Letting Go: Find Freedom in Forgiveness

Discover why it's so important to forgive others.

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As long as we focus on our pain, we'll never take the first step toward letting go and forgiving others. Forgiving those who hurt you means also releasing your pain.

"Those who tell you they don't struggle with forgiving are lying to you, or they're lying to themselves," I heard my pastor say when I was a young Christian. At the time I disagreed. Now I believe he was correct.

I've learned through experience that forgiveness doesn't come easily - especially when pain rips through the heart. Perhaps you've been betrayed or rejected. Perhaps someone has lied about you or taken advantage of you. Regardless of the details, suffering persists. Friends sometimes imply an issue is trivial by urging, "Just get over it." But deep wounds aren't trivia

What those friends don't grasp is it's not necessarily the seriousness of the offense but our reaction to it that makes the agony intense. The deeper the wound, the harder it is to let go of our pain and pardon the offender.

The Anatomy of Pain

Before we can move toward forgiveness, we must understand what happens when we've been wounded. If the injury cuts deeply, the emotional devastation can be overwhelming, even paralyzing. We react to painful offenses in a variety of ways.

Sometimes we deny the hurt, stuff the pain inside, and lie to ourselves. Yet the pain continues to build until we might blow up in rage over minor issues.

Other times we retaliate. Because we hurt, we want to hurt the offender, possibly making him or her feel worse than we do. A common form of revenge is to speak against an offender to anyone who will listen.

Another response is simply to wallow in pain. In truth, most of us respond this way for a while. We remind ourselves again and again that we don't deserve such treatment. We justify our outrage and rehash the scenario, refusing to let go of it.

But we make our pain worse by continually recreating the situation in our minds and focusing on what we might have said. It's as if by coming up with the right words (usually an insult) or imagining what could have been, reality will change. The problem is, no matter how much we struggle or how justified we feel to be outraged, we can't remake the past.

Such reactions are natural. But as long as we focus on the pain, we'll never take the first step toward letting go and moving on.

Reasons to Forgive

The Greek word translated "forgive" conveys the idea that forgiveness is a release from some type of an obligation. When we forgive, we aren't saying what the other person did is acceptable. We simply release his or her obligation to us. Thus, we release ourselves of the hold unforgiveness has on our lives, which frees us from the bondage of pain.

There are three reasons to forgive.

1. Forgive for your own good.

As long as you refuse to let go of hurt, you've tied that other person to yourself. One person put it this way: "We're giving that person free rent inside our heads." Consider the cost of not forgiving: the energy and emotion you give to that hurt throughout the day or the sleep you lose.

With unforgiveness, inner peace is impossible. When bitterness festers, the infection grows and damages our relationships with others. Forgiveness offers us freedom to move on so we can continue living.

2. Forgive because it pleases God.

Instead of asking, "Why should I forgive? It's his sin, not mine," realize obeying God's command to forgive frees you from your pain. Jesus taught us to pray, "Forgive us our sins in the same way we forgive others." He added, "For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don't forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing" (Matthew 6:14-15).

It may take time and much soul searching before feeling ready to let go, but ultimately we forgive because holding onto unforgiveness isn't godly.

3. Forgive because you have experienced God's grace for your sins.

Your perception of God's grace shapes the way you treat others. Through Christ, we receive God's grace - forgiveness - which we don't deserve. No matter what you've done, God's grace wipes away every wrongdoing. If you grasp how little you deserve God's forgiveness, you'll be ready to release others.

Jesus taught this lesson when He visited Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50). The host didn't offer Him the common courtesy of having someone wash His feet. However, a prostitute washed His feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair, kissed His feet, and poured perfume on them. The woman understood what Simon didn't. She knew how grossly she had sinned and how generously God had forgiven her.

As long as we think we're morally superior to those who have wronged us, we'll have trouble letting go of pain. The Bible is clear: "There is no one righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10). Once we understand we truly are all sinners, we realize there isn't much difference between us and the one who caused the pain.

How to Forgive

Realizing your need to forgive is only the beginning of a long process. But it isn't a journey you have to walk alone. You can depend on God to walk alongside you.

1. Confront the hurt.

Even if the offense is small, don't ignore it or deny your pain. Deal with hurt actively. Otherwise, pain stays hidden deep within your soul, where bitterness can fester. In the church, too often we force smiles and deny our pain. Forgiveness begins with admitting, "I've been hurt, but I want to be free from this agony."

2. Ask God to heal your wounds.

Healing doesn't usually happen instantly. The deeper the wound, the harder it will be to release the offense. You may have to pray for extended periods.

3. Allow yourself time to heal.

I liken the forgiveness process to grieving the death of a loved one. It takes time for grief to subside. Be kind to yourself. Don't push before you're ready.

4. Ask God to give you a clean heart.

Ask God to remove any desire for retaliation. Admit your weakness. Even though we tend to classify sins by size, in God's eyes sin is sin. The prayer of David after his adulterous affair makes the point that all sins are ultimately against God. "Against You - You alone - I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight" (Psalm 51:4).

5. Accept that you no longer need the other person to be wrong.

Once you perceive God's grace in your life, you can acknowledge any level of culpability you own. That doesn't justify another's sin or cruelty. But it does remind us that, although our sins may be different, they are still rebellion against God. Once you can think objectively about your injury, ask, "What if God rewarded me according to my deeds?"

6. Pray for the person who hurt you.

Instead of crying out, "God, repay him for his sins," pray for divine blessings for your offender. The deeper the hurt, the more difficult this will be to pray. To refuse to pray this way is to set yourself up as judge with the right to decide what others deserve.

7. Ask why this hurt so badly.

The answer may seem obvious: He committed adultery. She lied about me. But when you scrutinize your attitudes, you may see that you are partially responsible. Often we refuse to recognize any personal culpability if it helps us see ourselves as good and the one who caused pain as evil. We should in no way excuse or overlook an offense, but we should ask God to help us see if we bear any responsibility.

8. Let go of the offense.

Yes, someone hurt you, but the other person has ultimately sinned against God. This is His issue. Jesus, in the midst of His own physical torture, cried out to God, "Father, forgive them" (See Luke 23:34).

To follow Jesus' example is not easy. Still, as children of God we must forgive to live in fellowship with other human beings.

This article courtesy of HomeLife magazine.

Author Cecil Murphey has contributed to the books Words of Comfort for Times of Loss: Help and Hope When You're Grieving, When Someone You Love No Longer Remembers, and other titles related to difficult life issues.