When someone has hurt you, it’s so easy to let your heart become hardened toward them. If you see them in public, you avoid them. You don’t like thinking about them or the way that they treated you. When the pain is deep, it’s so much easier to just avoid seeing or thinking about the person who caused that pain for you.
In the past few years, I’ve experienced this type of pain with multiple people. I was struggling with mental illness, and so many people abandoned me when I was in need. Healing from this has been a process, and but lately God has been taking me to a new level of freedom and forgiveness.
There’s one person in particular who has been on my mind lately — someone that I used to be friends with. Looking back on the friendship, I realized that there had been some lies told to me and about me at various times, even before things ended. Private conversations that I had with this person, where I felt that we were both sharing our feelings about similar situations we had been through, had been repeated and misconstrued. It was hard to feel like I had opened up to someone only to be judged and misunderstood. I found out later that during my illness, they were advising other people to stay away from me.
This person came back to my mind recently, and I realized some negative feelings that I was still harboring. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could let go of these feelings, but I took them to God and asked for his help. When I think of this person and how they treated me, I don’t want to feel negatively anymore. I want to feel God’s love for them. I want to think positive thoughts and desire God’s blessing for their life, even if they don’t feel that way about me.
While I was thinking about these things, I took a look at one of their social media accounts and read something that they had written. I won’t share what it was, but I will say that it softened my heart. I realized that the way this person treated me came from their own painful experiences, and I began to feel a stronger sense of compassion.
When someone hurts you, the last thing you want to do is feel compassion toward them. But in your healing process, being able to see them the way that God does is an absolutely integral part of being free from the past.
Feeling compassion for them doesn’t excuse what they did to you.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to befriend them again.
It just means that you let go of that hurt. You recognize that God is your healer, and that because of who GOD is, you don’t have to feel like a victim of that person’s actions any longer.
The truth is, if your heart belongs to the Lord, there is no damage that anyone can cause that’s permanent. The only permanent damage is what we cause by choosing not to forgive, by remaining bitter, or by believing that God can’t restore what was taken.
Sometimes, in our anger, we choose to remain in a victim mentality. We continue to feel angry and slighted by the actions of others. The person this mentality will damage the most — is us.
I think the most damaging thing about refusing to forgive is the condemnation that it brings for us. As I walk through my own healing process, I find that when I start to villainize someone else, I’m putting myself on a pedestal. In order to remain angry and unforgiving, you have to believe that the other person is a worse sinner than you are. If you continue with this thinking, you will start to feel condemned — because when you believe that another human is more worthy of condemnation than you are, you will condemn yourself.
“Do not judge, or you will be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2
As humans, part of forgiveness is understanding our equality with other humans. We are all sinners, but sometimes we tend to view our sin on a sliding scale, and we think that others have done worse than we have. God doesn’t view sin on a scale from bad to worse — because he sees what’s in our heart. A common idea we carry is that murderers are the worst sinners and that their hearts are darker than those who have not committed such a sin.
Here’s what Jesus says about this:
“You have heard that it was said to the ancients, ‘Do not murder’ and ‘Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be subject to the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22
When we are angry and insulting, our heart carries the same contempt as someone who is murderous. We may not carry this sin out to its fullest extent, but the exact same attitude exists in our heart. Jesus doesn’t just look at the sins that we avoid carrying out because of the legal or social consequences — he looks at what is inside our hearts. The fact that we desire harm toward or belittle someone else condemns us, even if we never carry out that sin in a physical way, because the desire itself is proof that our heart isn’t aligned with God’s love.
Extending radical grace and forgiveness to others doesn’t mean we are agreeing with what they have done. It just means that we are recognizing that we, too, are sinners in need of grace. We don’t have to re-engage in a friendship with someone who still carries a malicious attitude toward us. But it’s important that we prepare our hearts in case that person ever does turn to the Lord and ask for forgiveness. We need to be able to rejoice in that forgiveness, and be ready to offer it to them should they ever request it from us.