Probably the most difficult thing to do as a Christian (or for that matter as a non-Christian) is to forgive. We all want to be forgiven our mistakes, large or small, but it’s so deucedly hard to do for others. And yet it’s essential to our lives as Christians. The Lord’s prayer says
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. God has given us an amazing model of forgiveness, forgiving all our trespasses both large and small, and yet, we often find it hard to forgive the merest perceived slight.
Unforgiveness is a cancer that eats at our souls and our joy. When we hold a grudge against someone, or harbor bitterness in our hearts toward another, it has absolutely no effect on the other person. It’s likely they don’t even notice you’re upset with them. The only person truly affected by unforgiveness is the one who fails to forgive. It consumes them and often they begin to pile other slights upon the orginal, both real and imagined. The joy begins to be sucked out of their life as they attempt to work out methods of revenge or other ways to correct the perceived wrong. It makes it impossible to worship or to appreciate God’s works in our lives. Indeed, forgiving others is an essential part of receiving God’s forgiveness ourselves:
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins
Matthew 6:14,15 NIV
If we can’t forgive, we can’t expect to be forgiven ourselves.
So the question becomes, “How do you forgive?” Especially when the hurt is deep, and by someone you trust. I think the key is to ask God for the ability to forgive and, as importantly, to forget. Forgiveness without forgetfulness seldom yields true forgiveness, the trespasses tend to be disinterred at a later date and, just like a rotting corpse, stink up the relationship. We, just as God does, must forget the offense as well as forgiving it. It needs to be cast into the sea of forgetfulness, never to be resurrected. Only then can it truly be said to have been forgiven. The offense is like the shiny coin in a raccoon trap*, we grab hold of it and the harder we pull on it, the more the nails around the hole dig into our hands. All we have to do to stop the pain and escape the trap is to simply let go of the offense. Which may be the most difficult thing Christ asks us to give up.
*A raccoon trap is a hole a bit larger than a quarter drilled a few inches into a log. A shiny coin or other bait is placed in the bottom of the hole and a series of nails are driven at an angle around the hole such that their points stick into the hole. If the raccoon reaches into the hole without grabbing anything, he can easily pull his paw back out. But if he grabs the coin and won’t let go of it, the nails will dig into his paw and won’t let him pull it back out.