I had an interesting conversation about forgiveness last week. There were three of us, and we offered many helpful definitions:
"Forgiveness is when you don't feel like you have to hit back." (Anne Lamott--she wasn't there, I just quoted her)
"Forgiveness is letting go--when your hands are holding the offense, you can't receive the gift, or anything else; you can't take God's hand to be led to a new place." (me)
"Forgiveness is giving up on trying to live a better past" -- David, another participant
Well, yes. Forgiveness is all these things. At the end of the conversation, we agreed that it's a process, not a one-time thing. Having studied languages, I'd say it's imperfect, not preterit tense: it isn't a once-for-all thing. You may have to forgive and re-forgive the same offense, the same hurt, the same person over and over, as you learn more about yourself and the situation and God.
What made this conversation so interesting is that it happened in the context of a "Wounded Healer" workshop/training I attended. The model is of family members of victims of violent crimes having mediation with the perpetrator of the crime: often the mother of a young adult who was murdered meets the murderer, years later. (More info at www.concentricjourneys.com; www.sanctuarytexas.org) What became clear to me as we "met" several people by videos is the power of reconciliation, the power of dialogue, the power of forgiveness. Lives were changed, those of the victims' families as well as the offenders. Life began again. The offense wasn't undone; amends were horribly inadequate, yet there was a new level of healing that simply was not possible before the dialogue.
I know we cannot always forgive. We cannot always move on, either. I don't think it's "required", even though the prayer says, "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us". But when it does happen, when it can happen, it is a holy moment, when we glimpse God's dream for us. Perhaps we ought to think of it as a goal, one of those "already but not yet" pieces of the faith, something we want to do, for God and for us, which God miraculously does when we cannot.
May your needs for forgiving and forgiveness be few, and may you know its power when you do need it.