I used to think that forgiveness was linear. You work at forgiving someone, and either through a confrontation or just the passing of time, you reach forgiveness and move on. But it doesn’t work like that. That’s the same thinking as “once saved, always saved” or believing that completing rehab means a person will never touch drugs again.
There was a person who hurt me a few years ago. It took me months to work through the pain. Sometimes, the healing process revealed that I had been hurt much deeper than I initially thought, and the hatred and bitterness would explode again. Just a few months ago, I reached forgiveness. I was able to let go my anger, and the hurt went to. I was able to wish him the best and see him as him, rather than as that-expletive-who-did-this-and-that-to-me.
But the bitterness resurfaced. In recent conversations that mentioned that part of my life, I found myself saying things about him that could only come from a bitter place. Once I realized this, I thought, “I thought I had forgiven him. I guess not.” But the truth is I had. I had reached that point of forgiveness. I had felt freed of the hurt and anger. I had been able to see the person, not the person-who-hurt-me. I did forgive him, and now I have to forgive him again, not because he transgressed again, but because my mercy is weak.
Every encounter with or about him is a choice for me to continue to forgive or not. Forgiveness is not a threshold; it is a state of being. Just like love, or hate for that matter. Some days, the forgiveness will come easily. Some days, I’ll not even have to remember to forgive; I’ll be beyond that. But some days, the hurt will rise up, and part of me will want revenge or pity or anger. Those days won’t mean that my days of forgiveness weren’t genuine. It just means I have days that I still need to work on.
There are days when I feel close to God. There are days I don’t. There are days where I get distracted and don’t think much about God at all. (I would guess that my days of forgiveness and days of feeling close to God probably align.) Forgiveness, like salvation, isn’t linear or consistent. It’s messy and unpredictable and difficult. But it’s worth the effort.