Forgiveness: What It Is. What It Isn't.

I used to think that forgiveness took place like the ending of a Full House episode; that those who hurt you would humbly arrive with soft acoustic music and a heartfelt apology. Then after a corny joke and a hug you both feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

But reality has a way of teaching you that forgiveness and closure don’t exactly happen like a wholesome family sitcom. Instead it is a tug-of-war between you and whatever experience led you to the grudge in your heart.

My dad once said that, “Forgiveness is giving up your right to retaliate.”

And yes that includes ceasing to throw shade or post subliminal memes on Instagram.

I once believed that I was in the clear considering I was never the aggressive confrontational type to begin with. At the bare minimum, I can be kinda petty. Like the time my sister Jessie left me a measly portion of the dinner she cooked; so I decided to not eat it at all, just to ”make a statement.”

I came to realize that although my hurt wasn’t manifested in blatant retaliation, it was still festering beneath the surface. And when it didn’t manifest itself in the form of internal anger, it still produced a seemingly hopeless desire for that Full House ending.

On the outside I would often play it cool. Letting others believe that everything was all good ’n’ gravy when in actuality my teeth were gripped into a grudge like a pit bull on a chew toy.

The challenge especially hit hard when I faced the reality of having to forgive someone who never graced me with the words, “I’m sorry.” Unfortunately, I found that in many cases an apology may never come. I wrestled with how could I gain closure and move on without as little as an explanation.

Being a Christian, I wondered how God could forgive so easily. If I couldn’t see past what they had done, how do I begin to forgive others of their trespasses? There are countless sayings about being the bigger person, but when we are hurt, we sometimes feel comfortable with playing the victim.

An epiphany later came to me that similar to faith, if forgiveness wasn’t so crucial to our emotional and spiritual being, it wouldn’t come without some level of difficulty. As the saying goes, nothing worth having comes easy. And forgiveness is a crucial fight for your peace of mind, spirit, and body.

Understand it this way: Forgiveness is not like the tango. It does not require two people. Whoever hurt or betrayed you does not hold the keys to your freedom from hurt. That power lies with you. You do not wait on their permission to move forward.

It isn’t fair for you to ruminate on the actions of another. It isn’t fair for you to carry this burden.

Joyce Meyer once wrote, “You will never forgive if you wait until you feel like it.” Though a matter of the heart, forgiveness is still a decision. And like most important decisions, it cannot be made solely with emotions. Sometimes it starts with a five-word declaration: I choose to forgive [insert name here].

It is no longer like when we were children, when our parents would force apologies out of us.

“Don’t you owe your sister an apology?” My parents would ask, though it was really a demand.

“Sorry…” I’d reply with my head hanging low.

“Sorry for what?” they would finally ask.

And then I’d have to list my wrongdoings while ultimately realizing, "Yeah I messed up."

There is something particularly empowering and freeing about saying, “I forgive you” and meaning it. It isn’t condoning their behavior or letting it slide. And it definitely isn’t an automatic resume button on a previous relationship. In forgiveness there is a reevaluation of your feelings, but also of the place they once held in your life.

Perhaps the toughest lesson I had to learn was that things don’t always go back to normal. As BB King put it, sometimes “the thrill is gone.” When you accept an apology, you may also have to grow to accept that what was is no more. But most importantly, you become the victor in a situation that once considered you a victim.

In my journey thus far, I’ve become proud of this heart of mine. Because even after all it’s been through, it still learns to love better, trust smarter, and forgive even quicker.

—Tara Pook