Dear 100 Hour Board,
We talk about forgiveness all the time in the church, but now that I'm faced with trying to forgive someone I feel like I understand it less than I thought. What does forgiveness even look like? How do you know when you've forgiven someone, especially when you're still hurting from what they have done to you?
First of all, I don't believe that you need to no longer be hurting in order to be able to forgive someone. I see forgiveness as part of the healing process, which implies forgiveness precedes a cessation of hurting.
When we learn about forgiveness in church, it is often portrayed as very cut and dry: someone does something bad to us, and then we should pray about it and forgive them. While the basics of this is true, it doesn't really go into the length of time such forgiveness takes, and the vacillations we undergo while trying to forgive. I think it's a natural part of forgiveness to go through periods where you feel like you've completely forgiven the other person, to still feeling like you haven't. And that's okay. The point is to keep on trying.
To me, forgiveness looks like a repeated concerted effort. Don't beat yourself up for not being perfect yet, and take heart in the fact that you haven't quit (which is obvious by your question).
I think forgiveness always means letting go of anger and desire for revenge against another person. Beyond that, I think a lot of other factors influence what the relationship looks like after a major offense has occurred. In some instances, it may be best to distance yourself from someone and move on with your life away from them. In other instances, it may be that forgiveness leads to increased closeness. Among other things, the nature of the relationship (e.g. spouse or stranger), degree of trust broken by the offense, and the desires and subsequent behavior of the involved individuals all play a role in the outcome.
I don't think we always get to know if we have really forgiven someone. It's an uncertain thing to know whether we are really no longer harboring angry feelings towards someone else. I think what matters most in matters of forgiveness is that we are trying and asking for grace to help us.