There certainly is more to forgiveness than saying the magic words, “I’m sorry” and “You’re forgiven.” At no time in our lives are we challenged to be more Christ-like with one another than when we’re called upon to forgive. Forgiveness is where the Christian faith gets practical. We do more than just talk about the way God’s grace has changed our lives. We have the opportunity to put God’s grace into practice, to love other people the way that God loves us.
True forgiveness is never easy. If you find that it comes too easily for you, I wonder if you’ve really forgiven at all. When forgiveness comes easily, it most likely means one of two things: either the person didn’t really hurt you that much to begin with, or you have gone through the motions of forgiveness, but haven’t really forgiven from your heart.
If you bump into someone in the elevator and say, “Excuse me” and they reply, “That’s OK”, is that forgiveness? Hardly. Forgiveness isn’t necessary for the petty things people do to us; it’s reserved for the really big stuff. It isn’t necessary unless someone has really hurt you. The more deeply another has hurt you, the harder it is to forgive them, and the more you need to forgive them. (For your own sake as much as theirs; carrying around anger and hate isn't healthy.)
Jesus taught that true forgiveness comes from the heart (Matthew 18:35). Whenever I hear people express their forgiveness too quickly I assume they are going through the motions of forgiveness without truly forgiving from the heart. They are saying the words, “I forgive you” because as a Christian that’s what they’ve been taught they should say. But when you’ve been deeply hurt in your heart, you have to forgive from your heart, and that is more than words. It doesn’t happen within 60 seconds or less. For some of us, it takes a lifetime.
When you forgive, you recognize that another person has hurt you. You don’t make excuses for their behavior. No matter what the reason may be, they have caused you pain. You have every reason to be angry with that person. You may even have every reason to hate her or him. But you choose to love instead. That’s forgiveness.