Forgiveness is a huge stumbling block for so many, but we all are called upon to forgive in our lives. Some things are minor and easy to forgive...other things are so egregious, that it is only through God’s grace and strength that we are able to forgive. If we choose to live with unforgiveness, it can impact us emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually.
Here are a few facts about forgiveness.
FACTS ABOUT FORGIVENESS
1. Forgiveness is not easy...saying the words, “I forgive” is easy, but to truly forgive takes prayer and faith and continual giving it over to God. When you can think on the wrong doing and not have it bother you any longer then you know that you have truly forgiven.
2. God commands us to forgive. It's not optional. He is our example and if He can ask His heavenly Father to forgive those who nailed Him to a cross, we can learn to forgive with His help. There is absolutely nothing that is impossible to forgive with God's help. With really traumatic events, we must work through pain and the grief as well. We may also have a new normal that must be adapted to if life changes are a consequence to what's happened. Forgiving is not sweeping something under the rug and pretending it didn't happen. That will only come back to haunt you later.
3. Forgiveness, does not mean you are excusing, or condoning bad behavior.
4. Forgiveness is for you. It's not for the person that wronged you. It is to set you free. It is so you are not held prisoner paying the price for someone else's wrong doing.
Forgiving is for you and you alone. Often the person who has hurt you, feels nothing...no shame, guilt or remorse. The wrong doer, may even have forgotten the event, but we can stay trapped in bitterness, anger and unforgiveness for years. For many, they find they are imprisoned by unforgiveness, anger and bitterness, while the other person is absolutely oblivious to our pain. Unforgiveness rarely harms the other person. Usually, we are the only victim of our unforgiveness.
5. Forgiveness is between you and God. You do not have to go to the other person. Forgiveness is you handing over the wrongdoing and the person who did it and saying "Lord, I give this to you so you can deal with it. It is between you and them now, so I can be free."
6. Forgiveness does not mean that you "forget" the wrong that was done to you. Forgiveness is like cleaning out a wound. If you don't clean out a wound, it festers, hurts and it doesn't heal properly. Once it is cleaned out, it can heal. Once healed, you will always have the scar but it hurt anymore...scars can be a reminder of God's healing.
7. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. Forgiveness and trust are two different things. Some people are unrepentant. They may not feel like they have done anything wrong. Perhaps, they may be sorry for the moment, but you know that the bad behavior will continue for whatever reason. God does not call us to be in abusive relationships. He does not call us to be doormats, or to remain in relationships that are toxic or unhealthy. We are allowed as Christians to set appropriate boundaries for ourselves to protect ourselves and our families. To have boundaries that include distancing yourself from someone, does not mean that we hate that person, or that we have not forgiven them, We should always pray for that person though.
LEARNING HOW TO FORGIVE
So, how do you learn to forgive? First you pray about it… but depending on how deep the wound is and how long you have nursed that wound, it may take constantly praying and giving it back over to the Lord for quite awhile. Sometimes the sense of forgiving and letting go is instantaneous, but more often times than not, it is a conscious act of the will to repeatedly ask God to help you let go of the negative feelings. Each person and situation is unique.
A tangible and practical thing I suggest to do is an exercise that can be really healing and cathartic...writing a letter to the person/persons you need to forgive... pick a time when you have lots of time…a time when you are alone and not rushed and then write down for each person that you need to forgive, everything that they have done that has bothered you. Write down all the things that come to mind that you never had the chance to say, or couldn’t say. Write down how things made you feel. Get everything out that you’ve thought and felt and carried inside. After each offense, write the phrase, “I let this go, so I can be free”. Perhaps the person you need to forgive is dead... it doesn't matter if they are alive or dead or if you see them or don't see them. Just release everything on paper. You are NOT going to mail this to them, give it to them, read it to them or pass it around to others. This is for you only.
Many people think they will feel better if someone apologizes. Many people think if they can just make someone understand how they've been hurt, then a light bulb will go off in the person’s head and they will apologize. That may happen occasionally, but more often than not, the wrong doer turns around and piles guilt on the victim and takes no responsibility. The victim ends up feeling even more pain and anger and ends up being victimized all over again. That is why you don't need to hear the words "I'm sorry, please forgive me" from someone to be able to forgive. Forgiveness is truly between you and God and it’s for your benefit. As you write your letter, you may cry…you may cry harder than you’ve ever cried if there is a lot that is pent up inside of you…that’s okay…you’ll find the tears are cleansing in this case. After you have written the letter, then you shred it or burn it. You don't save it so you can re-read it at a later date. You are letting these things go so you can be free.
