We all know the expression “Once bitten, twice shy”. Well I don’t know about you but personally that saying had become a mantra in my life at one point. For years, I walked from one year into another bound by the spirit of unforgiveness and felt justified in walking in it because I felt that I was the victim. Little that I knew, in attempting to move forward with that mindset, I was actually delaying my own progress and subsequently giving even greater power to my offenders. It took some time to come to the realization that I had gone from being the victim to now creating my own self inflicted wounds.
In this post, I would like to talk about forgiveness, letting go and moving on. First things first. Let’s establish God’s take on Forgiveness.
In Matthew 6: 14-15 it states:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.”
If we sit and think about the magnitude of God’s love towards us, that He would go to the extent of sending His beloved son in human form to suffer through the beggarly elements of this worldly system, to be ridiculed, abused, mocked, beaten, humiliated and suffer the most brutal death under the hands of men just for our sins. To have gone to such an extent just to save us from eternal death, then turn around and say “Yes, I did all of that for you but if you do not forgive the people that hurt you then I won’t forgive you.” Now to the human intellect, this doesn’t seem reasonable but you must understand that God is a God of principles. If we are to walk and act as though we are made in His image and likeness, then we must reflect His nature and character even when it hurts to do so.
Ok, I know what some of you may say “You have no idea what he/she did to me!” “You have no idea what I had to go through because of them…” No, I don’t know your personal experience, but I think we can all relate to being hurt by someone.
I know all too well how it feels to be hurt not just by random people, but by family and those I considered to be friends. My experience of emotional and sometimes even physical abuse go as far back as childhood. And in many of those instances, it was usually perpetrated by those that I allowed myself to become vulnerable to.
As I got older and began to establish my adult relationships, I began to notice a pattern though. I realized that my introverted personality helped me to master the art of suppressing my pain and anger. And what I would do is allow the pain of what people would say or do to me to fester without openly addressing it. So, I never really released from my heart, the people that had wronged me. In the blog post, “Clean Hands, Impure Heart”, I talk about coming to terms with this realization during a teaching by my late senior pastor. He talked about “iniquities” which were the hidden sins of the heart. He said, sometimes we see people that appear to be living a Holy life; to the natural eye they appear to have it all together as far as their Christian walk is concerned, their hands are by all intent and purpose “clean”. However, hidden in their hearts are unresolved issues such as pride, bitterness, envy, jealousy and unforgiveness.
I discovered years ago, that harboring unforgiveness is like drinking a cup of poison with the expectation that the person who has hurt you would feel the effects of it. Rather, your holding on to that resentment, bitterness or pain hurts you more than it hurts the other person that you hold in contempt. In most cases, you will find that the other person has moved on with their lives, and you are left trying to fight through those internal battles resulting in sleeplessness and generally an unhappy life with unhealthy relationships as a result of not being able to let go.
Sometimes we are apprehensive to forgive because we feel that others might interpret our forgiveness as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. One might even feel as though forgiving the other person would indicate validation of their actions towards you, or in other words “I am ok with what you did”, but it doesn’t mean that at all.
Forgiving the other person actually magnifies your strength and maturity. It puts you in control of the situation and in control of your own emotions. Forgiving means “although I do not agree with what you did, I make a conscious decision to be the bigger person and release myself of any negative thoughts or emotions that is causing me my peace and could possibly hinder my relationship with God and my emotional wellbeing.”
Forgiveness for some does not come easy and the process to get through it is often times determined by the severity of the offense. Some of us are holding onto unresolved issues with a superior, coworkers or just an acquaintance. While some of us have gone through years of repeated emotional and even physical abuse under the hands of a guardian, significant other, family member or close friend. Whatever the depth of your scars, I have jotted down a few steps that have helped me to get through my process of forgiveness.
1. Understand the “Why”: It is often difficult to come to terms with “what” someone did to cause the hurt, discomfort, inconvenience or loss that you experience as a result of their bad judgement or actions. However, in my experience with working through the process of forgiveness, I have found that when I took the time to properly analyze a person’s behavior towards me, it made it easier to process. Being able to work through why a person does what they do helps to put a lot of things into perspective and it helps you to see things from a different vantage point as oppose to seeing it through the lens of the victim. BUT Simone, what if I never find out their “why”? Good question! Which leads me to the next point.
