Bitterness can turn us into prisoners. Forgiveness sets us free from that prison.
Every day you live with the pain of raw, exposed nerve endings—the throb of bitterness, the flashbacks, the thoughts of how things could have played out differently.
We all deal with it.
To be human is to suffer extreme pain—betrayal and wounding is normal. We all get wounded.
Yet, sometimes the pain of that loss is so unspeakable, we don’t even have the vocabulary to describe what it’s doing to us.
The result is often a feeling of bitterness that holds us prisoner and walls us off from a part of ourselves. It’s irrational, yet we feel powerless to change—we’re actually punishing ourselves and expecting the person who wounded us to suffer.
The only way out of that prison, of course, is forgiveness.
If you’re struggling to forgive, here are five steps to take:
1. Understand who hurt you and what their motivations may have been.
2. Recognize what unforgiveness has done: locked you in a prison.
3. Write out your forgiveness in a journal to clarify your thoughts.
4. Ask to sit down with the person. Tell them how what they did hurt you; then forgive them, no strings attached.
5. Every time old memories and feelings come up, forgive the person again, pray for them and keep forgiving.
I remember suffering two betrayals. And though I forgave both parties right away, I still struggled for a couple of years to figure out if I could ever trust again, and if so, who I could trust.
I began to heal when I chose to forgive. It didn’t stop the pain or the flashbacks, but it did drain the infected wound inside me. Then, every time those memories came to mind, I chose to forgive again, because forgiveness is never a one-time event. Every time the old memories are stirred up, you have to do the hard thing and forgive again.
Jesus began his ministry by pounding this theme. Read Matthew 5-7 and count how many times he said things like, “Pray for those who give you a hard time.”
If we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we’ll do what he says (1 John 2:1-6 is unequivocal on this score—we have no wiggle room). As hard as this may seem, we simply have to forgive; we have no other scriptural options.