Choosing Forgiveness

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.”

– C.S. Lewis

There is truth to those words, isn’t there? When we find ourselves on the receiving end of someone’s hurtful words or actions, forgiveness can seem impossibly hard. And if we’re honest, it is often the very last thing that we want to do. Yet, if we look in the Scriptures, we find that forgiveness is exactly what we are called to do. Paul tells us in both Colossians and Ephesians, 

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” 

Colossians 3:13 (NLT) 

“Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:32 (AMP)

There are several things in these verses that I think are important to point out. First, in Colossians, Paul doesn’t say to reserve forgiveness for only your kids, or your spouse, or your best friend. No, we are to forgive anyone (and everyone) who offends us. That kid who is picking on your child at school. Forgive him. That person that said hurtful things about you without even truly understanding you or your circumstances.  Forgive him. That person who caused your accident or hurt someone you love dearly. Forgive him. God calls us to forgive anyone who hurts us. 

Secondly, we are told to forgive readily and freely. Readily means without hesitation and freely means willingly on one’s own accord. This reminds me of my kids. There isn’t a day that goes by when one of them is not in conflict with another. Just the other morning, hateful and hurtful words were spewed over a dirty thermos. In these moments, when emotions run hot, my kids are not going to readily and freely offer forgiveness to the one who has hurt them; they need guided and encouraged to do so. How often do we need the very same? How often have our emotions run hot, and the idea of readily and freely offering forgiveness to someone isn’t our first response? How often has God’s Spirit needed to convict us to forgive the one who has hurt us? More often than we likely care to admit. Forgiving someone who has hurt us does not came naturally or easily. But with God’s help, we can make an intentional choice to extend grace even when it isn’t deserved. 

1 Peter reminds us,

“This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.”

1 Peter 2:21 (MSG)

We are called to forgive just as God forgive us. We are to extend grace to others just as God extends grace to us. This is the life we have been called to live.

But, it’s hard sometimes isn’t it? Sometimes it is hard to forgive. In her book, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, Lysa Terkeurst shares several reasons why we may be hesitant to offer forgiveness.

  1. We fear the offense will be repeated.
  2. Hanging on to a grudge gives us a sense of control in a situation that’s felt so unfair.
  3. The pain we experienced altered our life, and yet no one has ever validated that what we went through was wrong.
  4. Forgiveness feels like it trivializes, minimizes, or worse yet, makes what happened no big deal.
  5. We can’t possibly forgive when we still feel so hostile toward the one who hurt us.
  6. We’re not ready to forgive.
  7. We still feel hurt.
  8. They haven’t apologized or even acknowledged that what they did was wrong.
  9. Being back in relationship with this person isn’t possible or safe. Furthermore, it’s not even reasonable for us to have a conversation with the person who has hurt us.
  10. We’re still in the middle of a long, hard situation with no resolution yet.
  11. We’re afraid forgiveness will give them false hope that we want to reestablish the relationship, but we don’t.
  12. It’s easier to ignore this person altogether than to try and figure out boundaries so they don’t keep hurting us.
  13. What they did is unchangeable, therefore, forgiveness won’t help anything.
  14. The person who hurt us is no longer here. We can’t forgive someone we can’t talk to.
  15. We don’t think any good will come from forgiveness now. 

Can you relate to any of those? I sure can. There have been times when I felt that forgiveness either wasn’t deserved, it wasn’t worth my effort, or it simply wasn’t possible. But, what happens when we hang on to unforgiveness?

As we hold onto unforgiveness, we are making the choice to hold onto our pain. The longer we hold onto our pain, the more it intensifies and begins to consume us. It fills our thoughts, triggers negative emotions within us, and is revealed through our words and interactions with others. When I explode on my kids, it always stems from hurt or pain that I am struggling with.  When I lash out at my husband, it always stems from hurt or pain that I am struggling with. Lysa says,

“If healing hasn’t been worked out and forgiveness hasn’t been walked out, chaos is what will continue to play out.”

She’s right. As we hold onto unforgiveness, we are holding on to pain that God wants to bring to the surface and heal. 

