How not to forgive someone

I have two usual methods I use to try to forgive people. Method 1: “Well, I guess I kind of do the same thing myself, so I can’t be too mad at them.” Method 2: “Well, it really wasn’t that bad, what they did to me.”

Well, neither of these methods actually works. With the first method, I sometimes do not have enough imagination to convince myself that I commit the same wrongs as my perpetrator. And even if I can convince myself, I don’t necessarily manage to forgive myself for those wrongs. With the second method, sometimes it really was that bad, and trying to sugarcoat it is dishonest and unhelpful.

Stuck as I was in this methodological cul-de-sac, I finally learned how you forgive someone by listening to a fellow Bible study member, whom I’ll call Alina, describe a dream she had. She had been involved in a church ministry with another parishioner who ended up taking control of the work and discrediting Alina in some way. So Alina was carried a lot of bitterness against this woman and struggle to forgive her.

One night, Alina dreamed that she was at church during communion. “Except this time, I was on the other side of the altar rail, serving everyone as they came up,” she told us. “Then the woman came up to receive communion.” Alina paused. “The face was glowing,” she said. “It was as if I was seeing her as God saw her.”

Yes. If–by the power of the Holy Spirit–we can step back from our bias against those who wrong us, if we can wriggle free from our fury against them for a moment, perhaps God will give us a glimpse of the “everlasting splendors” that they are, as C.S. Lewis says. Perhaps we will realize that it’s not as if their sins against us don’t matter, but what matters more is that they are bearers of the divine image. Because of this, they are worthy of His love and forgiveness, just as they are worthy of ours.

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