Forgiving others can be a lot like dealing with physical pain. Have you ever been riddled with muscular knots all over your back? Doctors call them “trigger points.” As a woman living with fibromyalgia, my back frequently hurts with several of these. The only way to truly dissolve the knots is by pressing on them. Hard. It seems counter-intuitive. But, if I avoid this crucial action, the pain persists for days or even weeks.
Sometimes we need to lean into other kinds of pain, too. What if we are dealing with emotional pain? As a mother of challenging kids, I regularly dealt with comments that inflicted hurt. But, what to do?
Your spouse hurts your feelings?
A friend excludes you?
Your mother criticizes you?
A ministry partner treats you unfairly?
A family member betrays you?
What God Says About Forgiving Others
We must forgive in order to be forgiven.
We know that in Matthew 6: 14-15, Jesus says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Ouch. But, we often misunderstand what forgiveness really means.
What forgiving others is not
Forgiveness is not putting on the happy face when the person is around and then mumbling under your breath, complaining, when she leaves the room. (Then you are sinning through gossip, slander, and deceit)
Forgiveness is not shutting your mouth about your hurt and continuing to let the person disrespect you or abuse you. It doesn’t mean tolerating evil.
If you refuse to talk or cry about it, shoving it down into your subconscious as though it never happened, that isn’t truly forgiving others, either. It doesn’t mean harboring bitterness or resentment.
Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the shackles of the past which poison your present. By unlocking the key, you are no longer a prisoner of others’ sins.
What forgiving others really IS
When we say, “I forgive you,” we determine that we will not allow their sin to cause us to sin, even sin against ourselves. We never told them that their actions were okay. We simply decided to let go and let God. “I forgive you” means “I give you over to God for punishment.”
Check out Romans 12: 17-19, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.'”
But, she’s unrepentant!
God never said to hold a grudge until the other person says their sorry. He never said to stay angry and punish that person until they beg for forgiveness. In fact, we cannot expect the person who inflicted the pain to come and heal the pain. No. We must choose to give it God and let him heal us. Personally, there are three family members close to me who have said and done very hurtful things for which they’ve never apologized. And, past efforts to confront one of these persons only resulted in that person twisting my words back on me.
Maybe you have had the same experience. I struggle with this and pray often about it because circumstances force me to continue to be around these three people. Two of them continue to say and do hurtful things.
I must remember that God holds me accountable for my own actions and I cannot say to him, “She made me do it.” I must let go of my anger as the Psalmist says, In your anger do not sin; when you are on your bed, search your hearts and be silent. (Psalm 4:4) because as James writes (1:20), man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
Press in to the Pain
If we are truly forgiving others, we can’t push the pain down to fester and grow. Then, it becomes chronic pain that throbs and grows to encompass many areas of our lives. It becomes our new normal. We become bitter, resentful, anxious, depressed, maybe even develop physical symptoms. No. When dealing with our emotional pain, we must deal with it when it is a “trigger point” and press in. It may be helpful to try writing down your pain beforehand.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5: 23-24
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger, do not sin; Don not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4: 25-27
We must either confront the person or confront the pain and deal with it immediately. If confronting the person might not bring the reconciliation that you hope for, then you must still confront the pain. By examining it immediately and giving it to God, you prevent the devil from getting a foothold in your life.
Courage and Strength
Confronting the pain and forgiving others is hard! Sometimes we need supernatural strength and courage to move forward. But, the Lord gives us what we need. He goes before us and prepares hearts. He hears our prayers and reminds us of the riches we can access through him.
“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Ephesians 1: 18-19a
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer or petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4: 6-7
We also need humility. Sometimes we perceive only our side of the story and don’t realize that we caused the other person pain as well. We need to be good listeners and slow to speak.
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1: 19-20
“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” Proverbs 14:30
“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18
Forgiving others challenges us in the deepest depths of our hearts. It’s not easy to let go of our hurt and trust God’s justice. Our instinct is to wish ill on the other person. We want them to hurt as much as we hurt. But, that is not God’s way. We must leave our pain at the foot of the cross and walk free.
The consequences of not forgiving others
If we do not let go of our pain, even though it’s hard, even though it feels like the other person should “pay” for what they did to us, in truth, we continue to relive the pain every day. It is our own continuous replaying of events and words that harms us long after the actual event is over. We harm ourselves and the emotional pain eventually manifests itself as physical problems. For example, the chronic cough for which doctors have no cause? Perhaps it is the pain of loss that we never got over. Fibromyalgia, a chronic illness which is often though of as psychosomatic, is often brought on by stress. Stress is just another word for chronic emotional pain of some kind. We end up punishing ourselves with our unforgiveness.