Each of us have been hurt, betrayed, or abused by another at some point in time. This comes with being human, living among other humans, in a fallen world. Nevertheless, the manner in which we handle and respond to our hurts, betrayals, and abuses is vital. Our immediate emotion is anger. This is a natural response—especially if the wrong done was neither provoked or justified. However, to hold onto anger and the unwillingness to forgive is injurious to one’s own wellbeing.
“Why should I forgive him? He does not deserve forgiveness! I will never forgive him!” How often such words are spoken with gritted teeth. Yet, such words reveal great misunderstanding. Forgiveness is not about letting a person off the hook and acting as though the offense had never happened; rather, it is the freeing one’s own self from a self-imposed prison, and finding healing from an emotional cancer that will grow. As for not deserving, none of us deserves forgiveness, but each of us need it.
The emotional cancer resulting from an unwillingness to forgive can affect a person’s relationship with others—especially if the bitterness towards the unforgiven one is constantly vomited onto others. The refusal to forgive will also strangle inner joy. However, the most detrimental aspect of stubbornly refusing to forgive another is the way it affects one’s ability to hear and relate to God. Here, the pretense of religion can be very deceiving, because a person can believe he is in good standing with God, but completely oblivious to the warnings of the Scriptures.
But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~ Matthew 6:15 (ESV)
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” ~ Matthew 18:32-35
The apostle John writes:
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. ~ 1 John 3:15
So, as one can see, forgiveness has much to do with the wellbeing of the one who had been offended. But let’s be honest, many of us have permitted the emotional cancer of resentment to eat away at us. Some who are reading this probably still have not had it “treated.” If we would be healed, then we must be willing to forgive. This form of “chemo” is no easier than the physical kind.
So how does one begin to forgive?
- Be honest about the offense and the hurt, as well as the possibility of the perpetrator not being honest about the offense. Your healing is not for the perpetrator but for you. Be honest with God about your feelings, anger, hatred, disgust, shame, etc. Be honest with Him about the pain and turmoil you feel, and take the time to cry.
- Ask God for the courage, grace, and ability to extend forgiveness. This might need to be prayed several times. Yet, this process will help flush out some of the infection, so to speak. As you experience the anger, ill-will, etc., confess these. John writes, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Be open and willing to forgive, and leave any judgment in God’s hands. Allow yourself to heal and to move on.
- Try not to dwell on the offense. Living through it is quite enough; there is no need to keep reliving it in your mind.
- Repeat the steps as needed.
Forgiveness tends to feel counterintuitive, but it really is for the emotional and spiritual health of the forgiver. To refuse to forgive only permits the emotional cancer to grow and spread. Forgiveness and letting go is the only cure. It seems like a cruel irony: the refusal to forgive will not harm the person the grudge is held against, but will cripple and destroy the one holding the grudge. Your willingness to forgive is not for the benefit of the one who hurt you, the benefit is for you. Do yourself well—forgive. You are worth it!