My Life/Teen Life

Forgive, Even if you Don’t Forget

I think forgiveness is one of the most fascinating things we humans are capable of doing. I’m not fascinated by it because I’m deeply educated in theology and can explain it; not because of the old – but accurate – adage that it sets you free more than the person you forgive; and not even because – also true – to hold onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.

I’m fascinated by forgiveness because I think the very act of forgiving someone reveals a lot about what we mean. We say, “I forgive you.” Not “I forgave you.” Why?

If you buy someone flowers, you tell them, “I bought you flowers,” certainly not, “I buy you flowers.” That’s because it was an act in the past. It’s happened, so now it is spoken of in the past tense. Not so with forgiveness!

See, forgiveness is far, far more intricate than a one-time statement. Sure, some apologies are for small things — if you grew up with siblings, you probably know very well that your toys could be taken or damaged, and a prompted apology would follow. You forgave, maybe “hugged it out,” and moved on from those things.

Scars don’t always let us forget.

When someone betrays you, however, you can rarely forgive easily. Sometimes even a lie can ruin your life, destroy relationships, or create trust issues that will take years to heal, if at all. These wounds are inherently challenging to forgive, but here is where we see the real power behind the gesture.

Here, in the face of this pain, when you say the words, “I forgive you,” you very much mean it in the present tense! You’re addressing the fact that you might continue to be affected by this well into the future.

Forgive and forget is not always possible. Not because you plan to harbor a grudge; but simply because you cannot forget certain scars. To forgive the acts that caused them has to be an ongoing choice.

At any point in time, it is very easy indeed to turn around and begin to harbor a grudge. It is easy to blame the person who caused your pain. It is easy to hate — far easier than it is to forgive again. And even though choosing to forgive can be more painful, it is far more rewarding. When you utter the choice, then, that “I forgive you,” it isn’t over once and done. You say “forgive” because you keep on doing it.

We continue to forgive.

If someone came to me today to apologize for deeply hurtful things they’ve done to me, I could very well state with truth, “I forgave you.” I did. I have. It’s done. But it’s not over. The forgiveness is an ongoing choice because every day I wake up, I can see or feel repercussions from it. Whether I feel it directly or not, everything in my past has led me here, and so I do feel it in some way. That hurt is part of who I am and forgiving that person is something I must continue to do.

That is why I would say, “I forgive you,” because I have to do it again and again. Even when I don’t feel it inside, I say the words because I make the choice. I have to look at the face of Christ and choose to forgive them.

Forgiveness isn’t always a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, it’s not always as simple as, “we’re all good, right?” Often, it’s an ongoing choice, a choice we make even when we don’t feel like it. But that’s where its power lies: even if we feel anger welling up inside, even when we’re brought to tears and to our knees to ask “why?” – forgiveness is still a choice we can make.

That’s why I love to think about what the words of forgiveness really mean. They are not words of a past action. Forgiveness becomes very much a part of us, and while it does become easier to forgive over time, it is still a conscious act.

Every time we choose not to hold a grudge, we forgive again. Every time we choose not to blame everyone else, we forgive again. And every time we move forward instead of dwelling on wrongs, we forgive again. We can invite some people back into our lives, and keep some out for our own good – neither of these choices diminishes our act of mercy.

I forgive you, even when I don’t forget.

“I forgive you.” Right now, tomorrow, and in a decade. It is a promise that you will not dwell on the past, even when it stares you in the face.

“I forgive you.” Like any promise, you can – and might on some days – break it, and slip back into hurt or anger. But at any moment, you can turn everything back around and forgive again.

“I forgive you.” It will ever evolve, and it will ever soften your heart as well. It is not over and done with once. Just as Jesus will open His arms to us as many times as we turn to run back to Him after failing, we try to imitate Him and open our arms to others in turn.

“I forgive you.” Because it’s not over, but the mercy you continue to give others will remain with you until Jesus welcomes you with the same mercy you showed others.

About the Author

Niki Mallinak

I’m a communications major at Franciscan University who loves my faith, family, brothers and sisters in Christ, and making people smile! I’m up for travel, chocolate, or a good story anytime; you can always catch me with song lyrics running through my mind and a book when I’m not planning my next great adventure - preferably involving horses or hiking!

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