Forgiveness is central to Jesus' teaching, yet it is not always easy to do. The human tendency, even for Christians, is to desire to see those who have wronged us punished in some way.
However, the Bible commands us to forgive those who offend us, to love our enemies and to love our neighbor as ourselves. So how do we extend forgiveness when we really don't feel like it, when our emotions are seething and crying out for vindictiveness?
Focus on the Family president Jim Daly offers helpful counsel in his blog, "How to Forgive When You Really Don't Want to."
"The call to forgive others lies at the heart of the Christian message," Daly wrote. "But that doesn't make it easy."
He added that the human heart is "wired for justice," meaning when someone does something wrong to us, "the hurt we feel is a cry for wrongs to be made right again."
When this condition is not met, we somehow feel that the offending person or persons should suffer, because seeing them suffer would make us "feel that the debt has been satisfied."
"At least, we tell ourselves this is true," Daly wrote.
He said many people find it hard to forgive because of a wrong understanding that to forgive is to excuse what the other person has done. Some people also wrongly believe that to forgive means to dismiss the offense and to simply accept the wrong that was done to us.
However, these beliefs are not true, according to Daly.
"We misinterpret forgiveness to mean that what someone did to us is okay," he wrote.
He explained that true forgiveness does not "water down" what the offending person has done. In fact, it's the opposite. Forgiveness requires that we acknowledge the wrong that was done to us.
"Forgiveness never excuses the wrongs against us or waters down the awful nature of an offense. Forgiveness doesn't pretend that something didn't happen," he wrote.
"Forgiveness acknowledges the ugliness of the sin against us, no matter how dark, then sets us free, not the other person," Daly said.
In the process of forgiveness, we find our healing, and we find the freedom to live a life of peace.
"Forgiveness releases our heart, heals our pain, and allows us to move forward through life in peace," he said. "It's a beautiful experience when we surrender to it."
He also said that, sometimes, forgiveness is not a one-time thing but a process.
"We forgive to the degree that we're able at the time. Then as we move forward with God, our healing allows us to forgive a little more," he wrote. "Through forgiveness, we heal, which in turn leads to deeper healing and deeper forgiveness."
Daly gave a reminder that God doesn't let us go through the process of forgiveness alone; He walks with us through it. In every painful experience, God is with us. And in the process of forgiving and letting go, He is with us still.
However, forgiveness can still be difficult if we refuse to trust God with our pain. Daly gave Jonah the prophet as an example. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh because of the evil things they did. He didn't want God to forgive them and give them another chance. He wanted justice his way, not God's way, Daly said.
"We're all capable of acting like Jonah, which is why forgiveness starts by trusting God with our pain. There is a lot God can do through our wounds," he said.
He cited Joseph's response to his brothers, who sold him to slavery, when he saw them in Egypt after many years: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Genesis 50:20).
"God can use our pain. He may have lessons for us to learn or important life skills for us to develop," Daly said. "He may even be positioning and strenghthening us for something greater in life."
"But even when there's no obvious practical outworking that we can see, I believe we can still trust God not to waste our pain."