Do you struggle to forgive? If you’re anything like me, you don’t find it easy. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful keys to emotional freedom and yet even when we are aware of this, it can still be one of the most difficult things to do.
There has been much taught about forgiveness. It’s common to hear that it’s a process and that you just say the words and in time your emotions will catch up. Perhaps that’s true sometimes, but often all that happens is that the anger gets pushed down and suppressed so we’re not aware of it anymore. If, when we think about the person or the offence, the feelings of anger and injustice return, then we haven’t yet forgiven.
In Matthew 18 Jesus taught about forgiveness in terms of a monetary debt. When we have a need to forgive, there is a sense within us that we are owed something. Forgiving someone means that we cancel the debt. That is a decision, not a process. The thing that can be a process is getting to the point where we are willing to forgive.
I don’t know about you, but I have had times when I have been frustrated with myself because I really do want to forgive, but I can’t seem to let it go. I can say the words with my head all day long but it’s my heart that is holding on to the anger and resentment. There is a part of us that wants to forgive, but another part of us that doesn’t. Finding the part of us that doesn’t want to forgive and understanding what that part of us believes is one of the quickest ways I know of to resolving unforgiveness.
There are many beliefs that we hold that are subconscious. They are deep in our hearts and we live out of those beliefs, both emotionally and behaviourally. It is not what we know to be true cognitively that has the greatest impact on us, but what we know in our hearts. Taking the time to allow our heart beliefs to come to the surface where we can evaluate them and replace them with truth is a key to spiritual and emotional maturity.
As Christians, we are often in conflict with ourselves. We have attitudes, emotions and behaviours that are unacceptable to us because we believe them to be unacceptable to God and our Christian community. This can lead us to suppressing our emotions rather than acknowledging them.
The problem is that suppressing our emotions doesn’t bring freedom from them. It can also mean that we miss an opportunity to allow God to reveal the false beliefs that are producing that emotion. We feel what we believe, so for every negative emotion there is a belief attached. We can actually accelerate the maturity process by allowing our emotions to lead us to our false beliefs, then our minds can be renewed with truth as we ask God to shine His light on them.
One key to forgiving when we want to but something seems to be blocking us is to discover what it is that we’re believing deep down about what will happen if we forgive. There are some simple steps to help us get to the belief:
- Sit quietly and focus on the offence. What emotion comes to the surface when you do that? If there is anger then there is a need to forgive.
- Imagine what it would be like without the anger there. Often a part of us thinks that would be appealing but there is another part of us that feels that letting go of the anger is wrong in some way. Some common beliefs are:
- If I let this anger go, they will hurt me again. This anger is keeping me safe.
- By letting this anger go, I am letting them “off the hook”. This anger is ensuring that justice is done.
- If I let this anger go, it means I’m saying that what they did was ok. This anger is holding them to account.
- Once you understand why that part of you is holding onto the anger, you can ask God to bring truth to that part of you. Ask Him for the truth that will set you free.
The reality is that for Christians, justice was accomplished on the cross. Whatever debt we are owed from our offenders was already paid for by Jesus when He was on the cross. He not only paid the price for our sin so that we can be forgiven, but He paid the price for the sin of everyone who has ever sinned against us.
When we release our offenders from the debt that we believe is owed to us and acknowledge that Jesus paid it already, we open the door for Him to heal and redeem us from whatever has been done to us.
Anger can give us a false sense of safety but it really doesn’t protect us at all. In fact, anger and resentment prolong our healing process and therefore render us more vulnerable to emotional pain.
Sometimes the lies that we hold are strong and deep and we may need the help of others to find freedom. If this is the case then you may need to seek out a trusted friend, counsellor or healing ministry that can help you appropriate the freedom that Jesus purchased for you.