Forgiveness is a release of anger and of the right to hold a grudge. How can you know if you've truly forgiven someone? Here are 5 ways to tell.
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
"...bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13
Whether in business, in church, or in family, relationships can cause pain and separation. It’s tempting to get even, but forgiveness is not an option for the believer, even for that person who has hurt us the most. Forgiveness is treated as an important attribute for followers of Christ in the Bible. Even still, I frequently hear people give excuses for not forgiving someone, such as:
“You can forgive but you can’t forget”… That’s most often true…only God (and sometimes time and old age) can erase a memory.
“I’ve tried to forgive them, but they haven’t changed”… That’s probably true. Forgiveness can be a catalyst for change, but it doesn’t guarantee change.
“I may have forgiven them, but I’ll always hold it against them”… Okay, that may sound logical, but it’s not forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a releasing of emotional guilt you place upon the other person. It’s a choice we make that happens in the heart. It’s not a release of responsibility or an absence of healthy boundaries, but it is a conscious choice to remove the right to get even from the person who injured you. It’s a release of anger and the right to hold a grudge.
Forgiveness is hard.
Recently I was talking with someone who wants to forgive the person who has hurt her the most. She wants to be free from the guilt of holding a grudge. She wants to follow the example of Christ in Biblical obedience. The problem? She’s not sure she has truly forgiven, because she still hurts from the injury.
I shared with her that while forgiveness is a decision…a choice…it is not an automatic healer of emotions. It helps, but emotions heal over time. Then I shared some ways she could determine if she’s truly forgiven the other person.
Here are 5 ways to tell if you’ve forgiven someone:
- When the first thought you have about them is not the injury they caused in your life. You should be able to have normal thoughts about the person occasionally. Remember, you are dropping the right to get even; the grudge you held against them.
- Ask yourself: Would you help them if you knew they were in trouble and you had the ability? Most likely this is someone you once cared about…perhaps even loved. You would have assisted them if they needed help. While I’m not suggesting you would subject yourself to abuse or further harm, that you are obligated to help them, or even that you should, but would you in your heart want to see them prosper or see them come to harm?
- Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Again, you’ve likely been on positive terms with this person or in a close enough relationship for them to injure you to this extreme. Is there anything good you can come up with about them? If not, have your really forgiven them?
- Do you still think of getting even with the person? There may be consequences that need to come for this person and you may have to see them through to protect others, but does your heart want to hurt them? If so, would you call this forgiveness?
- When you have stopped looking for them to fail. If you have truly forgiven someone, then just like you would for anyone else, you would want them to succeed or at least do better in life. Forgiveness means you’ve stopped keeping a record of the person’s wrongs.
I realize this is a tough list. Those struggling with forgiveness will most likely push back against it a bit. Feel free to push back if you’re not struggling with forgiveness. (Or claim you’re not). I know this, however...for your heart to completely heal, you eventually need to forgive the one who hurt you the most.