Now, your mind might continue to go back to the wrongs, hurts or anger even after you do this. But this is where you have to train your mind. The enemy would love to take you back to that place and let you feel that you are not set free. Memorize the verse Philippians 4:8-9 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you… When you find yourself starting to go back to those familiar thoughts and feelings, automatically remember this verse and think on God's word. Think on things like, "Whom the Son sets free, is free indeed". Think of something pleasant and peaceful. Just don't let your mind go back there to that place and stay there. Continually ask the Lord to heal you and to help you let go. To just say you are not going to think those thoughts won't do it. You have to replace the negative thoughts with a good, positive thought. The more you do this, like exercising a muscle, it will take less and less time to make the thoughts go away and eventually it will rarely come into your mind.
Here is a prayer for those who are struggling to forgive...
Dear Heavenly Father,
I come to you and ask for your help. I know that I am to forgive others as you have forgiven me, but I find it so hard to do Lord. My mind and heart are full of anger for the things that have been said and done. At times it seems as though the ones that inflict pain and wounds are unrepentant...that they escape judgment. I am angry for what they have taken from me and for the pain they have caused me.
Lord, please help me to see with your eyes. Help me to remember that forgiveness is for me and not for them. Help me to remember that my forgiveness does not depend on them apologizing or repenting...help me to remember that forgiveness is between me and you. Lord, I am releasing my pain and my hurt and my anger to you and I am asking for your help in forgiving them so I can be set free.
I want to forgive and leave this heavy weight at your feet so I can be set free. Lord, their sin and their wrong doing, I leave in your hands for You to deal with it. I no longer want to be held hostage in a prison of anger and bitterness and sadness for what has been done by someone else. I no longer want to serve the sentence for what someone else has done wrong.
Lord, release me from this bondage and free my heart. I want to forgive Lord, as you have forgiven me. You died not only to set me free from my sins, but to set me free from all the things that hold me hostage and keep me from being who you want me to be. Help me to live in the peace and freedom that you offer.
Lord, from this day forward, I want to be healed from all these negative feelings. Thank you for helping me...what I can't do..what I don't have the strength to do on my own power, I know I am able to do through Jesus.
Thank you for helping me to move forward today. Help my mind turn to you when the old feelings and thoughts start to enter my mind. Bind the enemy so he can't bring up the past. Clean the wounds of my heart so I can finally heal and be at peace. Thank you Lord. In the name of Jesus I ask all of these things. Amen
BIBLE VERSES ON FORGIVENESS
Here is a great video by Corrie Ten Boom on how to forgive. For those that don't know, Corrie and her family were Christians who were put in concentration camps for helping Jews during the war. She lost several family members in the camps and she was spared through a miracle of divine intervention. She had a lot to forgive. This is a very powerful message.
Click on the photo below to see a gallery of forgiveness quotes. If you can't read the whole quote, right click on the picture and select to open it up in another tab.
Many people struggle with forgiving themselves even after they have confessed their sin and repented of wrong doing. God convicts of our sin so we can repent and be set free...the enemy condemns us with our sin and our past and tries to hold us hostage and trapped in a prison of self- loathing and guilt. To not forgive ourselves even after we have confessed and repented, is to hold ourselves to a higher standard of forgiveness than God does...it is like calling God a liar by not taking him at His word that His forgiveness IS enough and sets us free....it's like saying that what Christ did on the cross was not good enough.
We all have things we would like to change...things that we regret... even things that have happened that were not sin, but were an accident ... but to live in the unchangeable past does not allow God to move you forward into the fullness of all He has called you to. God does not want us to live in the past and God in His goodness uses everything in the life of a believer for our good and His glory...He redeems everything that the enemy meant for our harm...but God can't heal us and help us if we refuse to allow Him to. We need to cast off the chains that the enemy places on us by not forgiving either ourselves or others. Think of all the many examples of people in the Bible who blew it and were forgiven and were still used by God...Moses killed a man, David took another man's wife and then killed her husband, Peter denied the Lord three times, Paul condemned and killed Christians before his conversion... God's forgiveness is complete and transforming and full of His amazing grace and mercy. Our past does not have to be our prison. God can turn your mess into a message that will help others...God is not limited in what He can do in and through your life because of your past or your mistakes. He will redeem everything and waste nothing.
You can use the letter writing exercise that I shared above with yourself if you are stuck and unable to forgive yourself. Write down all the things that you regret, feel guilty over, and can't let go of and after each thing write the words, "I let this go so I can be free, thank you Lord, for forgiving me." Then shred it or burn it to symbolize that those things are done and gone from your life and then walk in the freedom that Christ died to give you.