You know those things in life that can be really hard but also really good for you? Like exercising, going to the doctor, and offering forgiveness.
That last one might make you especially uncomfortable. Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, wrote in her novel,“People in general would rather die than forgive. It's that hard. If God said in plain language. ‘I’m giving you a choice, forgive or die,’ a lot of people would go ahead and order their coffin.”
That’s the crazy thing about forgiveness! Many people would rather choose a lifetime of bitterness and hatred over forgiving the one who wronged them. They’re afraid that, by forgiving, they’re letting their wrongdoer off the hook. But forgiving someone doesn’t mean you’re excusing or forgetting their behavior—or even reconciling with them if you don’t want to. Rather, when you forgive, you’re freeing yourself from the resentment and anger that have been holding you prisoner. Forgiveness happens in the heart.
Forgiveness Is for You
Look at it this way: When someone hurts you, they take something from you. They owe you a debt. Now, you can’t control anyone else’s actions, but you can control how you respond! Respond in forgiveness, and you’re canceling that debt. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring what they did. It means you’re not letting it control you anymore. You’re releasing the grudge, letting go of the bitterness, and allowing yourself to heal.
That’s why forgiveness is an act that’s primarily for the forgiver—not the person being forgiven. Unforgiveness is a huge burden to bear, because it actually traps the unforgiver like a prisoner. If you can’t forgive, you’re not punishing the person who hurt you. You’re punishing yourself.
People who forgive are the ones who receive the real rewards! Science has actually proven that people who forgive are mentally, physically and emotionally healthier. According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiving someone can lead to lower blood pressure, anxiety and stress, a stronger immune system, greater self-esteem and lower rates of depression. Doctors have even used forgiveness therapy as part of cancer patients’ treatment plans.
Unforgiveness is a huge burden to bear.
Forgiveness Is for God
Good health is an important reason to forgive, but—ultimately—it’s so important because forgiveness honors God. It’s an outward display of Christlike love brought to earth! That’s because God is the first and ultimate forgiver. He models it for us, and we honor Him when we forgive like He first forgave us.
Colossians 3:13 (NIV) says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
And in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21–22), Peter even asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Seven? No, seventy times seven. Jesus basically says there’s no such thing as too much forgiveness.
How to Start Forgiving When It’s Difficult
Forgiveness happens first in the mind, and then in the heart. It’s an internal choice. You don’t necessarily have to forgive someone to their face, although you certainly can. What matters more is that you’ve chosen to forgive and you take control of your feelings. And that opens the door for the anger to leave your heart.
Forgiveness is intentional. It doesn’t just happen. You have to want it. And in some cases, you might have to choose to forgive repeatedly if you sense that grudge welling up inside you again. When you choose to forgive in your mind, ask God to do the work in your heart.
If you’re struggling to offer grace and mercy to someone, that’s where faith and obedience to God come in. When you can’t do it on your own, you have to rely on Him.
When you choose to forgive in your mind, ask God to do the work in your heart.
With God’s help, you can let go of the anger and bitterness you’ve been dragging around like a ball and chain, and you can love God and others with a heart that’s free!