through His Word
by Leigh Powers
Loving your enemies sounds easy until you have one. Early in our ministry my husband and I had to deal with an individual who slandered us and sought to do us harm. Walking through the process of forgiveness was tough, but it was also necessary. The cost of not forgiving is our emotional and spiritual health. Unforgiveness leads to spiritual bondage.
How the bondage begins:
Unforgiveness begins with a hurt or offense that we can’t or won’t let go. We may do this for different reasons. Sometimes a hurt is so deep that it’s easier to hold onto the pain instead of doing the deep work of soul-healing. Sometimes an offense hits the trigger of a past hurt, and we emotionally respond to the past as much as the present moment. Unforgiveness begins when we cling to the pain rather than moving through forgiveness into freedom.
How unforgiveness affects our lives:
Jesus tells us to forgive for our own benefit. Forgiveness opens up our souls so Christ can come in and heal. Unforgiveness keeps us locked within a self-made prison as bitterness slowly poisons our souls.
- Bitterness: If a thorn or splinter punctures our skin and can’t be removed, sometimes our bodies respond by building up scar tissue around the intruder. The same thing can happen with our souls. Without the healing process of forgiveness, the splinters of hurt and anger work their way into our hearts. We surround these soul-splinters with the scar tissue of anger, hate, and resentment. Eventually this bitterness becomes evident and poisons our other relationships—not just the one impacted by our unforgiveness.
- Lies that become our reality: One of the dangers of unforgiveness is that in times of conflict we sometimes internalize false beliefs about ourselves, other people, or God. A child who grows up with a critical parent may come to believe he will never do anything right and is always destined to fail. A girl whose friends betray her may decide people are always going to let her down. A victim of violence may wonder why God wasn’t there to stop it and determine she has to protect her own self from now on. Our beliefs determine our realities. If you believe your friends are always going to betray you, you constantly live with that expectation. Minor conflicts become an excuse to hurt them before they hurt you and a reason to be the first one to walk away. Believing you can’t do anything right becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a reason not to try. Part of the process of forgiveness is getting God’s perspective on our situation and replacing Satan’s lies with God’s truth.
- Isolation and further wounding: No one likes being hurt. If you burn your hand on the stove, you’re likely to be more careful cooking so you don’t injure yourself again. When we’re hurt in a relationship a common response is to be more cautious in other relationships. This can produce isolation and further wounding. Relationships require trust, and it’s hard to build that trust when you keep the world at arm’s length. Forgiveness helps us keep our boundaries permeable—keeping out that which would harm us but still allowing in what helps us grow.
There are three things I think are essential to overcoming unforgiveness.
1. Recognize the truth about forgiveness: Sometime we are reluctant to forgive because we harbor misconceptions about forgiveness.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean what happened wasn’t wrong or didn’t matter. If it wasn’t wrong or didn’t hurt, there wouldn’t be anything to forgive.
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean going back to the relationship and letting yourself be hurt again. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate things. Wisdom may dictate putting new boundaries in place as a part of the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is free. Trust and respect are earned.
- Forgiveness doesn’t depend on the other person’s repentance. Forgiveness is between us and God—something we do for our own soul’s healing. Part of the process of forgiveness is stepping back and trusting God to deal justly with those who have hurt us. When we forgive others, we set our own souls free.
2. Understand that forgiveness is a spiritual task: One of the reasons we struggle to forgive is that we try to do it in our own power. We know we’re supposed to forgive, so we grit our teeth, gather up our courage, and try—only to get frustrated when we can’t let go. Forgiveness is a spiritual task accomplished by the Spirit’s strength. We are able to forgive by relying on God’s power, not our own.
3. Walk through the process of forgiveness: We talk a lot about our need to forgive, but we don’t always spell out well how we are to forgive. I see five basic steps in forgiveness. I’ll summarize them here, but there is a longer series describing the five steps of forgiveness on my blog.
- Acknowledge the pain.
- Invite Jesus in to heal.
- Ask God to help us see this situation and this person as he does.
- Relinquish our right to revenge and trust God to deal justly with the situation.
- Pray blessings over the person who has hurt us.
We may have to walk through this process in layers, but I find these steps helpful in dealing with my own need to forgive.
Forgiveness can be tough, but it’s also essential. If you have struggled with unforgiveness, there is hope. Christ is our great soul-healer. Turn to him and ask God to give you the strength to forgive.
© Copyright 2016 by Leigh Powers
Leigh Powers is passionate about seeing lives changed as we encounter God through his word. A pastor’s wife, freelance writer, and mother of three, she strives to combine solid biblical study with real-world application. She blogs at My Life. His Story (www.Leighpowers.com).
Visit Leigh’s blog to check out her 6-part series on forgiveness:
- Forgiveness: Acknowledging the Pain
- Forgiveness: Looking to Jesus to Heal
- Forgiveness: Getting God's Perspective
- Forgiveness: Giving Up Revenge
- Forgiveness: Trading Blessing for Bitterness
- If I Forgive Her, Do I Still Have To Be Her Friend?
unforgiveness, past hurts, healing, Leigh Powers, Katy Kauffman, Lighthouse Bible Studies