If you’ve been attending church for very long, you’ve probably heard the word forgiveness used more times than you can remember. Though we are familiar with the topic, many don’t understand what forgiveness is, why it’s so important, and how to achieve it. You may or may not know that forgiveness is the key to healing and freedom.
Before we look at what forgiveness is, I want to look at what it is not. Forgiveness is not making excuses for those who hurt you. For example: “Well, my mom didn’t really have a mom, so she didn’t know how to mother me like I needed her to.” This may be true, but it does not take into account the pain suffered from a lack of mothering. You may understand as an adult why your parent(s) did (or didn’t do) what they did, but it doesn’t lessen the effect their failures had on you as a child.
Forgiveness is not denial. Denial is believing that what happened didn’t affect you, or that it didn’t actually happen. This is deception, not forgiveness. Denial is often accompanied by suppressing, or stuffing your feelings deep inside you. This leads to emotional numbness, the inability to feel pain or pleasure. Eventually the feelings will come out, most often in the form of outbursts of anger, fits of rage, and/or depression, which is anger turned inward.
Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice of your will. You can choose to forgive someone even though you still have negative feelings toward them. Once the choice is made, then God can heal your emotions. In time, your feelings toward the offender will change. You have truly forgiven someone when you can genuinely pray for that person’s well being, success, and blessing.
This is what forgiveness is:
- to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
- to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
- to grant pardon to a person
- to cease to feel resentment against someone
- to cancel an indebtedness
In order for forgiveness to be complete, you must get in touch with the core of the pain that was caused. This requires total honesty with yourself and God. Many struggle to do this when the offender was a parent. We all want to believe the best about our parents, even if they failed miserably. It is not dishonoring your parents to be honest about their failures. It is necessary in order for you to get free. Forgiveness is not about blaming anyone for your problems.
During my own healing journey, I found it extremely helpful to write a letter to each person who had hurt me. This was not given or mailed to the person, it was just between me and God for my own benefit. I now do this with those I minister to in Restoring the Foundations. Many who thought they had forgiven find that there are still feelings of pain and/or anger that surface during this simple exercise. These feelings are a clear indication that the process of forgiveness is not complete.
In the letter you state what the person did (or didn’t do) to you that caused pain. You tell how this affected your life and how it made you feel (without making excuses). It is best to be brutally honest. Then you make the choice to forgive and release the person, declaring that they owe you nothing, placing them in God’s hands. Afterwards, you can burn or shred the letter. In essence, this is what Joseph did with his brothers in Genesis 50:20 when he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…”
In addition to forgiving others, we must forgive ourselves. Many find this more difficult than forgiving others. But if God has forgiven us (and He has if we have confessed and repented), then we can forgive ourselves. To say you can’t forgive yourself is to put yourself above God. We must also release God from any ways we have blamed Him for our painful circumstances. If we hold anger or disappointment towards Him in our hearts, this can hinder us from receiving the healing He paid for and longs for us to have.
Forgiveness is required because God commands it if we want to be forgiven. It is not negotiable. He has forgiven us a debt we could never repay. Unforgiveness is an open door that allows the enemy to torment and oppress us. This can be seen in the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18:23-35. Because He commands us to forgive, He also supplies the grace necessary to do so. He never tells us to do something He hasn’t already done Himself!
Though it can be very difficult, working through the process of forgiveness is definitely worth it. In my own life, it was like taking a huge weight off my shoulders. I’ve seen many others gain great freedom as well. Make the choice so you can receive healing and freedom – it’s a choice you will never regret!