How do you forgive someone who hurt and betrayed you? Should you even try, especially when they refuse to apologize or even acknowledge that they did anything wrong.
Many years ago, a friend had made a comment reveling in my husband’s failure at something he had tried. It was a careless comment, but it stung, and I decided that I would sever my relationship with that friend. Shortly afterward, I was relating the comment to another friend, and told her how much it hurt, and that I was determined to never speak to this friend again. With love and firmness my friend said, “You know you have to forgive her, right?”
Ouch. When I consider all the careless and hurtful things I’ve said in my lifetime, and realize that God has forgiven me for that and so much more, it seems silly to think that I was so determined to hold a grudge. Forgiveness isn’t optional if you’re walking with the Lord. Forgiving my friend freed me from the hurt and anger, and allowed me to retain that valuable friendship. That situation, and my friend’s gentle admonishment, taught me a lot about forgiveness. Not because she gave me a big lecture about what it means to forgive, but because I experienced the freedom that forgiveness affords. I experienced the release of hurt and bitterness that I had allowed to take hold of my heart over a simple comment, and that’s when I began to understand just how much power the forgiver holds when they can learn to truly forgive those who have hurt them.
A while back I was in a facebook group for victims of narcissistic abuse, and a question was asked about healing– how do you heal and move on? My response said something to the effect that I had to learn to forgive my abuser before I could truly heal. Not because they needed to be forgiven, or because they had asked, or because they deserved it, but because forgiving them released me from anger and bitterness. Once I forgave, I could pray for them. Once I forgave, I could laugh at their bitter attempts at continuing to belittle and control me. Once I forgave, I was free.
You see, my abuser doesn’t forgive anyone for anything ever, unless there’s something in it for them. There have been lengthy seasons where they don’t speak to their mother, who is a generous and kind person, because she didn’t agree with something, or worse– told them what a jerk they were. You can count their friends on one hand, because it doesn’t take much to piss them off, and then you’re out of their inner circle.
I would often marvel that they spoke to me at all, even when our lives were still connected, because I seemed to piss them off at every turn. But now I realize I was their supply, their constant source of support and admiration, the one person who would lift them up and encourage them even as they simultaneously beat me down and discouraged me from ever being anything but their supply.
The thing I’m learning about forgiveness, is that it’s a never-ending journey. You can’t expect to forgive your abuser once, and check the item off of your healing to-do list. You might have to re-forgive if your kids start bringing back reports about how much nicer daddy is to his new girlfriend than he was to you. Or see your mother getting a pedicure with her new step-daughter, when she never made time to spend with you. Watching your abuser groom their new supply may be more painful than you expected, and may require new efforts to forgive them as the old hurts resurface. But you have to recognize it.
If you find yourself stewing over things you’re hearing about your abuser– maybe they took their new girlfriend on the tropical vacation they had always promised to take you on, maybe she’s been dating and hooking up with guys left and right, and you wonder if she was ever really invested in your relationship if she was able to move on so quickly. Old hurts will resurface, and need to be dealt with. That means you need to recognize the hurt for what it is– and not ignore it. This is what I found myself doing. I knew I had forgiven my abuser, and I thought that was it. But there are moments where they hurt resurfaces and I have to forgive them for new hurts that arise in the aftermath of trying to co-parent, and old hurts that slowly began to resurface.
This is the part of forgiveness that I hadn’t expected– the maintenance, if you will. Your long-term peace of mind, your calmness of heart, hinges on your ability to forgive your abuser for the years of physical, mental, and emotional abuse, over and over again. Not because they ever asked for forgiveness, and certainly not because they deserve it. But because you deserve peace.
Cheering for YOU!