In the past when I would turn to God in prayer to forgive someone, I always said something like: “Heavenly Father, please forgive her for…” But then it hit me, why am I telling God to forgive that person when it is I that needs to do the forgiving? I was approaching God and saying, “So this person was a jerk to me, will you please forgive them?” But it’s not my responsibility to tell God who and who not to forgive. He’s not just sitting up there waiting for me to give Him the green light so that He can exercise His love and mercy on behalf of another person by offering them His forgiveness. It’s not my job to tell God who to forgive. And furthermore, we can hold back our forgiveness until the day we die, but it will not prevent that individual from receiving God’s forgiveness.
That’s when I started praying differently.
I started saying, “Heavenly Father, I forgive her for doing what she did. I forgive him for the way he treated me. I forgive them for what they said.” It’s a small change, but it’s a huge difference. It’s our moral responsibility to forgive someone who has hurt us; it’s not our responsibility to get God to forgive them.
This change was healing because I was taking responsibility for forgiving. But it was also healing because I was honest with myself about how I felt in that situation. When I would tell God to forgive someone who had hurt me, it was a way for me not fully to acknowledge what had happened. It was going about the act of forgiving the person while not fully acknowledging what had happened. Sometimes we will downplay or minimize circumstances to make the issue small enough to manage. But not being honest with yourself about how you feel limits you from healing. Furthermore, distorting the truth of the situation, not seeing it accurately, also limits your ability to be healed and it limits our ability to use good judgment as to how to respond and move forward with the things that have happened.
When Christ said: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44),” He wasn’t instructing us to be doormats allowing others to push us around. He’s not suggesting that it is better to be a doormat than it is to be a jerk. He is showing us how to free ourselves from the paralyzing poison that can slowly spread darkness in our heart and mind when we nurture hate and anger in our hearts and thoughts.
Holding back forgiveness and distorting the truth will keep that lousy emotional cold alive for a long time. Taking responsibility and being honest with yourself about how another’s person’s actions affected you makes you free.