Unconditional love was easy when I was a child. Everyone was lovable to me and my love for others came effortlessly. My feelings never changed toward those I loved. I trusted everyone and believed everything they said. I didn’t judge or criticize anyone and treated others as I wished to be treated. I forgave every offense and never carried a grudge. My mistake was thinking that everyone felt this way.
As a young child I did not understand that my false expectations of others would be the cause of my greatest disappointments. The circumstances of life that wound us deeply have a way of changing our perspective. My innocent attitude toward people altered when I learned that loving someone unconditionally and intensely did not guarantee that my affection would be returned in the same way; that some of the people we trust are not always trustworthy. Some will treat us badly, misjudge our motives, misunderstand our meaning, take advantage of our hospitality, ruin our reputations, and lie to us. Sadly, the people we trust and love the most are the ones who will wound us the deepest.
It will always be this way as long as people are not emotionally or spiritually where they should be. There are benefits in understanding these aspects of human nature. But balance is essential, neither gullibility nor cynicism are healthy perspectives. Expecting the worst in everyone distorts our perception of humanity as a whole, making us distrustful, bitter people. If you don’t believe me, look around. Hard hearts are evident in the attitudes of people everywhere. They are so wrapped up in their past pain that they can’t enjoy the present. Angry, bitter, anxious and depressed, they end up losing their ability to connect intimately with others and with God. This is not the way we are supposed to live.
I refuse to hold a grudge against anyone. Resentment and bitterness are like toxic weeds that take root in the heart and invade the fertile ground that was meant to bear good fruit. Bitterness eats away at you from the inside out, and will eventually steal your joy, strip you of your peace and kill your faith. What’s more, it is a known fact that our minds and bodies suffer when we allow hate and anger to remain in our hearts.
Forgiveness is a decision to let go of the resentment and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness is not the same thing as forgetting. It simply means that we decide not to hold anything against that person any more. You will know you’ve really forgiven from your heart when you can recall what happened, and even talk about it, without feeling anger or pain.
I had to make a decision to forgive the people who had hurt me, whether they asked for forgiveness or not. I realized that the damage they had caused couldn’t be undone in any case. Besides, replaying the incident over and over again was causing me to relive the pain, and making matters worse for me. So, I sat down and listed the names of everyone that came to mind that had wounded me in any way. I worked my way down the list slowly, to allow myself enough time to remember clearly what that person had done to hurt me, and forgave each in turn out loud.
I realize that some things are easier to forgive than others. So, how do we let go of justifiable anger? First of all we must understand that forgiveness is for our benefit—not theirs. Forgiveness is the key that releases us from our self-imposed prisons. 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 tells us that we need to forgive others so Satan can’t take advantage of us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we justify what they did or deny their responsibility for hurting us. God doesn’t expect us to tolerate abuse or put up with the sins of others. He does, however, expect us to forgive—whether we feel like it or not. Ephesians 4:31-32 commands us to get rid of all bitterness and forgive, just as God has forgiven us.
Holding on to painful memories keeps us from moving forward. So do yourself a favor and ask God to help you remember all the people who you need to forgive. You already have the power to do it. All you have to do is choose to. List every person who has hurt you and that you resent. Make a conscious decision to forgive each one by telling God “I choose to forgive (name the person) for (describe the offense) because they made me feel (share the painful memory).”
When you are sure you have forgiven them, say this prayer:
Lord, I choose not to hold on to my resentment against these people. Please heal my damaged emotions. I ask that Your will be done in the lives of those who hurt me. I let go of any right to get revenge for what was done to me. Thank you for setting me free from the memories that cause me bitterness and pain. In Jesus name. Amen.
While you are at it…please forgive yourself. God has.