Top 5 Reasons You Find It Difficult to Forgive

Top 5 Reasons You Find It Difficult to Forgive

 

While writing a book on forgiveness, I searched for individuals who had defied odds to forgive their offenders – then I came across Corrie ten Boom’s amazing story of amazing grace. When I first read about Corrie ten Boom, my spirit was shaken. Arrested by Nazis along with the rest of her family for harboring Jews in their home, she was imprisoned and later sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp alongside her sister, Betsie, who perished there days before Corrie was released in 1944. Inspired by Betsie’s selfless love and forgiveness amid cruelty and persecution, Corrie founded a post-war home for camp survivors trying to recover from the horrors they had escaped. She went on to travel as a missionary, preaching God’s forgiveness and the need for reconciliation. Her faith was tested in 1947 when she came face to face with one of his former tormentors. She recounts this in her 1971 autobiography, The Hiding Place,

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion – I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.

Amid tears, she forgave him. “I forgive you, brother. With all my heart.”

This is a beautiful story. Isn’t it? What makes it more beautiful is that it is true. Corrie chose forgiveness over pain and bitterness. She knew she had no choice but to forgive a man who inflicted significant pain on her and her family. It was a difficult decision at the moment as it was against her feelings, but today we read about Corrie with pride because of what she did – she was a good Christian.

 

Every good Christian strives to become like Christ. One way of becoming like Christ is adopting a lifestyle of forgiveness. Here is why. Forgiveness is liberating, not only to the offender but mostly to the offended. It is a foundational imperative emphasized in Christian doctrines, urging believers to show grace and mercy to those who have wronged them. There are multiple benefits associated with forgiveness, some of which are obvious. However, despite these benefits, most people, including devout Christians, struggle to forgive. Here are the top 5 reasons I believe most of us find it difficult to forgive:

 

  1. Misunderstanding the Nature of Forgiveness
  2. Trying to Forgive and Forget
  3. Unrealistic Expectations of Instant Healing
  4. Clinging to Bitterness and Resentment
  5. Fear of Being Vulnerable

 

 

  1. Misunderstanding the Nature of Forgiveness

Most people have a nuanced understanding of forgiveness. One of the primary reasons we struggle to forgive is because we misunderstand what forgiveness really entails. We think that by forgiving, we are condoning bad behavior or minimizing its impact. I define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of vengeance and resentment toward a person (whether an individual or entity) who has harmed you, irrespective of whether they deserve it or not. It doesn’t mean, however, that an offender is free from the consequences of their actions. For example, you can forgive them, but they would still be required to serve some time in jail, or separate from them if need be!

 

  1. Trying to forgive and forget

Personally, I struggled with this. Whenever I forgave someone, I wanted the event to be erased from my memory and give me a fresh start. However, it didn’t happen. I often wondered whether forgiving was necessary if I would never forget the pain the offender caused. When we forgive, we do so fully aware of the offense. I actually think it is necessary to remember but with a transformed attitude. The popular phrase “forgive and forget” creates unrealistic expectations, making forgiveness more difficult. While forgiving involves letting go of negative emotions, it does not necessarily mean forgetting the offense entirely. Instead, it implies choosing not to dwell on the offense or hold it against the offender but acknowledging the experience as part of our life’s story.

 

  1. Unrealistic Expectations of Instant Healing

Every offense that requires forgiveness leaves a wound. Since we have already established that forgive and forget is unrealistic, we shouldn’t expect to get an instant emotional healing. You may even wonder why the offense still haunts you years after you forgive someone. For instance, when your spouse divorces you after years together, you don’t expect to heal within a week and return to life as if nothing happened. It may take months or years to recover from the pain, even after forgiving them. Forgiveness is a means for long-run healing, but it is not an immediate resolution for all your emotional pain. True forgiveness is often a gradual process that requires patience, prayer, and seeking God’s guidance.

 

  1. Clinging to Bitterness and Resentment

Recently, a friend asked me why he was afraid of letting go of his offender despite a strong conviction from God to forgive them. I asked him what the offense was, and he told me he has never been a forgiving person all his life and that he keeps a list of his offenders and lessons learned from them. He uses this list as his motivation to work harder in life, and every time he achieves something, he scorns those who thought he wouldn’t make it. He works bitterly to prove to offenders that he still got it. The problem with this approach to life is that it creates a chain of bitterns and resentment, and you treat everyone as a potential enemy sent your way to “motivate” you for achievement. When we hold onto negative emotions, they consume our minds and hearts, preventing the healing and reconciliation that forgiveness can bring. It is important to remember that harboring such bitterness and resentment harms us more than anyone else.

 

  1. Fear of Being Vulnerable

Vulnerability is not weakness. At face value, forgiveness may be interpreted as a weakness or inability to do anything to avenge the matter. However, forgiveness is actually a sign of strength, as it entails showing the offender that they have no power over you. It makes you vulnerable to the possibility of being hurt again – but it also exposes you to showing strength repeatedly. Every time you forgive, you weather down walls of fear and self-preservation and create a world of new possibilities for your offenders. Christians are called to emulate Christ’s example of forgiveness, even in the face of vulnerability, and trusting that God’s love and grace will strengthen and guide us.

Forgiveness is fundamental to our faith, but it is not always easy to practice. Understanding why it is difficult in our attempts to forgive is crucial for personal retrospection and spiritual growth. By recognizing the misconceptions surrounding forgiveness, such as the notion of forgiving and forgetting, we can embrace the transformative power of true forgiveness and experience the freedom and healing it brings. Through prayer, reliance on God’s grace, and a willingness to let go of bitterness, forgiveness becomes an act of obedience and an expression of God’s love working in our lives.

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