The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. – Gandhi

At my last job, I found myself in a conversation which left me positively stunned. I have grown up my entire life around people who believe that forgiveness is a good thing. Even if it isn’t always given, these people would say that it is a good thing to be able to do. Hate and bitterness corrupt and make people cold. Forgiveness frees you of this.

So I’m sitting at lunch with my boss and 3 of my co-workers who are giving me grief about never having dating. I keep trying to explain to them that I’m happy being single and they aren’t buying it. “No one is happy being single. Blah, blah, blah.” (I’ll blog about *that* ridiculous conversation another time.) So finally I tell them that I was abused and that I have no interest in putting myself in another situation like that. Usually that shuts people up and they feel bad for pressing me but oh no. Not this group.

My boss said he didn’t think that it was healthy to not date because of the abuse and I, misunderstanding where he was going with it, said “Oh, I’ve forgiven the guy.” Apparently this isn’t what he meant because he proceeds to lecture me on being sure that I had forgiven him because I wanted to and not just because I had been told it was the right thing to do.

I couldn’t even argue because I was so stunned by what I was hearing. At first I wasn’t sure he was serious. But as he kept talking, I realized that he most definitely was. Once I got my bearings back (which was unfortunately after I had left work for the day and we never brought the topic up again), I wanted to ask him “When, exactly, is forgiving easy? When is it something that you *want* to do?”

I’m not talking about forgiving the McDonald’s employee who screwed up your order. (Although even that is a feat for some people……..) I’m talking about people who have truly done you wrong. How easy do you think it was for the Jews to forgive the Nazis? How easy is it for people who lost loved ones on Sept. 11th to forgive the terrorists? How easy is it for the Rwandans to forgive their neighbors who tried to wipe them out? How easy was it for Jesus to forgive us? Do you think they wanted to?

Something that I constantly have to tell my preschoolers is sometimes you have to do things that you don’t want to do. Because it is the right thing to do. Because it will free you. Sometimes forgiveness isn’t about the other person. Sometimes it’s about allowing yourself to heal and to move on. Oprah quoted someone on her show by saying “Refusing to forgive is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

Forgiveness is not about showing what a good person you are. It’s not about being righteous. It’s not even about pleasing God some of the time. Sometimes it is simply about wanting to free yourself of any further damage. “This person has harmed me long enough. No more.” Hating someone doesn’t hurt them. It hurts you. It twists your insides and makes them ugly. And what is on the inside eventually finds its way out. Even when you don’t mean for it to.

It took me a long time to be able to forgive the person who hurt me. This isn’t something I did because the church pressured me or anything like that. (Once again, people assuming that I can’t think for myself.) It is because I made the choice to forgive them. I chose to let go of the pain and the hate. Do I still have moments where these things coming rushing back? Yes. But I choose not to dwell on them and to pray them back to God. Ultimately, forgiveness is a choice. One that you have to make for yourself. No one can make you forgive. They can make you say that you have but only you know in your heart of hearts if you have.

Are you going to swallow that poison?

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Before I get a flurry of comments about how I shouldn’t live in fear and that I shouldn’t hide behind the abuse, relax. It’s true that some of my hesitancy comes from this but I have plenty more reasons for why I choose not to date. But that’s for another blog.