It’s easy to have the mindset that if we withhold forgiveness, we are in control and somehow getting back at the person who hurt us. We think, if I forgive them, it lets them off the hook. But holding onto unforgiveness not only allows the offender to vicariously continue to hurt you, studies show it can also make you unwell. When you forgive, you release yourself from the bondage of bitterness. Forgiving not only frees you from hanging onto the offense, it frees you from the offender, and makes room for full spiritual, emotional, and even physical healing.
You may not feel like forgiving. You may even feel it’s impossible. You may feel you haven’t the ability or strength to do it. The truth is, we often don’t. But that’s okay. It can be done with the help of God’s love, and can show undeserved mercy and love to another – no matter the severity of the offense. Since we rarely “feel” up to forgiving, the act of forgiving is often a determined act of willful obedience. Jesus said:
I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 5:44
When we forgive we are close to the heart of God. The verse above says it this way: “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Sons and daughters have characteristics that resemble their parents. By forgiving, we closely resemble our Father in heaven. He is the author of forgiveness. He forgave us. He gave His Son for us and for all the wrong we would ever commit or inflict upon others. Jesus’ very last words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34. If you think you can’t forgive, ask God for help. He can give you the strength to do what He has asked you to do.
Forgiving others should not be dependant on receiving an apology. Choose to forgive even if the offender never says sorry, makes amends, or admits any wrongdoing. The ball is always in your court when it comes to forgiveness. Right after Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, He offers this hard-to-swallow truth:
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your tresspasses. ~ Matthew 6:15
Be quick to forgive. Keep short accounts, Don’t let yourself percolate and form a case against someone. This is how strongholds of unforgiveness are formed. Instead, forgive as soon as you possibly can, then resist those thought patterns that are determined to regurgitate past offenses to add fuel to the fire. This is critical to maintain freedom from bitterness.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you forget what they did. God gave you a brain and a memory. Depending on the degree of the offense and its impact on you, you may or may not forget. But by forgiving, the offense and the offender will cease to have a hold on you. Instead of pressing the repeat button and continuously replaying the offense over in your mind, or repeatedly telling others, you can begin to heal.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean repeatedly putting yourself in harm’s way. There may come a time when you forgive but need to distance yourself from repeated exposure to toxic people. By God’s wisdom, you will be able to discern if you need to remove yourself from a relationship for a time, especially if your health and safety are at stake. Forgiving doesn’t mean allowing continued mistreatment or abuse.
Be honest with yourself. Dig deep. If you feel a “ping” when you hear a person’s name or prefer not to be in the same room with a certain individual, that’s a sure sign that there is some unfinished business in the forgiveness arena.
If you’re not sure you’ve fully forgiven, try this:
“bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” ~ Luke 6:28
When you come to a place of being able to bless and wish well for the one who hurt you, you can be certain the chains of bitterness no longer bind you. Blessing acts as a litmus test to know forgiveness is complete.
Forgiveness is hard. It is an act of bravery. It takes a determined effort of will. No one can do it for you, but God can help you do it. Don’t underestimate the power of forgiveness or the freedom that comes as a result. It frees others and frees you.
Forgiving is a loving act, a disciplined act, and life-giving act.
May you have renewed courage today to begin to forgive.
- Make a list of those you know you need to forgive
- Ask God for help in forgiving each one. Tell Him you are sorry for taking offense, then one by one, forgive them.
- When you are done, or in the days ahead, pray for them and try to bless them (wish well for them).