The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes

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March 10, 2011 by Chris French

We make forgiving sound so easy. “Just forgive them and move on.” It’s not quite that simple most of the time. Lewis Smedes gives us a 1-2-3 step approach to forgiving while saying that sometimes forgiveness is not the right answer.

To forgive someone you need to first rediscover their humanity. When someone hurts us they become only what they did to us. They become an abuser, an adulterer, a liar when in truth they are much more than that. We need to remember that they’re not evil incarnate. They’re human and here’s a newsflash so am I! I make mistakes and I hurt people too. The second step to forgiving them is when we surrender our right to get even. Revenge is on our minds, but we have to put it away. Revenge is our pleasure at seeing the one who hurt us feel pain. We’re supposed to bring joy, peace and love not pain! The third step to forgiveness is revising your feelings. Forgiveness is a decision, a tough decision sometimes, but a decision nonetheless. You can decide to stop hating the person. You can decide to start praying for good things to happen to them and while you may not mean those prayers yet your feelings will eventually follow your words.

Did you know that forgiveness is not the solution we should reach for every time someone hurts us. We have to make sure we were hurt by an individual. We can’t forgive a nameless entity. We can only forgive individuals so we need to figure out who it was that hurt us. It also needs to be an action that hurt us. I can’t forgive someone for who they are, I can only forgive them for what they do. I can’t forgive someone for being a liar, I can forgive them for lying to me though. I try to improve their character, but I can’t forgive their character, only their actions. Forgiveness is also only for serious wounds. People hurt us everyday. I’ve been offended by the box I order my Big Mac on before. I can’t forgive the person that was rude to me though because that’s not a forgivable offense. Forgivable offenses are offenses that result in me hating the person that hurt me. We can also only forgive someone for wronging us. If you’re in prison for murder you’re in pain, but not wrongful pain. You got what you deserved. I can only forgive someone if they wrongfully hurt me. There must be a betrayal involved.

You also need to know that just because you forgive someone does not mean that you necessarily allow them to return to the spot they occupied in your life prior to the betrayal. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation, although it certainly can. Also a person doesn’t have to ask for our forgiveness for us to give it. You may be saying, “That’s not right! They’ve got to show some remorse!” Now you’re talking about reconciliation. To be reconciled to a person they would need to show remorse for their actions and how they hurt you. At that point, and only that point, could you be reconciled to them. It’s your decision. What about a person that doesn’t show remorse? You can still forgive them. They don’t even have to ask for it! Because forgiving them isn’t about them, it’s about you! That hate you’re keeping in your heart over how they hurt you will seep out of the little hole you’ve put it in and it will start to effect other parts of your life. When you forgive them you let go of that hate and you can begin to flourish again. If you hold on to the hate you feel you’re just letting them continue to hurt you. If that person had beaten you so badly that you had to stay in the hospital for a few weeks but all of a sudden you realized you had the power to heal those wounds and take the pain away wouldn’t you? We’re talking about the same thing here only the wounds are internal.

There’s so much more Smedes says, but there’s not room for all his advice here. There are several things he said that I’m going to need time to chew over, but this has been the most helpful book I’ve ever read on forgiveness.

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