One little word. And it can mean so much. It can also be one of the most difficult things to do.
It is hard to extend grace to someone when you hurt.
It is hard to forgive when the person hasn’t apologized. Or when they do apologize but they cause the same hurt to your heart over and over.
Matthew West has a song called Forgiveness. One of the lines hits to the heart. “So let it go and be amazed To see through the eyes of grace. The prisoner that it really frees is you. Forgiveness.”
I had never considered unforgiveness a prison cell. I had to ask myself, “Could I be a prisoner to unforgiveness?”
I’m going to be honest with you: people close to me have hurt me. I ask God what to do, and I know immediately in my heart that I need to forgive. In those moments, I am so hurt that I tell God that awful word of rejection: “No.”
It is just so difficult to let go of hurt. When I get hurt, I look to God and want the person who hurt me to immediately be judged for their meanness and ill behavior. Don’t we all expect a small bolt of lightning to come down and do its work? We expect the lightning bolt to get their attention, so they would come to their knees, ask for forgiveness, and never hurt us like that again. That’s the stuff of dreams.
In reality most of the time when I have been hurt, nothing in way of apologies and formal forgiveness happens. Half of the time, the other person probably doesn’t even realize that they have hurt me. In those few times when the hurt came down harsh and cruel and intentional, and no apology came my way . . . those are the hardest hurts to heal from. Those are the hardest to forgive.
We have all had someone hurt us. Whether the someone was a close friend or family or it was someone we didn’t know at all, the hurt has come. We all know hurt of the heart.
I know firsthand the hurt of the heart, especially that intentional hurt, takes a long time to heal. That hurt takes even longer to heal when I withhold forgiveness. When I choose to forgive quickly and give those hurts to God, my healing is quicker.
Over a year ago, someone that I love said some pretty cruel things about me. I was unfortunate enough to overhear the words. Those words cut deep into my heart. I was broken. Except broken doesn’t describe it well. I was shattered – into thousands of pieces. Proverbs 12:18 says, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
I never received a formal apology for the immense pain those words did to my heart and my mind. Someone said those words over a year ago, and sometimes it feels like I just heard them yesterday. My hurt lingers.
The words were spewn hot and angry. The tongue is a fire. (James 3:6) The tongue has the power of life and death. (Proverbs 81:21) The words brought so much negativity and doubt into my mind. Because of that, I thought the world might just be a better place without me in it. I wrongly thought that everyone around me would be happier if I was gone.
But I didn’t want to leave.
But those words . . . those hurtful words still ring in my ears. Some days they play on a loop, until the joy has drained from every inch of my mind. They say, “You’re a terrible person. Your husband deserves better. Everything you do is wrong. You don’t deserve friends, because you are awful to be around.”
But those words are lies. I play the record player in my mind, accepting the lies as truth. They came from a dark place of raw unfiltered emotion and not an ounce of God’s truth about who I am in Christ. I still have days that I have to crawl to the cross and give all that hurt to God. Then comes the hard part:
I have to forgive.
No, I don’t have to forgive. I can hold the hurt and let it etch into my whole being and accept it as truth for who I am. I could stay angry and allow bitterness to seep into my soul. I could. But I choose not to.
I choose to forgive. Why? Because I have been forgiven. Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” This is a tough verse to swallow sometimes. It is hard to accept and model in my life. I want to hold the hurt and wait for justice – lightning.
I’m not perfect. I’ve made mistakes. I’ve hurt others. (More on that coming in Part 2!) But Jesus chose to forgive me, while I was still a sinner. And if He can forgive me for all the hurt that I cause, then I can choose to forgive others for hurting me.
And when I do forgive, I open the prison cell and walk to freedom. When I forgive, I begin to heal. And in time, the hurt doesn’t sting as bad.
Come back for Part 2 of Forgiveness, where I will address another angle of hurt and true forgiveness.