Don’t let your heart be hardened.
So you’ve been hurt. Welcome to humanity. So you’ve been hurt in a way that you can’t seem to move past, in a way that lingers and hovers over you like a dark cloud. Perhaps it was a marriage that went south, a friend that betrayed you, a church that hurt you. Maybe it was a betrayal by someone in authority, abuse by someone who should have protected you. The hurt can be as recent as last week and as ancient as your early childhood. Hurt is hurt, and it doesn’t go away on it’s own. What do you do now? You know you need to forgive, but you just can’t seem to get there. Saying the words doesn’t seem to be enough. If it was as easy as saying, “I forgive you,” you would have moved on years ago. But you can’t seem to let go of the anger and the hurt. What’s worse, you know it’s beginning to destroy you from the inside out, your hurt beginning to spill over and hurt those you love. You’ve listened to sermons on forgiveness. You know what the Bible says, you’ve tried to forgive but you can’t forget. What’s the solution? Is it truly possible to find freedom from the pain of hurt, anger and bitterness or is this your lot in life? How can you not just superficially, but truly forgive someone? Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is possible. Here are four ways to begin to truly forgive someone and let go of the pain and bitterness that is destroying you on the inside.
1. Meditate on How Much God Has Forgiven You
Forgiven people forgive people. It’s as simple as that. In Matthew 18 Peter asks Jesus a great question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). It’s great because Peter is speaking to the reality of deep hurts in our lives, deep hurts that are difficult to overcome. Jesus’ response is to tell a story of a servant who owes a great debt to his master. In an act of mercy, the master cancels the debt of the servant. This forgiven servant comes across a fellow servant who owes him a small amount but he does not forgive it. He had been forgiven much but chose not to forgive himself. The result was the master finding out and throwing the forgiven servant in jail. Here’s how Jesus finishes the story, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
What made the servant’s lack of forgiveness so heartless was the fact that he had been forgiven such a greater debt than he was asked to forgive. The implication for us is clear: we have been forgiven of all of our sins by Jesus. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Our destiny was hell, our consequences eternal, yet Jesus came and forgave us anyways. When we truly dwell on how much we’ve been forgiven ourselves, allowing God’s forgiveness to saturate our pores, then we’ll have the perspective and power we need to forgive others who’ve hurt us.
2. Try and See Them From a Different Perspective
Hurt people hurt other people. That’s a truth about life that is repeated over and over. When you have been hurt or wronged, that anger and resentment boils up, needing to go somewhere many times landing in anger on those close to you who haven’t done anything to deserve it. Their only mistake was standing too close by when your hurt and anger boiled over. If this is true for you it is true for the person that hurt you. Maybe what they did to you was a byproduct of them working their anger out from something else entirely. When you only see someone through the prism of your pain, then everything looks like a hurt and every motive seems jaded. Try and look at the person that hurt you from a different perspective. Have they been wronged in life? Is there anything they’ve endured that perhaps has boiled over in anger and hurt you and others close to them? This doesn’t excuse at all what they did to you, but it begins to explain it.
3. Decide That Their Harm Is Not Worth Your Continued Pain
The third step to forgiveness is entirely selfish. When you cling to unforgiveness, you’re giving the person who hurt you a lingering power over you that they do not deserve. So choose not to give it to them. When you forgive, don’t see it as condoning their actions. See it as deciding that you’re not going to let them hurt you anymore. When you hold onto unforgiveness, you’re only hurting yourself. As the popular saying goes, “Holding onto bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Your unforgiveness won’t hurt them the way that you hope. Your anger directed in their direction falls far short before it reaches them. If your emotions mattered to them, they wouldn’t have hurt you in the first place. When you choose not to forgive, you only hurt yourself because unforgiveness turns into bitterness, and bitterness is seed that will take deep roots in your life and destroy everything good in your life. And that person who hurt you isn’t worth you destroying your happiness. When you hold onto unforgiveness, when you hold onto bitterness, you’re giving the person who hurt you a lingering power over you that they do not deserve. So don’t give it to them. Choose to forgive, not to condone their behavior but to free yourself from the cycle of bitterness that will only harm you.
4. Trust That God Will Avenge You
One of the biggest reasons we hold onto bitterness even though we know it’s destroying us is because we don’t want them to get away with what they did. We want someone to hold them accountable. We want them to pay. They will be held accountable and they will pay, and we need to trust God to avenge. In Romans 12 the Apostle Paul talked about how trusting Jesus needs to change every aspect of our lives, including how we forgive others. Take special note of the vivid imagery he uses, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.’ In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:19-20).
When we think of our enemies, those who have hurt us, we like the imagery of burning coals being heaped on their heads! The way for that to happen is actually through forgiveness. When we forgive, we leave room for God’s wrath. God will hold them accountable, and his ability to avenge is infinitesimally greater than yours. His job is to avenge, your job is to forgive.
Forgiveness is not quick or easy, but it is possible. Forgiveness happens when you can truly say from your heart, “You don’t owe me anymore. You don’t owe me money, my marriage, my childhood, etc.” Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it’s always worth it. Meditate on how much God has forgiven you, decide that their harm is not worth your continued pain, and trust that God will avenge you. Forgive.
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