Secondly, as we hold onto unforgiveness, we are allowing our heart to become fertile ground for resentment and bitterness to grow. Resentment is always directed towards a specific person for a specific action they have taken. When we choose unforgiveness, our resentment towards that person builds. As our resentment builds, so does bitterness. Lysa says,

“Bitterness is like liquid acid seeping into every part of us and corrupting all it touches. It not only reaches unhealed places, but it also eats away at all that is healed and healthy in us. Bitterness leaves nothing unaffected. Bitterness over one thing will locate bitterness hiding inside of us over other things. It will always intensify our reactions, skew our perspective, and take us further and further away from peace.”

When we choose unforgiveness, we open ourselves up to being filled with resentment and bitterness. We also open ourselves up to the enemy.  He will take every opportunity presented to try and turn us away from God and the beautiful life He has for us. He will use our unwillingness to forgive to hold us captive. Our unwillingness to forgive will always lead us down a path full of more pain, more hurt, and more destruction.  Forgiveness, on the other hand, leads us down a path of healing, peace, and freedom. But, how do we forgive? How do we forgive when we’ve been hurt so deeply?

First, we have to acknowledge the pain and the feelings that result from that pain when others hurt us. Now, the pain I experience is going to be different from the pain you experience. We both may receive the same hurt, but how we perceive that hurt and respond to it is based upon the experiences we’ve had over our lifetime. The foundation of our beliefs about ourselves, other people, and God was built when we were young. As a mama, you are building that foundation now for your kids. As we grow older, the experiences we walk through directly affect how we perceive our pain and respond to it. Begin by acknowledging the pain and the feelings that result from that pain. 

Secondly, remember you have a choice in how you respond to the pain you are feeling. Far too often we allow the choices of others to dictate our feelings and how we respond. Part of forgiveness is remembering that others cannot hold that type of power over us. We can feel angry, but not react out of the anger. We can feel afraid, but choose to trust in the truth we find in God’s Word and not react out of fear. Others cannot dictate how we respond when we have been hurt. That power is not theirs to wield. We cannot control what we experience in this life, but we can control our responses to those experiences. 

Thirdly, it’s important to understand that forgiveness is both a decision and a process. We have to make the intentional choice to extend forgiveness. It is not something that comes easily or naturally to us. It’s a conscious and intentional choice that we have to make. And, we have to remember that even when we make the choice to forgive someone, it doesn’t mean that the hard feelings disappear, that we receive instant healing, or that the relationship will be immediately restored. Healing takes time. Lysa says, 

“The decision to forgive acknowledges the facts of what happened. But the much longer journey of forgiveness is around all the many ways these facts affected you- the impact they created.”

Pain has a way of weaving itself through the fibers of our lives. It takes time for that to heal. Forgiveness is both a decision we have to make and a process that we have to walk through. 

It’s also important to remember that forgiving someone does not mean that we believe their actions are excusable or that the pain they caused is somewhat justified. When we forgive someone, we are making the decision to turn then over to God, and we are trusting that God will execute justice. The act of forgiveness releases us from need to seek revenge and from further pain. Don’t carry the burden of revenge. It’s not yours to carry. It belongs to God.

Lastly, when it comes to forgiveness, we have to remember that Jesus will always be there to fill in the gaps. Forgiving someone who has hurt you on the deepest level is hard. I know because I have been there. I walked through a very difficult season with a friend, and though time has passed, I still have moments when the incredible pain and hurt I felt walking through that season rises up and threatens to overwhelm me. But, when that happens, I’m reminded that even though I still struggling with my feelings towards this person, I can trust that that Jesus is stepping into those areas where my human flesh fails. All God asks of us is our willingness . . . our willingness to obey Him, to forgive as He has asked us to, and to trust Him with the rest. When we decide to rise up, to choose forgiveness, His grace will cover the rest. His grace will bring healing. His grace will bring peace. 

But, we have to take those first steps. We have to make the choice to extend forgiveness and move towards peace. We have to make the choice that love will speak loudest in our life. 

“It is a rare and beautiful thing when we choose to offer love in situations when most people would choose to scorn or ignore.” 

– Lysa Terkeurst

Do the rare and beautiful. Forgive. Extend grace. Love well. 

Works Cited:

Biblegateway. Accessed 12 Apr. 2021.

Instagram. Accessed 20 Apr. 2021.

Terkeurst, Lysa. Forgiving What You Can’t Forget, Discover How to Move on, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again. Nashville. Nelson. 2020.

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