Along the road of life, forgiveness is a hard journey to traverse.
Forgiving others — and yourself — is a process that pastors and experts say will set your heart free in your personal life and relationships. But still, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.
Whether it’s forgiving a family member, a spouse or even forgiving yourself, the process takes time and constant work, said the Rev. Richard Sego from Airline Baptist Church.
“You can’t make this about emotions because emotions are fickle and they are up and down and all over the place,” said the church’s new pastor. “If forgiving is forgetting, then none of us have ever forgiven because these minds that God has given us are like computers and they hold on to things. I think you choose to forgive in spite of what you know.”
Which is what Melinda Allen had to do when she made a choice to forgive her father; he abandoned her family when she was 12.
“I have forgiven him and I will move on,” Allen wrote in an e-mail to The Times. “But it takes two to move forward. I feel better personally and have lifted a huge burden off of my chest.”
Over the years, Allen dealt with issues of her father not paying child support or helping the family financially and then he found out she was gay.
“When my father learned that I am gay, he told me I was no longer welcomed in his home,” she said. “We rarely spoke for 23 years. This past Father’s Day I stopped at his house, spoke with him briefly, hugged his neck and gave him a Father’s Day card with a note to call and we could do lunch one day. He never called.”
She wanted to reach out, she said, because of his age.
“My father is aging, close to 73 years old now. I wanted to make peace with him, unfortunately, he does not desire the same.”
After The Times put out a call on Facebook looking for North Georgians who had forgiven someone, another reader wrote how, after a 30-year absence, he and his brother were able to forgive their father for walking out on their family to travel the world.
Now elderly and ill and living with one of the brothers, he said he’s glad they were able to look past their grievances and restart the relationship.
“We have forgiven him and gladly care for him,” wrote the Times reader, who did not want to be identified. “Dad’s personality makes it easy, but my brother and I have found that God’s example and inspiration provide the power to hold our tongues and love our father.”
Sego cited two verses from the Bible as an example of how often we are told to forgive:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV)
Every day, Sego added, you must choose that you will forgive.
“I don’t know that there’s a formula; I don’t think you can do A, B and C and it’s done and you go on with your life and forget about it,” he said. “It’s a little more complex than that. I think one of the best things you can do is take a trip back to the cross and you are reminded that everything that you need to do for this person had already been done for you through Christ.
“We are never more like Jesus than when we are forgiving.”
Cynthia Green, the founder of the Gainesville chapter of Adult Children of Alcoholics, said forgiveness has to start with you. And you have to remember that you may never get the recognition from the other party.
“We do have a choice to let that go; it’s just holding us captive,” Green said. “I think that getting freedom, serenity and peace inside and basically getting to a balanced place is realizing that people are human and people make mistakes.
Whether they acknowledge the mistake to you or not, it’s our decision — it’s a choice we make.”
It’s also important to keep that person’s mistake from festering inside you, creating resentment. At that point, it becomes a contest of wills that nobody wins.
“People hold on to the resentment for such a long time and becoming so bitter and waiting for that person to come to them and say they are sorry,” she said. “A lot of times people die before they say they are sorry.”
Adult Children of Alcoholics is a spiritual-based, 12-step program that is a peer-to-peer led group. Green has been a part of the group for years and she added that the kind of hurt or betrayal also is a factor in forgiveness.
“It depends upon what exactly you are forgiving,” she said. “If it’s somebody that maybe told you a lie one time, we aren’t talking about significant trauma or anything. But if you are talking about trauma, indeed — whether it’s a soldier that goes off to war and feels betrayed by his country and feels betrayed by his family when he gets back because nobody understands him, or a child that has been abused or a child that grew up in an alcoholic home — those are long-term traumas that took a while to do a lot of damage inside.”
The first step in the forgiveness journey is awareness. Then, the forgiveness process will follow.
“Awareness is the first step, which means you have to be aware that basically that we are all human and we all make mistakes. It doesn’t matter how small or how large the mistake,” Green said. “Once you realize you are on equal footing and everybody makes mistakes, then you can begin to process the hurt that is involved.
“Once someone hurts you, it is your responsibility to make a decision whether to continue to perpetuate that hurt by holding on to the resentment.”