PREVIEW: CHAPTER 2
The Top Ten Myths of Forgiveness
“The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable.”
—James A. Garfield
Among the many challenges my parents had with our large family was feeding this army on my dad’s modest salary. My mother could have written a bestselling cookbook, 101 Ways to Prepare Bologna. She had to be very creative, but she also had to use cheap substitutes to save money. I was content with instant mashed potatoes. Ice milk was much cheaper than ice cream, and I was happy with the cheap substitute. These knockoffs were all I knew as a kid.
But then one day I ate real mashed potatoes. And then I tried Häagen-Dazs ice cream. I was no longer content to eat the substitutes. Once you’ve tasted the real thing, there’s no going back to the cheap stuff.
The same is true with forgiveness. We try to resolve deep wounds with quick fixes and cheap substitutes rather than face the truth that can set us free. We do this by accepting myths, which are easier to believe and follow but keep us enslaved. I’ve worked with hundreds of people over the years, and I’ve noticed myths keep popping up in how they respond to the idea of forgiving, so let’s take a look at the top ten of them, in no particular order.
Myth 1: Forgiveness Is Not an Issue for Me
I’ve met many people who dismiss forgiveness as something they don’t need or they believe there is nothing new they can learn about such an old concept. At a recent forgiveness session I was leading, a man told me, “I hope your stuff about forgiveness will help some of the people in our church, but this is definitely not something I need.” Interestingly, his wife stood behind him and rolled her eyes in disbelief. He had fallen victim to the myth that states we don’t have this issue—either we think we’ve “forgiven” in the past or we simply don’t think we need to offer it, when that may not be true. In this case, his wife definitely knew he hadn’t forgiven other people. This myth keeps us stuck because we haven’t truly dealt with the deeper issues of what has happened to us.
Fortunately, after my session the man thanked me for sharing. He realized he had more than one person he was struggling to forgive. That’s what happens when we face the myth, see it for what it is, and work to resolve it. Just as that man realized the truth, he was able to open himself to his need to forgive, which set him free.
Part of the allure of this myth is that it brings with it a sense of complacency. Complacency keeps us content with the status quo. I like how Dictionary.com defines it: “a feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger.”1 How does a sports team of superior athletes lose to an underdog? How does a business that soars in the beginning become stagnant and eventually close up shop? How does a marriage that once thrived end in misery and divorce? Most of the time, the issue was not a lack of talent, skill, or resources. It is because we have become complacent. I see this all the time from people who are so convinced and confident they are living in total compliance regarding forgiveness that they never seriously consider if this may be an issue for them. Consequently, they can drift for years in emotional mediocrity and never experience life to its fullest because they consider forgiveness irrelevant to their lives.
We need to combat this myth with truth. And the truth is we may have thought we had forgiven because we once spoke the words, and yet we still find ourselves stuck. But just saying the words and not doing the hard work that comes with that will not set you free. I must confess that after I’d completed writing the first draft of this book, I realized there were two people I needed to seek out to ask for their forgiveness. Even we “experts” can fall for this myth.
So let me lovingly ask you: Have you truly worked through the difficult process of forgiveness? Is there someone you still need to forgive? Perhaps you’ve hurt someone and you need to seek their forgiveness. My friend, nothing can harden our hearts faster than unforgiveness. And what’s worse is we can feel justified to harden our hearts because of the way we’ve been hurt. As I shared earlier, may God give you an open mind and a soft heart as you walk this journey.
Myth 2: Forgiveness Is Only for the Benefit of the One Who Hurt Me
I’ve heard the old story about two former prisoners of war who stood silently at the great Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., when one asked, “Have you ever forgiven our captors who kept us in prison for so many years over there?”