On Friendship: Receiving and Giving Forgiveness

How to say “I’m sorry” is one of the most important lessons we learn as children. But saying the words and actually meaning them doesn’t always come naturally. It’s hard.

Telling someone we forgive them is the next important lesson we learn. But again, do we really mean those words when we say them? That’s also hard.

Both phrases are ones I’ve used a lot during my 35 years of life on this earth. When you grow up in a large family, it’s just a way of life as you constantly interact with other people’s space, property, and hearts. I learned how to say I’m sorry, but I also learned how to fake it. (Yes, I was a huge stinker as a little girl.)

The need to use the words “I’m sorry” hasn’t decreased with age. In fact, it’s become more important as I live alongside my husband, teach my children the importance of these words, and grow adult friendships. I say them a lot and truth be told, I’m still learning to mean them every time. I’m constantly reminding myself that my perspective isn’t the only valid one, so even if I think I shouldn’t have to say it, I still do, because it’s not always about guilt in a situation, but empathy, too.

I’m also Canadian, and saying sorry really slips out of our mouths all the time.

But when it comes to forgiveness, I’ve really struggled. I don’t mean it’s simply something I’ve I hard time saying. No, I mean I’ve done battle with this concept in my innermost being after the words have already passed my lips. Sometimes the betrayal of others sticks to you like tar, marking your soul just as black as the person who hurt you…

That’s why it’s so important. Unforgiveness is a poison that will slowly eat away at your mind and soul. It’s also impossibly hard to give in its true form, even in the closest of relationships. It’s something you have to be constantly choosing because even after you think you’ve finally been able to release that ‘thing’ or ‘person’ or ‘situation’ your mind will decide to circle back and give it a good sniff again, just like a dog and its vomit.

So how do you do it? How do you really let your ‘I forgive you’ mean what it’s supposed to mean? How do you stop returning to the betrayal, the hurtful moment, or words that have imprinted in your mind, the grief that penetrated past a physical heart to touch your soul?

There is only one way I’ve learned to do it, and that’s giving that moment, that memory, that emotion, to the person who has forgiven me the most: Jesus Christ. For someone who doesn’t share my faith that might seem laughable, even weak, and honestly, that’s okay, because I am weak. But Jesus is strong, and the most forgiving being in the universe. He is also the epitome of empathy, and he understands the pain that draws me back to that vomit pile. He understands the pull for what it really is, grief.

See, as humans, I believe our souls, minds, and bodies are in a constant state of grief. Grief for what once was in our world, and grief in losing our innocence. But I digress, and if someone who has a different belief system, then I would like to invite them to share how they forgive in the comment section.

So what does giving forgiveness actually look like apart from saying the words ‘I forgive you’?

Well, it’s not giving people a free pass to walk all over you again. But it can look like inviting them back into your life and home and trusting them again. It doesn’t have to though. Some forgiveness looks like upholding boundaries and giving people a chance to prove that they have changed and won’t repeat their mistakes. It can also be given without inviting the person who did the hurting back to a close friendship. But forgiveness almost always requires action, just like friendship.

When forgiveness is especially hard for me personally, it looks like holding a constant silent prayer on my tongue. “Please help me forgive. Please help me let go, and trust again. Please help me be wise in how I welcome someone back in to my life. Please help me be brave in how I tell them just what hurts.”

True forgiveness requires honesty. You can forgive someone without confronting them about something they have said or done, but giving them a chance to say ‘I’m sorry’, often helps us release that forgiveness in to the relationship. If we chose not to tell the person what they have done to hurt us, then we at least have to be honest with ourselves and not take more of the blame for a situation than needed.

It’s not possible to fully explore forgiveness in one blog post. People have written books on it and still we as humans struggle to understand its depths and how it really works. But let’s move on from giving it to receiving it.

It can be equally hard to receive forgiveness as it is to give it. There are many reasons for this and again it’s not possible to talk about all of them here, but two that stand out the most to me are shame and denial.

Some people don’t believe they are worthy of forgiveness, and honestly, none of us really are. That is the beauty of true forgiveness though, it is an act of pure love.

When a wrong is committed, we can’t go back and change it. Justice demands action. But justice handed out without forgiveness at its right hand can easily turn in to vengeance and spoil the act of justice with traces of hate.

Justice without forgiveness can not bring healing, and often the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. When we have an understanding of what right and wrong is and we know we have committed an offence against a friend, someone we are supposed to care for and love, well, we blanket ourselves in shame. And it is shameful, but we all do it. No one is perfect, and when we deny ourselves forgiveness that friends and family members hand us, we stop healing; sometimes for both parties.

Receiving forgiveness is an act of humility as well. It means we understand we have hurt someone, and this feeds in to the second reason so many of us have a hard time with it. Denial.

When our sorry isn’t real, when we hold on to the idea that “I didn’t mean to hurt you so I shouldn’t have to say those words and don’t truly need forgiveness,” or when we hold on to the belief that we were justified in our actions even if they hurt someone, is cuts forgiveness short.

These are sticky situation that are often so hard to sort out, and really how often are hurts in a friendship the soul responsibility of one person? More often than not, both parties need to give and receive forgiveness at some level. Maybe that is the key to it all, being open to acknowledging how we hurt others even as they hurt us.

This is not a comprehensive guide to forgiveness, but I hope it has started a conversation in your heart as you read it. Typing it out has definite helped solidify a better understanding of it in my own heart. I would love to hear your thoughts on forgiveness in the comment section.

Thank you.

Copyright ©2023 Mary Grace van der Kroef

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