I’m on a journey to wholeness—detoxing my body through whole foods and juicing while I detox my heart through forgiveness. Relationships bring us cheer, approval, comfort, love, and joy. Broken relationships bring anger, discouragement, depression, sadness, and sorrow.
Unforgiveness is Toxic
Unforgiveness is toxic. It can consume us. It causes suffering, health problems, bitterness, chronic anger, resentment, rage, and a miserable attitude. Studies show that such emotions can lead to an increased risk of heart attack, joint pain, headaches, high blood pressure and a depressed immune system.
Forgiveness releases hurt, heals emotional pain, and removes toxic emotions by cleansing our heart and freeing our soul.
Knowing the detrimental results of unforgiveness and the wonderful peace of forgiveness makes the choice a no-brainer!
“But I Can’t Control My Feelings!”
You may say, “I can’t control my feelings”—and this might be true. But you can control your thoughts, and your thoughts control your feelings.
Choosing to wallow in thoughts of revenge is self-indulgent sin comparable to gluttony. Forgiveness is essential to the Christian faith; it’s one of the hardest things to do, and one of the most important lessons we can learn.
Step 1: Seek God
- Ask God to reveal any unforgiveness in your heart.
- Confess. Unforgiveness is a sin. Ask God to forgive you for harboring bad feelings.
- Ask God to renew your heart and give you a right spirit and perception (unforgiveness usually clouds our judgment and distorts our view of the situation).
- Thank God for His forgiveness toward you.
- Ask God to help you answer the questions below (examining your heart) honestly.
Step 2: Examine Your Heart
Examine your heart to get an assessment of who you need to forgive. You may need paper and pencil for this.
Are you bitter? Are you harboring resentment against someone from your past? Does the memory of the hurt and pain overwhelm you again and again?
Does anxiety erode your mind as events play over and over? If you cannot forget, have you forgiven?
Write down the name of a person or persons (friend, family, enemy) you have had to forgive for hurting you in some way (for any situation occurring over your lifetime).
- What type of offense was it? a) a one time offense, or b) something ongoing (opening the wound over and over).
- Did you forgive them? a) yes. b) no. c) I’m not sure. d) I’m trying. e) I’m waiting for an apology.
- Did you pray about the situation? a) yes. b) no.
- Did you pray for the person? (in a positive manner; praying vengeance doesn’t count) a) yes. b) no.
- Do you find yourself having to forgive over and over? a) yes. b) no. c) I’m holding a grudge.
- How often do you think of the hurtful instance? a) hourly b) daily. c) weekly d) monthly e) annually f) never.
- How much time have you invested in replaying the story of what was done to you? a) an hour or less. b) several hours. c) over the years, dozens of hours. d) I’m not sure.
- In what frame do you think about it? a) lesson learned the hard way. b) pain and agony. c) opportunity for spiritual growth.
- How do feel when you think of the situation now? a) peaceful. b) anxious, angry and depressed.
Step 3. Choose to Forgive
Forgiveness is not saying that you weren’t hurt or that the event was fair. It is not finding a redeeming quality to make the person worth forgiving.
Forgiveness is an emotional choice you make to give the person over to God and allow Him to handle the situation.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7
If the person you need to forgive is not alive or is unapproachable, your forgiveness will be a work in your heart. Allow the Holy Spirit do His healing work.
If the person you need to forgive is alive and approachable, you need to take action:
- Address the situation. Acknowledge something is wrong and needs to be fixed.
- Discuss where the relationship veered off course and what wrongs may have been committed (remember to have a soft voice).
- Apologize. Accept responsibility for your actions and seek forgiveness.
- Do not accuse, or blame, or defend. The goal is to reconcile, not argue.
- Allow the Holy Spirit do His healing work.
- Ask, “What can I do to correct this problem?” Be willing to do what is requested.
- Invest your time, energy, and love in restoring the relationship.
What if They Aren’t Willing to Forgive You?
Have you sincerely apologized? Do you have to keep asking for forgiveness? Do you need to beg? What if they say they forgive you but continue to bring up the problem or the sin?
What if you get angry because they didn’t forgive you? This can be a vicious cycle, resulting in a serious circle of bitterness. Here are the steps to take:
- Forgive them for not forgiving you. Pray that God will open their eyes and their heart. They will reap what is sown (bitterness and unforgiveness). If you have truly forgiven them you don’t want them to reap these things. Pray for them.
- Be patient. Recognize that you have no direct control over the other’s thinking, feeling or behavior. It is natural and human to feel offended, mad and resentful when you try to mend differences and the other person won’t respond. This may be something you will have to give to God daily.
- Let it go. Don’t continue to apologize, as long as you have done so sincerely. Don’t play it over in your mind; it only stirs up anger. Find it in yourself to demonstrate love, concern, and the desire to improve the relationship.
- Focus on God’s perfect forgiveness. Psalm 103:12 says It is possible for the Lord to look at us without seeing our sins because when he forgave us, he removed our sins as far as the east is from the west“
Step 4. Take Every Thought Captive
The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have, and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity. (2 Corinthians 10:3–6 The Message Bible)
How do you take thoughts captive? Through prayer, focusing on God’s forgiveness, and focusing on God’s Word.
- Pray: When Satan attempts to seduce you into scheming revenge, ask God to help you take the thought captive by praying for God to fill you with His love.
- Focus on God’s Forgiveness: As soon as you are tempted to replay the offense in your mind or to plot revenge, stop and focus on the things God has forgiven in your life. Its a humbling step. When I recall the depth of grace and mercy God has shown me, its hard to focus on their sins.
- Focus on God’s Word: Read the story of Joseph (Genesis 37-45), the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11–32), and the parable of the debt (Matthew 18:23–32). Memorize any or all of the verses below:
Ephesians 4:32 – And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
2 Corinthians 2:5–7 – But if any have caused grief, he hath not grieved me, but in part: that I may not overcharge you all. Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such as one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.
Colossians 3:12,13 – Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
Luke 17:3 – Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him: and if he repent, forgive him.
Matthew 18:21 – Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven.
2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Print these verses out and have them handy when temptation strikes.
Step 5. Continue to Forgive
God forgives perfectly– forever.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11,12).
For us, forgiveness is a process.
I have been forgiving someone for over thirty years, over and over, as memories of events come to my mind to remind me of the hurt.
Thirty years later, the person deceived my children by lying about the original offense. The people who could verify the truth were no longer alive.
My flesh went into action. Do me wrong and I get angry. Try to turn my children against me and a new creature is formed (imagine an infuriated mother bear).
At first I quenched my anger. I refused to think about it–not realizing it was boiling inside. This new insidious pain brought back all the original pain, a hundredfold.
A few weeks later I finally exploded. I attempted to reason with an unreasonable person. It was useless. It only made things worse.
I wasted three days of my life wallowing in the pain again—and I don’t have three days to waste. I finally realized how stupid unforgivness is and followed the steps above. I released the person again to God and asked God to fill me with His love. God softened my heart. I was able to view the person as someone who was hurting instead of someone who hurt me.
When I am weak (especially tired or ill), Satan whispers tempting thoughts. I try to remember Paul’s words:
Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9,10)
The first offense was horrible; the second was scandalous, but all of it brought me closer to God with a new realization of His grace and mercy. I can now agree with Paul’s words “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Keep your eyes fixed on the Lord, He is faithful and will carry you through.
How about you? Any unforgiveness taunting you? How do you handle it?