2. Understand the Season: Very early on in my adult life I was introduced to the concept of seasons and relationships. This has helped me a great deal to be able to release people from personal expectations. Some people come into your life for a specific purpose and season. Knowing the role that they play, the lessons you should learn from them in that season and when the season has ended will free you up from feelings of resentment and bitterness when the relationship begins to take a turn for the worse. Sometimes it means that there is merely a breakdown in communication and perhaps issues can be resolved by simply sitting down and talking it over. Of course disagreements are inevitable and necessary for any healthy relationship but you must recognize the signs of when a relationship is coming to the end of its season. I have found that once you begin to see a continuous or habitual trend that is associated with negative behavior and a lack of peace, then that is most likely an indication that it is time to move on. Understand, not everyone is meant to play the role of loyal longtime confidant in your life. And this does not mean that you have to completely cut people off. Its ok to re-categorize relationships without throwing them completely away. Relationship categories can change over time but you have to know at what point the shift has taken place or you will find yourself becoming angry or disappointed by the other person’s actions or lack thereof because of misplaced expectations. Once you are able to decipher between seasons, it will make life a whole lot easier for you. Carrying someone or something into one season that you should have let go in a past season can and will create unnecessary stress. Dare I say, moving into a season with what you should have left behind in another season can contaminate and poison your vision for the new season. Whether it is a job, a business, a community, a plutonic relationship or otherwise, it is very important to know when to let go. Disclaimer: This point is NOT intended for married couples. Please seek professional counseling before making any life altering decision concerning your marriage; especially if children are involved.
3. Take back Control: the longer you allow what they did to affect you emotionally, the more control you continue to give them over your emotions. Rather, choose to redirect that pent up energy in a more productive fulfilling way. Investing your time into an activity that adds value to your life will help to take your mind off of the negative. What have you always wanted to do but never could find the time to do it? Maybe it’s taking a course, starting a new business, completing a project, joining an organization, making an investment, going on a trip somewhere you have always wanted to go. Whatever it is, channel some of that energy and fill up that mind space with self-improvement/self-empowerment activities; you will be surprised at the positive outcome. It is important to note that whatever you choose to do, it is with the right motivation though. Do it because it is something that you truly want to do and not to get back at the other person or to gain revenge. Make sure that your heart is completely in it. If not, you would have defeated the purpose. Busy yourself with making your life better instead of focusing on what the other person did or is doing. You will find that once you become so caught up in “doing you” that you will be too tired to think about anything or anyone else. By the time you’re through embarking on your journey, you would have created new lasting positive memories. And the memory of the last season will be a distant one, with no emotional strings attached.
4. Protect your Health: I am a firm believer that the quality of one’s life is not determined by any external factor, but rather by the condition of their heart. Nothing or nobody is worth the value of your inner peace. The longer we hold on to unforgiveness, the more the seed of bitterness grows like a cancer; thus making us vulnerable to both physical and mental malfunction. Proverbs 14: 30 (AMP version) states “A calm and peaceful and tranquil heart is life and health to the body, but passion and envy are like rottenness to the bones.” You have to deliberately make a decision that your health is more important than holding on to bitterness. Proverbs 13: 12 says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” As mentioned in point 3, it is very crucial to your healing that you release the weight of disappointment which comes from the expectation that you have placed on others. Unresolved disappointment will steal your joy and peace! The best way to move pass the stage of disappointment is to take on the mindset that besides God, YOU are the only person in control of your inner peace and mental well-being. Everyone else, regardless of who they are, are never obligated to making you happy; that is too great a responsibility to give any human being.
5. Close the Door: Last but certainly not least, this (in my opinion) is the most important step to overcoming unforgiveness. In order to truly be delivered from the stronghold of unforgiveness it is important to talk to God about how you are feeling. In your quiet time with God, be completely honest about what happened and how it made you feel. In some cases, you might have an opportunity to confront your offender and express yourself the way you want to but this is rare. What better way to release all of that than during your private devotion? Allow the Holy Spirit to begin peeling back the damaged layers of your heart until you look and sound more like Christ. And remember forgiveness is a process but once you get through it, it is important not to keep revisiting the past. You have to let it go! Close the door and never reopen it again except as a point of reference when to help others through their process.
So there you have it. These steps have helped me with overcoming unforgiveness and I hope that this post will assist someone in moving into 2019 with a renewed heart and mind. Blessings and Love!
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” Bernard Meltzer