at www.amazon.com