Forgiveness. I think most people, at one time or another, have found this to be a scary or challenging word. For me, this word literally felt impossible. I was caught up in so much misinformation about forgiveness. Even if I tried to forgive, as soon as I experienced any reminders of the hurt, I would feel stuck in the unforgiveness all over again. But 5 years ago, God took me on a journey that allowed me to overcome past suffering and truly forgive those who had hurt me. For those of you on the quest of forgiveness, here are 4 things I wish I could have taught myself sooner.
1. You can’t forgive what you won’t face.
At the beginning of my journey, I didn’t realize I was refusing to face what I needed to forgive. After hurtful words or circumstances, I would often tell myself what happened didn’t really matter. If it didn’t matter, then it didn’t really hurt, right? I spent so much time trying to convince myself that there wasn’t much I needed to forgive others of, but underneath I was desperately trying to avoid pain. But there were only so many times I could say, “It didn’t matter.” Eventually, what I was trying to deflect came spewing up to the surface in the form of bitterness, rejection, unhealthy behaviors, and unforgiveness. If we refuse to feel the pain, acknowledge the hurt, or say it mattered, then we can’t truly move past and let go. We can’t forgive what we refuse to feel and face. Numbing and avoidance are negative coping strategies that can prevent us from experiencing God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace.
2. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting (but it does mean letting go).
Does the phrase “Forgive and forget” bother you? It definitely aggravated me. I didn’t want to simply just “forget” the trauma and hurt I had been through. Forgetting felt like saying what happened to me was okay. It wasn’t okay! But when Jesus is calling us to forgive, I don’t believe it is a harsh demand or condition of forgetting to be worthy of His love and acceptance. To me, it’s an invitation to experience the best life He has for us. I can’t walk in freedom when I cling so tightly to what was done to me. When I am the one stuck in the chains of unforgiveness, I am the one that pays the price, not the person who hurt me. If the command from Jesus was forgetting instead of forgiving, I believe deep and true healing wouldn’t take place. When we offer our forgiveness, we enter a freedom where the letting go and moving beyond the hurt can take place. Letting go gives the responsibility of dealing with the other person back to God and releases us to be all He created us to be.
3. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for me regarding forgiveness was wondering why every time I forgave, I’d have negative emotions continue to rise to the surface. It would make me question if I had been able to truly forgive in the first place, or if maybe fully forgiving wasn’t possible. While unforgiveness comes with a lot of feelings, forgiveness is not a feeling— it’s a choice we make! If we waited for some sort of feeling of forgiveness to show up, we’d be waiting forever! It requires that we make a choice to forgive. When we feel emotions telling us that we didn’t forgive, we must remind ourselves and the enemy that we already made a choice to do so. Then, we must pray and ask God to catch the feelings up with that choice. I cannot control how I feel, but I do believe that God has the power to align my feelings with my decision to forgive. I had to discover how to forgive others for how they abused me, hurt me, and for speaking negativity and lies over my life. Yet, realizing I had the CHOICE to forgive empowered me to face the pain, to let it go, and to experience healing.
4. Forgiveness sets YOU free.
Ultimately forgiveness is for your benefit, not theirs. As I mentioned earlier, when we don’t forgive, we are the ones that pay the price! Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to get sick. When I focused on the pain, anger, and bitterness, I had ulcers. I was depressed. Life felt frustrating, dark, and heavy. But when I started to learn the truth about forgiveness, it began to transform me from the inside out. The door to the prison I kept myself in was open, and I was able to walk out and truly start living. I became a person of mercy and grace. I could love more fully and deeper. And I experienced the love of Jesus in more tangible ways because I allowed His sacrifice to be enough for me and the people who had hurt me. When you forgive, you set yourself free, not them.
Romans 8:38-39 encourages us that the love of God is more powerful than anything else in creation- “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow- not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below- indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I encourage you today to let the love of God mend the pain and hurt from the past. Don’t let unforgiveness feel like a barrier to experiencing the abundant love of God. Don’t let unforgiveness hold you in bondage a moment longer. I am forever grateful for the life I live because of my choice to forgive, and my prayer is that you experience these principles even sooner in life than I was able. It’s never too late. And in each season, God continues to teach me new ideas about forgiveness and provide me with new opportunities to practice what He has taught. Let His love and Word help you experience the freedom found in forgiveness.
Mercy Multiplied is a free-of-charge residential counseling program that helps young women ages 13-32 break free from life-controlling issues and situations. Apply today or learn more by visiting MercyMultiplied.com.