Let Go: The Essence of Forgiveness

QUESTION

What is the essence of forgiveness? If I don’t forgive, will I ‘lose my salvation’?

RESPONSE

The word ‘forgive’ literally means ‘let go.’
If someone has offended me or sinned against me in some way:

1. Forgiving is NOT saying, I’m okay – I might still be suffering.

2. Forgiving is NOT saying, you’re okay – they might still need to change.

3. Forgiving is NOT saying, it’s okay – the wrong was still wrong.

4. Forgiving is NOT saying, we’re okay – we might not yet have enough trust to reconcile.

Forgiveness is letting go. What does that look like?

For me, it means I picture taking those who’ve offended me or harmed me to Jesus and leaving them with him. I may still feel very upset and I may struggle to let go. But whenever they come to mind, I quickly gently hand them to Jesus and move on with my day. Often, I just pray, “Lord, have mercy on them.” In other words, would you please bless them with the same mercy you’ve shown me?

If I don’t, will I ‘lose my salvation’? No. It just means I’ll be carrying them around with me and that will affect my joy and peace. Every time, I feel the weight of that burden, I must let them go and leave them with him again, seventy times seven times if necessary … “Lord, have mercy.”

This process of letting go seems easier when we think of those we may have offended or hurt and the many times we’ve needed to be forgiven. Christ has ‘let go’ of our many offenses ‘once and for all’ at the cross that it seems ludicrous to cling to the offenses of others. To forgive is to let go and be free.

So Jesus’ words, “If you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven” need not be read as a threat that he’ll retract his “Father, forgive them” if we have trouble letting go. Rather, he’s describing our struggle … that when we don’t let go of someone else, we don’t let ourselves go from them. If you don’t release that burden, you’ll continue to bear it. Jesus is showing us that such a predicament chews into the joy and freedom he’s freely given us. So let go!

Now here is the really important part. Of all the people we most need to leave with Jesus, guess who is most important. It’s you. Many find the hardest person to forgive is themselves. Instead of taking ourselves to Jesus and leaving ourselves in his care, what do we do? We often obsess over the many ways in which we fail or sin or whatever, and instead of letting go, we try to repent our way to freedom. But what does repent mean except to turn to the kindness and love of God and leave our lives and our sins and our fears, etc. in his care?

So today, we let everyone who has hurt us—especially ourselves—go to Jesus and we pray, “Lord, thank you for mercy. It never fails. I receive it again.”  I take myself there, with all my failings and sins, and I offer myself to Jesus … I let go. Instead of making this some exercise in self-loathing or entangling myself in a huge battle with resentment, I can very lightly open my hands … and that’s it. Now with open hands that let go, I now also have open hands to receive God’s love.

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Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More