If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that the reason we have difficulty forgiving others is because we sincerely believe we are justified in our withholding forgiveness. We become the judge of the offenders and by harboring bitterness and resentment against them; it is our distorted way of meting out punishment. After all, our wounds are deep and our heart severely punctured.
At the core of our unwillingness to forgive of course, is our own selfishness-the "me" factor. We are deeply focused on what was done to "me." We refuse to let ourselves heal and we therefore become prisoners of the self, forever pacing the narrow cell of animosity and self-pity. Some folks have sentenced themselves for life and they are still dismally serving their time.
Scripture is clear in its warning to not usurp God's responsibility. It is not our job to "get even." As Paul wrote to the Romans, "Do not take revenge my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord'" (Romans 12:19). We must surrender the idea that we need to punish those who have hurt us. God has His own timetable and His own way and we have to relinquish the desire to even "get them told."
For our own emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being, forgiveness is central. Nothing I can say would exaggerate its importance.
Every human being possesses the capacity to forgive though, granted, it may not be easy. It may not be easy to forgive because it requires an acute awareness of our own need to been forgiven.
Forgiveness has two sides that are forever linked together: the forgiveness we need from God and the forgiveness we owe to other human beings. Until you forgive others, you are not able to receive forgiveness from God. You cannot receive forgiveness because by your unwillingness to forgive, you have blocked the entrance to your heart barring God from entering. God will not force His way through. But, in recognizing and understanding our own need to be forgiven, we are released from the pride that binds and enabled through God's power to forgive others.
Rev. Saundra L. Washington, D.D., is an ordained clergywoman, social worker, and Founder of AMEN Ministries. http://www.clergyservices4u.org. She is also the author of two coffee table books: Room Beneath the Snow: Poems that Preach and Negative Disturbances: Homilies that Teach. Her new book, Out of Deep Waters: My Grief Management Workbook, will be available soon.