Forgiveness can look different in various phases of life, but it is crucial to one’s emotional and spiritual development and overall mental health, regardless of age. But what does forgiving others look like?Sometimes the word forgiveness makes us cringe because we may be wallowing in the pits of unforgiveness and harboring bitterness toward other people. We might be carrying baggage from our childhood where we were wronged by the people we trusted and looked up to the most. We might be carrying the weight of unforgiveness, letting bitterness and disgust for past choices consume our joy and dictate our future.
Harboring hate and negativity can feel like an emotional prison, where you distrust everyone and find negativity in almost every situation. Refusing to forgive yourself and other people might make you feel like you are stranded in the wilderness, unsure of where to turn and what direction to go.
As a child, your parents ask for forgiveness when they raise their voices or lose their temper too quickly. You are asked to forgive someone who pushes you on the playground or you are encouraged to ask for forgiveness if you hit or push your sibling.
As a teenager, you might ask your parent for forgiveness if you lie and say your homework is complete, only to receive a 0% for incomplete work. You might ask a girlfriend or boyfriend for forgiveness over a silly fight or because you were gossiping about a friend, and she found out about it.
As a young adult, you deal with the ins and outs of dating, trying to figure out what relationships are authentic and which ones are fake, and try to figure out what forgiveness means and how it can free your soul. As an adult, you begin seeing the fruits of forgiveness and how it can significantly impact your marriage, parenting journey, friendships, faith, and personal emotional health.
Are you struggling with forgiving others?
- Are you letting lingering thoughts from the past dictate your life right now?
- Are you finding it difficult to trust anyone?
- Are you keeping a mental checklist of all the ways others have wronged you?
- Are you experiencing constant bursts of anger in your relationships or thought process?
- Are you currently dealing with compulsive behaviors, trying to control all the variables that you can in situations?
- Are you trying to bury your feelings?
- Are you constantly talking negatively about yourself, degrading yourself, and telling yourself that you will not amount to anything?
- Are you constantly living in movie mode – replaying the scenes and conversations of how you have been wronged?
Things to Consider about Forgiveness
Here are a few things to consider about your journey of forgiveness:
1. The grain of truth behind the myth of “forgiving yourself.”
It is common to hear that “we must forgive ourselves before we can forgive others.” However, only the party who was sinned against can offer forgiveness, and the simple fact is that we did not sin against ourselves. We sinned against another person, and ultimately against God, and so only He can forgive us, regardless of whether the other person forgives us or not.
As its title indicates, David wrote Psalm 51 after Nathan had confronted him over his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah. These were grievous sins against two of his subjects – one of whom was even one of his mighty men – and yet David still can say in verse 4, “Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” (Italics added.)
Nowhere in the Scriptures are we ever commanded to forgive ourselves, therefore, it is quite inappropriate to speak that way. This notion of forgiving ourselves too often becomes a cover for trying to feel good about ourselves before we have made things right with God and the person(s) against whom we have sinned.
Having said that, however, it must be recognized that we may be harboring feelings of self-hate and unforgiveness without even realizing it. Much like in parenthood and marriage, we tend to let the bad days linger, replay the terrible conversations, and count how many times we raised our voices at our children. We tend to let those failures rule our hearts and minds, impacting how we approach the next day. Romans 3:23 reminds us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”It is important to realize that everyone sins, but we can seek forgiveness from God, learn from and grow from our failures, and let these experiences inspire us to change as Christians, parents, marriage partners, and friends.
Mother Teresa said, “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.”
After receiving God’s forgiveness, we can ask God to help us reframe our unproductive thought process and use those thoughts of negativity and failure for good. We must redirect those feelings of worthlessness and shame and let God mend our hearts. To truly forgive others, we must first ask God to forgive us and let the Holy Spirit guide our lives, emotions, and the way we interact with others.
2. The ultimate example of forgiveness was Jesus.
To understand forgiveness, we can look at the example that Jesus set. People spat on Him, mocked Him, beat Him, denied Him, and as he took His last breath on the cross, He called out “Forgive them, Father…” (Luke 23:24)
When someone asks us for forgiveness, it can be extremely difficult to truly forgive them. We can utter the words, but true forgiveness happens in our hearts. Forgiveness does not mean we have to be best friends with someone who emotionally abused us. It is more of an internal act where we no longer let those hurtful acts overtake our hearts and dictate how we live.
In marriage, constantly bringing up past wrongs or negative conversations will continue to drive a wedge between you and your spouse. To thrive in our marriage and other relationships, we must accept the past, learn from it, and look ahead to the future.
Some people have been raped, emotionally or physically abused, cheated on, or abandoned by the people they trusted most. Forgiving others does not mean condoning that behavior, encouraging that behavior, or just letting someone off the hook.
Forgiveness means acknowledging what has happened but not allowing yourself to hold onto a grudge, which may cause you immeasurable physical and emotional pain. Holding onto someone else’s wrongdoing eats away at our heart, even though they rarely have an idea what turmoil it is causing us.
Professional counselors do not want to downplay or dismiss what you have walked through but help you process those feelings and look forward to the future. Past hurts do not have to hold you back from living your life to the fullest.
Take the first step in your journey of forgiveness and breathe. Breathe in the hope that tomorrow offers. Accept the invitation to forgive yourself and other people. Take the opportunity to schedule your first counseling session and let us walk alongside you in your healing journey.
“Sometimes you feel the pain,
Sometimes he calms the storm,
Sometimes he just lets it rain,
Just don’t hold your breath,
-Chandler Moore, Jonathon McReynolds (Maverick City Music)
We do not have to live emotionally imprisoned by the past. Forgiveness does not come quickly or easily, but it is a journey worth taking. Do not hold on to the pain that others have caused you. Do not hold on to every negative conversation you have had with someone. We must try to look for the rainbows amidst the torrential downpours of life.
Bible Verses on Forgiveness
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. – Matthew 6:14
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you have a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. – Mark 11:25
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from unrighteousness. – 1 John 1:9
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends. – Proverbs 17:9
Christian Counseling to Help with Forgiving Others
If you’re looking for additional support and help forgiving others, I invite you to schedule an appointment with me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to help!
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