Years ago, my pastor-husband and I found ourselves in an unforeseen, extremely hurtful circumstance. Days earlier, we had been investing our lives in a ministry we loved. Then we were asked to leave. Our roots ran deep in that place. In addition to our livelihood, we had friendships and relationships with leaders and mentors. How were we to grieve privately and heal honestly without grieving the Holy Spirit publicly or harming others? We struggled with a gamut of emotions: anger, bitterness, betrayal, jealousy, and resentment. Like a freefall without a parachute, we somersaulted end over end in space, the circumstances out of our control.
Everyday life brings many opportunities to exercise forgiveness. Offenses can be small incidents to huge wrongdoings: a driver cuts into our lane, a well-meaning co-worker gives unsolicited advice, a prodigal child strays, or a spouse has been unfaithful. Daily we are faced with the choice to be bitter— not forgiving—or let God guide us into how to walk in the freedom of forgiveness.
My husband and I had to learn how to let go of our grudges to recover spiritually and be healthy emotionally. With God’s help, the process of getting back up after a devastating situation knocks you down has taught us to embrace four essential principles of forgiveness:
1. We must recognize and identify the existence of our feelings of unforgiveness. In our case, when we took time to sort out our feelings, we were able to understand better the immeasurable forgiveness the Heavenly Father offers us. Romans 2:4 (NIV) reminds us, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
2. We must specifically isolate the deeper issues. We’ve found that sharing our feelings with God brings closure to the process of giving up our grudges. God understands our feelings and reminds us that the substitutionary process of forgiveness is His idea. Best illustrated in the life of Jesus Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV), “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us. . . .” Jesus Christ bore our sins, and we should bear one another’s sins and forgive as we have been forgiven.
3. We must confess and let forgiveness work in the core of our emotions. In other words, we must allow God to expose the root cause of our emotions. Neil Anderson says, “Unless forgiveness visits the core of our emotions it is incomplete.” Often there are lessons we need to learn. Not only will God use adversity to teach us things we could not learn any other way, He will also prune us for greater and more-effective service.
4. We must experience forgiveness as a command, a choice, a crisis of our will. We decide to forgive, out of obedience, bearing the consequences of what was forgiven. We choose the freedom of forgiveness instead of the bitterness of unforgiveness. When we decide to give up control of the circumstances, we refuse to hold on to the hurt and the hate. Jesus was asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus’ answer was this: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV). Choosing forgiveness is a decision to be merciful and to bear the iniquities of those who have wronged you, as did the Lord Jesus.
Forgiveness is giving yourself a gift. Martin Luther King said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.” Christ gives you the opportunity to get back up after you’ve been hurt by others. God wants to release you from your frozen state of bitterness to a graceful walk in the freedom of forgiveness.
About the author: Exchanging hurt for hope is Sheryl Giesbrecht’s focus—a message she shares with audiences as a radio personality, author and speaker. A dynamic teacher and motivating leader, Giesbrecht has endured many changes and challenges, moving her to a deep faith, trust and dependence on God. She is host of the nationally syndicated radio show, “Turn Up the Music with Sheryl Giesbrecht,” and the Executive Director of International Christian Ministries (www.ICMUSA.org). Her new book is Get Back Up: Trusting God When Life Knocks You Down.