They say that hurt people hurt people. The same can be said of forgiven people — they forgive. When we realize that we truly are forgiven by God, we're able to forgive the people who wrong us. There is so much freedom in that.

But sometimes forgiving others doesn't feel like freedom; it feels like a heavy burden. Have you ever told God that you can't forgive, that it's too hard? Then you might have misunderstood what forgiveness means.

If we think forgiveness means giving in, we will resist forgiving. If we believe that forgiving means pretending that the offense never occurred or letting the other person get away with what they've done, that will make forgiveness seem impossible. But that is not what forgiveness means.

The best definition of forgiveness I ever heard came from my pastor a few years ago. He said that forgiveness means giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me. Forgiveness means agreeing not to retaliate or to escalate the situation. It's important to note that forgiveness does not preclude pursuing justice. Forgiveness and seeking for justice can both be part of your healing journey, especially if you have been the victim of crime or abuse.

In her excellent article, Does Forgiveness = No Consequences?, Lynette Hoy wisely notes that there may be a need to set new boundaries after we've forgiven someone. Forgiveness does not require us to just go back to the way things were. Rather, forgiving means that we are willing to begin a journey toward restitution. Forgiveness opens up a dialogue. Restitution takes time. Forgiveness is the first step of that process.

So how do you know if you're living as a forgiving person?

  1. Is there someone you tend to avoid? Your issue with them may stem from a lack of forgiveness.

  2. Are you easily offended? Sometimes when we feel attacked it's because we're nursing a sore spot from a wound that has not healed. It can be hard to forgive, but it's the only thing that will take away the sting of an injury.

  3. Do you catch yourself getting angry often? A very wise friend once told me that in AA they teach that,the pain we inflict on others is directly proportional to the pain we feel inside. If you find yourself lashing out, look at your own heart. Is it hurting?

Peace allows us to be generous

Forgiveness brings peace and when we're at peace, we are able to be generous. When I am at peace with myself, I can assume the best of you, even if we've had an issue in the past. When I am secure in myself, I don't have to worry that complimenting you might diminish me. My identity is not threatened. When I truly believe that my destiny is in God's hands, I don't have to look for the advantage or a way to get ahead. I already have what I need.

I've heard it said that as Christians, we are resurrection people. We are the ones who believe that new life is possible. In Revelation 21:5, the One who sits on the throne says plainly, I am making everything new! We have this promise again in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

We know that God can make all things new because we've seen it. In John 11, we see Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. When Jesus died, the temple curtain tore; this is such a powerful image confirming that the old ways are gone and the new has come. On a very personal level, we know God makes things new because we're seeing God make us more and more like Christ as we walk in the Spirit.

Corinthians 3:13 puts it so simply, Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Christians are forgiven people. When we live as forgiven people, willing to forgive in turn, then we truly live as resurrection people. This is the story of Easter lived out in our daily lives — redemption and revival up close. This is the on-going miracle: that broken people, dearly loved, can learn to love broken people.

You can experience the peace that forgiveness brings by taking these steps:

1. Let God teach you how to forgive in his strength Ask God if there is anyone you have not forgiven. If he brings someone to mind, ask God to enable you to forgive in his strength. Then step out in faith, forgiving that person and, if possible, beginning a process of restoration with them.

Pay close attention to your attitude toward this person. Any time Satan tries to bring up the old hurt, stop and pray, asking God to fill your mind with peace — knowing that you have forgiven and that the offense no longer holds any power over you.

2. Let Go of Any Shame Linked to That Event Read Jeremiah 31:3, The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness."

Spend some time in focused prayer and ask God to show you any hurt or shame that you have not brought to him. Ask him to show you any thoughts, ideas or attitudes that you have about yourself that are rooted in this pain. Confess these attitudes and ask God to restore you. Ask him to remind you of who you are in his eyes and ask him to give you the strength to walk in his freedom.

Read Isaiah 41:9-10. Personalize it and pray it back to God: Father in Heaven, you have chosen me and have not rejected me. Help me not to fear, for you are with me; teach me not to be dismayed, for you are my God. You will strengthen me and help me; you will uphold me with your righteous right hand. Amen.

3. Let the Holy Spirit Lead You God never asks us to live the Christian life in our own strength. The Holy Spirit is with us in a very real and tangible way. If you're not familiar with what the Holy Spirit does or how he can help, read this.

updated September 2019

Photo Credit: Jeroen Werkman