"Forgiveness may be one of the hardest things God asks us to do."
Perhaps one of the most difficult things asked of us by God is to forgive those who have hurt us. Pain is easy. It comes and takes root, but to release that pain in forgiveness can feel impossible. Sometimes, we don’t even want to forgive, but we know the Lord has called us to do just that. We also know it is not easy because the Lord, in teaching us the pattern for prayer, taught us to always pray for strength to forgive those who have trespassed against us.
How do we forgive?
How can we move on?
How do we forgive someone who is not even sorry?
Is forgiveness supposed to take away the pain?
There are essentially two components to forgiveness: the emotional and the behavioral. I want to address the emotional component first.
I beautiful lady came to me not too long ago. She said, “Pastor, I need for you to teach me how to forgive.” I did not dare answer then because there is no simple pattern. We can find all over the internet formulas and steps to forgive, but ultimately forgiveness is an unnatural, anti-human nature to do. Our human nature is many things including self-protective.
The hurt we experience from someone we love is a pain so deep, we do not want to experience it ever again. The inmost place of our soul begins almost immediately to create distance between us and the person. We might physically refuse to see this person. We might lash out in anger to make sure they don’t mess with us again. We might shut down emotionally. These are all attempts to self-protect and create distance between us and the source of our pain. This, actually, is what is natural. To create distance refusing to forgive is human nature. To let the pain go, to let the person off the hook, now that is about as unnatural as a Texas cowboy driving a Prius. But we have a calling upon our life to crucify what is natural and live a supernatural life and forgiveness is part of that life.
Anger insulates the hurt but not just from that person. It also insulates our hearts from others and from God. Unrelinquished anger keeps a barrier around our hearts that keeps us from giving our hearts fully to others. There is an underlying fear of being hurt deeply again by anyone including God so we put up emotional barriers. The anger manifests in self-protection. Though anger first comes out like a volcano, it finally sets in deep within us around our hearts. This anger-filled insulation obliterates our ability to be vulnerable to another. We can’t give ourselves to others out of fear of being hurt again. It is a self-imposed prison that keeps us from love. Grasping this concept is a great motivation for releasing anger. Why should you be punished and imprisoned for what someone else did to you?
Of course, we have all heard how forgiveness is a gift to ourselves, but this doesn’t make it any easier to do. The truth is that so much of your ability to forgive a person when they have hurt you is dependent upon how you have responded to others who have hurt you in the past. Let me explain.
Anger is a God-given emotion. There is a positive, God-purpose to anger. God got angry. Jesus got angry. Anger is God’s way of prompting us into action. We are supposed to do something about whatever has stirred our anger. But here is the problem: If, in the past, when someone hurt us, we did not or could not do what was necessary to protect our heart, then the fear of being hurt increases with each painful betrayal by those nearest to us.
If we are hurt over and over again as little children, we never had the power to make it stop. Our little bodies and voices were no match for the giants hurting us. It produces in us a sense of hopelessness and this will transform into an emotional void. We resign ourselves to not feel anything because it is too risky. Who wants to have hope just to be devastated yet again. The hopelessness may also transform into resentment and anger. This anger remains repressed until we realize, as we get older, that we do have power. Our resolution to not allow people to hurt us creates a hyper-sensitivity so we experience the tiniest pebbles of offenses like boulders falling on our heads. We live isolated and alone never really knowing how to connect, to love, nor to be loved.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is the unquenchable desire to be love interwoven into the hopelessness or anger so that even though someone may hurt us deeply, we can’t create the space we need to guard our hearts. We may have a barrier of anger, but it lasts only for a short time because we don’t want to push them away for good. We remain in the negative cycle of hurt, rage, reconciliation, and repeat.
To be able to forgive, we must learn how to create boundaries. The emotional prison of anger restricts our freedom to love. Anger traps us within our own resentment. Boundaries push back against those who have hurt us without restricting our freedom to love and be loved. Because we have pushed back on their destructive behavior, we are free to love. When they continue to cross this boundary, we are able to create more space accordingly. These boundaries are not just for us. It is our recognition that their destructive behavior toward us is also not good for them. Boundaries then can only be set out of love for us and them.
