Q: In the Bible it says to forgive and forget. What if a person gives you a lifetime of pain, not only to you but everyone in your family as well as countless others? I have had substance abuse problems due to this. I can not find it in my heart to forgive this person, Am I wrong? If not why? Please respond in a clear answer, not a convenient ambiguous one for you.
A: From the sound of your letter, I would say that you are carrying a big load of anger and hurt, as well as some confusion. You already know that God tells us to forgive and forget, and in your heart, you believe it, but in the present circumstances, you are finding it next to impossible to carry out this act of forgiveness.
It is so difficult when one person can cause so much heartache and distress to others. I have had experiences like this in my own life, and I know it is not easy to forgive. If it was, we would likely never have wars, murders, divorces, or all the other miseries that one person can inflict upon another. Forgiveness is an act practiced by those who want to be Kingdom-dwellers—who want to rise above "the world, " where we are told that "revenge is sweet" and discover the true sweetness of taking the high road.
Forgiveness is VITAL to your well-being. I am not going to tell you that you are wrong for not wanting to forgive, but I don't think you would have written such a heartfelt question, with so much anguish, if you did not believe that your heart needed a reason to change. I believe you want to forgive, but your hurts and angry feelings are clouding your mind and judgment right now.
One thing I want to tell you is that the act of forgiveness is NOT for the offender. By forgiving, we don't justify the offenses of the person, we don't excuse their behavior, but we release them from our own judgment, and by doing so, we release ourselves from the terrible burdens of anger, pain and disappointment. And I think you would agree—these terrible heavy feelings ARE burdens of the worst sort.
It might be that this person is beyond help, is blind and deaf to the misery that they place on their friends and family. It might do no good at all even to forgive them to their face. You may want to cut this person out of your life altogther (and that might be a good idea, from the sound of things). Just because we forgive, it does not mean that we have to make ourselves available for further abuse. If you can, find ways to distance yourself from this situation.
Forgiveness is not for THEM. It is for YOU...
Right now, this offending person has a great deal of power over you. You are angry and confused. You are doubting yourself, and using substances to relieve this pain. And you may feel that you are unable to do what God has asked of you—all because you have given over control of your feelings and emotions to be manipulated at the whim of this person. Can you see that?
There will never be a sure way for you to change the behavior of the person who causes such pain, but there is one person that you can control, and it is YOU! Forgiveness is an "inside job, " and it will effectively restore your power where it belongs—in your own inner life, doing what YOU know to be best.
It happens inside of you—in your mind—and it causes a change of heart when done by an act of the will, especially when we know that it is God's will that we do so. This is true freedom—to have control over our own emotions and our own responses to the actions of others.
When we wholeheartedly align our will with the Father, we can expect a very good result.
This will take a full surrender on your part—surrender to the goodness and the mercy of God—knowing that he will make all things right, in his way and in his time. Surrender your feelings of anger and pain to God, and ask that he sanctify your heart and wash it clean. Lay your burdens upon him, and lay this offending person at his feet. Then, leave them there.
I don't promise that this is easy, but I do promise that it is the right thing to do. It could be that you may have to do this more than once or twice—particularly if this offending person is still in your life. But with every effort, you will gain strength and you will experience victory over this problem.
We have the example of the Master, who gave his very life at the hands of murderers and betrayers, and yet, he was able to say, "forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." He was dogged for all the years of his ministry by people who hated him and wished evil on him—people who plotted against him and sought his ruin. And yet he still forgave—even while in the act of dying at their evil hands. I think it's safe to say that he understands what you're going through. Trust him to help you through it and over it.
Jesus said, "What you believe I would do to others, do likewise."
One last thing—and this comes from my own personal experience: Over a period of time, we can establish patterns of behavior with troublesome people, and it may take some time and distance for you to reclaim yourself through forgiveness. Then, when and if you decide to re-connect, you can begin to establish better boundaries and healthier patterns of behavior with this person, so they will know you mean business, and that you no longer are at their mercy. No more will they be able to manipulate you. You will have risen above their misery, and your own—and you may then even be able to provide a good example for others in your life who have been likewise affected.
It will be of great help to you if you can stop seeing yourself as a victim. You can only be victimized if you allow it. Up til now, maybe you didn't know this. Now you do. Take charge of yourself. Ask God to help you, and he will. You are stronger than you think you are, and you are equal to this.
Remember—forgiveness is for YOU, not them. Do it for yourself. Pray for the offender, leave them with God, but know that by forgiving them, you are raising YOURSELF up to where you ought to be—where God wants you to be.