Yet, Jesus’ command to love another abides despite the conditions, and the Church must learn to lead by example. It was true in the Church’s early formation and remains so, even as we look forward to Jesus’ return.
In Christian circles, we often emphasize love and pursuant forgiveness as a foundation for relationships with others, and rightly so. The Holy Spirit equips us for all things, even loving and forgiving, when it seems impossible.
In keeping with that premise, this article will explore how unforgiveness develops, what happens when we do or don’t forgive, and how to employ God’s Word and practical strategies to walk in forgiveness.
How Does Unforgiveness Develop?
Jesus warned about impending trouble as well as offenses (Luke 17:1; John 16:33). In overcoming the world, he modeled and prescribed how to interact with others, loving neighbors as ourselves.
Neither we nor our neighbors are exempt from the sorrows and celebrations that punctuate the rhythms of earthly life. All of humanity encounters conflict, misunderstanding, miscommunication, and failed expectations. Sometimes, these give rise to offense, which can reveal other emotions including anger, betrayal, hurt.
It’s also important to recognize that our enemy delights in divisiveness. Yet the fights we are engaging in are not with people. Hence, we’ve got to deploy spiritual weapons to stand against our common enemy who relishes sowing discord.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12
Forgiving Others: Times and Seasons
Relationships blossom, stabilize, and transition, shifting dynamics as we change. King Solomon noted that life’s rhythms are bookended by beginnings and conclusions. We float in and out of each other’s lives, some staying longer than others (Ecclesiastes 3).However, season turns can produce relational tension: one party wants to continue in fellowship while another seeks to end the connection. Part of emotional wholeness and resilience embraces gratitude for the experience of having connected with another, even when relationships terminate.
We don’t have to carry anger or disenchantment as a badge of honor. Yet, when the trauma of rejection and abandonment influence our core beliefs, we internalize others’ choices to move on, sometimes regarding them with contempt and unforgiveness.
Instead, we can bless people as they come and go, realizing that we are also on journeys that cannot accommodate everyone we’ve ever known. Growing through the challenge of resolving unforgiveness may help us to uncover covert trauma stories. We also learn to be open to the joy that arrives through new avenues.
To Forgive or Not?
When unforgiveness stands between us and someone else, it also obstructs the ease with which we see and hear God (Matthew 6:14-15). What Jesus taught about prayer involved more than just conversation with God, it also templated how to entreat one another outside the prayer closet.
Unforgiveness keeps us from fulfilling Jesus’ charge to do greater works. The same love, forgiveness, and mercy that He extends to us, are also intended for the brother and sister with whom we may be regarding unforgiveness. Where we have received, it is incumbent upon us, to release His Heart of freedom and forgiveness to others, thus accomplishing his Will in the earth (Luke 7:41-43).
Time to Make Room
Everything is marked by times and seasons that are held in God’s hands. We could be limiting our growth by holding onto something or someone longer than we should. The same truth applies to unforgiveness. Holding the person hostage and holding onto offense prevents us from blooming to our full potential.
Nature reveals that pruning is essential to optimal fruitfulness, even in the healthiest of trees. Forgiving others requires us to make room by cutting away what would otherwise drain our souls.
Walk it out: Moving Forward in Forgiveness
Recognize that forgiveness is a decision and not a feeling. It’s based on your faith and reinforced by action. Taking the steps to resolve misunderstanding demonstrates love and honor for God, and respect for the person you engage.
The enemy wants to persuade you that you have not forgiven if you have lingering wounds or that you are not forgiven if interactions are awkward. He aims to enslave you to your feelings and perceptions, which may change over time and through communication.
Practical Strategies for Forgiving Others
Scripture teaches having honest conversations with each other to resolve conflict (Matthew 5:23-24). It may be uncomfortable, but it is a work of Holy Spirit grace when we obey Jesus in this manner, trusting Him to lead. Consider the following steps to free your heart from unforgiveness:
- Write what you want to say.
- Read and reread it before articulating your thoughts and feelings directly with the person.
- Be authentic and appropriate with what you share.
- State your feelings using principles of active listening and assertive communication.
- Convey your forgiveness or receive their forgiveness.
- Take responsibility. Your feelings are yours alone to acknowledge and own.
- Finally, approach prayer and the conversation with a heart ready for God to show you what He wants you to see, even in yourself.
Loving and forgiving are a tall order, but our Savior has graced us with the power of the Holy Spirit power. Equipment for life and godliness (that is, the practical and spiritual) are accessible through the Word of God, faith communities, written and electronic materials, and counselors who are trained to help heal the wounds, not just treat symptoms.
Time to Change
Sometimes, we need to separate for a time to calm ourselves and gather our thoughts before resuming a future dialogue. With some of these practical approaches, we may be better positioned to offer perspective, clarified by distance and time.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. – James 1:19
How we respond to a potential offense functions as a litmus test for our hearts. We must keep our hearts pliable, by confessing our wrongdoing and earnestly praying for the other person and the situation. We still sin and fall short, even though we are continually being perfected in Christ.
Next Steps Toward Forgiving Others
Maturing in Christ means that we reflect enough to note where we’ve acted inappropriately. Apologize for where we have offended. and take responsibility for our role in the miscommunication. Lastly, seek God’s wisdom for how to remedy and move forward.
The move forward may strengthen the relationship, but sometimes, the connection may not continue in the same way. People may be repositioned in your life. Redraw boundary lines, where necessary, listening for the wisdom of God to speak as you seek.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5
Forgiving others may not yield reconciliation either. We can forgive and nurture healthy boundaries, trusting the Lord for guidance and discernment about whether some relationships might need to be abandoned. We must receive God’s grace to empower us for future encounters in which we need to receive and extend forgiveness.
Partnering with a Christian counselor can furnish you with tools and techniques to make changes. They can provide the spiritual and emotional support needed to live in love and forge ahead in forgiving others. Contact us today to take your next step.
“Friendship”, Courtesy of Zoe, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bible and Journal”, Courtesy of Carolyn V, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forgiveness”, Courtesy of Felix Koutchinski, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Side Hug”, Courtesy of Melanie Stander, Unsplash.com, CC0 License