If you have never learned how to set healthy boundaries, you are more than likely existing in your own cell of pain and disappointment, but there is hope. You can start today. Boundaries are established through love and consequences. For example, if every time you go to your Mother-in-law’s home, she never stops criticizing you for everything you have ever done and not done. The first consequence might be a loving question that gives her the benefit of the doubt such as, “Do you realize you criticize me often?” However, if things continue, the consequence may escalate so that as soon as she says a critical word, you hug her, tell her you love her, but you have to get back home. You don’t have to stay.
Setting healthy boundaries is not easy. The foundation necessary to help us stand as we set healthy boundaries is to remind ourselves that God loves us as we are. And He is the only expert on the value of a person. If He sees us worthy enough to die on a cross for us, then we must be loveable, warts and all. Most people who hurt us repeatedly make us feel as if we are unloveable, but this is not true. Their inability to treat us with love and respect says nothing about who we are but says everything about who they are. It is not that you are unloveable, but they do not know how to love well.
You may feel as though you need to earn their love, but love that must be earned is not love. It’s emotional prostitution. You are compelled to earn their love. Once we understand this, we lose the desperation we feel to be loved by these people. When we no longer feel desperate to be loved by them, we can set healthy boundaries in love to them. And then the ball is in their court. They can choose to treat us as we should be treated or they can continue the wrong direction and we will continue to escalate the consequences given in love.
We do need to relinquish the anger by setting boundaries instead, but we cannot expect the pain to disappear into the night. In fact, even as we set the boundaries, the feeling of anger will not go away quickly. As we learn to set boundaries and see that we don’t have to be a victim, then we will see the anger subsist more quickly. However, remember there is a purpose to the anger. Anger reminds us that we need boundaries.
Everything God has given us, the devil attempts to pervert. God gave us anger to help us know when we need to lovingly set boundaries. The devil wants us to use anger to imprison ourselves and ruin our lives. We may need for the anger to remain to ensure that we don’t move back into the negative cycle of hurt, rage, reconciliation, repeat.
Now that we have discussed the emotional journey of learning to forgive, let’s address the behavioral part of it all. Love is the key. Patience, kindness, compassion, not easily angered is the behavior of healthy
boundaries. Now, remember, you may still ‘feel’ angry, but unless you start to establish healthy boundaries, the anger will imprison you. So while you are ‘feeling’ angry, force your behavior to be loving, kind, compassionate, without anger. Use this behavior to communicate, establish, and execute your boundaries.
It may seem you are being fake, but the reality is that you are simply using your anger in a different way that will keep you free to love and be loved while also guarding your heart. If you wait until you no longer ‘feel’ anger to change your behavior, it will never happen. If the absence of anger is the destination, loving behavior is the Amtrack to get you there.
One thing we haven’t yet addressed is what if that person isn’t even sorry. What if they don’t even care they have hurt you? Then what?
The answer is that it doesn’t matter. If you desperately need for them to be sorry, this comes from a desperation to be loved by them. This is human and normal, but forgiveness is spiritual, transcendent. If you operate in the human, you will spend your days in that emotional prison. Elevate yourself to the Kingdom of Heaven and recognize you have all the love you could ever need from God so that you no longer ‘need’ anyone to love you. This is a paradigm shift you must adopt if you are going to be able to overcome the pain inflicted on you by others. You won’t feel it at first, but it is the truth. If God is truly the God He claims to be, then He is all we need. Once we realize we don’t ‘need’ someone to love us, then we can love them with healthy boundaries which will often help them love us better.
I hate to say it this way but our need for someone to apologize and make things right is a form of pride. I am not saying that we all don’t want someone to apologize, but if we ‘need’ it in order to release the anger, then not only have we imprisoned ourselves, but we have given them the key to the lock. No one should have that much power over us except God Himself who would never lock us up. Instead, remind yourself that Jesus loved you so much to die for you and you do not ‘need’ someone else to love you.
Then, instead of being a victim, start being Christ to that person by lovingly setting the boundaries that you both need for your own well-being.
Forgiveness is not this easy decision to stop being angry. It is a skill that we improve on as we learn to walk through it. Understanding the emotional hindrances to forgiveness along with the behaviors necessary to find the strength to forgive will allow you to hone this skill of letting things go, releasing yourself of the anger, and loving those who have hurt you while guarding your own heart.
Live Blessed and Be a Blessing!
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