"Why are you hurting?" the man opposite me posed the question between a swig of vanilla cola and a mouthful of pizza.
"I messed up... I allowed someone to hurt me a long time ago... but I've moved on - I've forgiven them," I answered truthfully, staring intently at the slice in my hand, hoping it would swallow me up instead, "so why do I resent that?"
"I can see your heart," he said, "how can you have forgiven them, if you haven't forgiven yourself?" I was aghast - how dare he suggest I need to forgive myself? I don't need my forgiveness, they wronged me, I didn't!
And then it clicked.
Perhaps I had forgiven them... but I did need to forgive myself. I needed to forgive myself for all the times I berated myself, felt stupid, neglected to acknowledge facts and for not facing up to my decisions. It was okay to feel that way. It was okay to be wrong, to mess up, but I needed to acknowledge that was what I'd done and stop brushing it under the carpet.
"So what are you gonna do?" he asked, "remember - it's a process: stop... decide... then act."
"I'm going to pause and accept that I messed up. I did forgive them... and now I decide to forgive myself. And I'm going to look to the future and move on from the past."
And just like that, a weight was lifted.
Forgiveness isn't easy. If it was, everyone would do it - we'd have fewer confrontations, lower crime rates and we'd all be that little bit happier... But while it might not be easy, it is simple. What if you could look that person who's wronged you in the eye and say "I forgive you"?
It's a concept that is hard to grasp when you're hurting, when all you want to do is seek justice and retribution. It feels unnatural to give over to the transgressor, perhaps even counter-productive, but how can you run a record 100m when you leave the hurdles on the track?
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
Jesus clearly says that forgiveness is a key part of our lives and tells us just how important it is that we forgive by comparing it to God's forgiveness. If we can't forgive, then why should we be forgiven?
Now, it's not to say forgiveness condones an action - no, you aren't changing your stance, nor validating the attack; forgiving removes the obstacle from your life with impartiality no matter the level of 'wrong'. It's in this that we realise why it's so hard for us to forgive sometimes... because it's grace.
Grace is forgiveness no matter what. It doesn't rectify the wrong, it doesn't validate the crime, but it releases you from its bond and elevates you. Grace is the ultimate justice. And there's a distinct beauty in that.
And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace. Romans 11:6
As soon as we try to quantify grace or claim forgiveness is something else, then grace loses its meaning; it's not grace if we forgive to simply further ourselves, if we don't accept we've messed up and don't repent.
See, grace makes no sense! To the human mind it's illogical, it's unfair, it is such an impossible concept for us to fully comprehend, that we are completely incapable of grace. Forgiveness is as close as we can get to understanding God's grace for us, that He cares for us so much, that we are forgiven regardless of our sin.
We can all forgive more, but just how do we do it? Maybe there is a one-size-fits-all solution, we can certainly think - what would Jesus do? He's the way for us to comprehend God and to understand how He works in a way that can be comprehended by the human mind, so take that trouble that's playing on your mind... And ask yourself 3 questions:
#1: Who's hurt you?
#2: How did they hurt you?
#3: Why did they hurt you?
Take your answers to those questions, think about that person, write their name down, and do what Jesus would and say aloud...
"I forgive you."
Now forgive. And forget.