A Prayer When We Struggle to Forgive
By Rev. Kyle Norman
“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” - Colossians 3:13
What do we do when we find it hard to forgive? How do we cope when everything in us wants to define another by the hurt they have caused? How do we forgive when we feel that the offending person simply doesn’t deserve it?
Recently, I had this question posed to me by a parishioner. Their teenage son was having a hard time forgiving the people who wounded him in the past. He had good reason to. His father was not a nice man, and his grandmother, who lived with him for the first 12 years of his life, moved away without any notice; he simply returned home from school one day, and she was gone. Both these events occurred years ago, and yet the lingering effects are tangible in his life. “He just can’t forgive,” his mother lamented.
We sometimes think forgiveness is about pretending that a hurt or an offense did not take place. “Forgive and Forget,” we say. But when deep harm is done, it stays with us. We can’t forget, and because we can’t forget, we mistakenly think that we are not able to forgive.
Forgiving someone who has wounded us is not about sweeping things under the rug, or pretending that the offense did not happen. Forgiveness is about refusing to let the hurt control our lives. The fact is, if we sit in unforgiveness, we continue to define ourselves by the hurt. We may say that we have moved on, but that wound still holds sway over us. Thinking about the person or the event causes negativity to rise within us. We hold grudges. We desire revenge. And often, a deep but vibrant bitterness takes hold.
Unforgiveness is a prison that traps us in shame, resentment, and hatred. Furthermore, the energy that it takes to hold onto those feelings eventually turn inward. They sap our strength and darken our spirits. Perhaps it is for this reason that Jesus commanded us to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6:12). Jesus commands us to forgiven, not because the offending person has earned it but because the act of forgiveness frees us. Forgiveness frees us from the burden of holding a grudge. Forgiveness frees us from the toxic bitterness that eats away at us.
In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen writes, “Forgiveness allows us to claim our power and not let these events destroy us; it enables them to become events that deepen the wisdom of our hearts. Forgiveness indeed heals memory.” When we take the step to forgive another, we are the ones who get healed. We become restored.
Are you going through a time where you find it difficult to forgive? Are you harboring feelings of resentment or bitterness? Are these feelings ones that you would love to rid yourself of? Jesus doesn’t want your life to be dominated by sin, whether that is your own sin or someone else’s. These are burdens that you are not meant to carry.
What might it look like for you to stop carrying the weight of the other person’s sin? Forgiveness is about giving everything to God. We release the person and whatever they may have done into the hands of Jesus. This allows us to put away the desire for revenge or recompense. We no longer feel invested in the other’s destruction. We never overcome evil by evil; we only overcome evil by goodness, mercy, and love. This is the way of Jesus.
Gracious and Almighty Father,
I thank you for the gift of forgiveness in my life. I recognize that your mercy and grace to me are completely unearned; they are gifts given in your steadfast love. I also know that it is because I have been forgiven that you call me to forgive.
But, Lord, I am having a hard time offering forgiveness. Ongoing feelings of pain and resentment rise within me. I want to rid myself of these feelings, but I find they stick with me. And, in the darker moments of my life, I wish that revenge and wrath be visited upon the one who hurt me. Lord, I am so tired from holding this burden. My spirit is exhausted from holding onto this grudge.
Help me to be free from these feelings of malice, anger, hatred, and bitterness. I wish to be filled with your love, joy, peace, and gentleness. So, I place before you today the person who hurt me and the hurt that they caused. I hold them before your cross as the place where you crucify all the hurts and evils of this world.
As I release the other person into your care, I ask that you come to me anew. May your Spirit heal me, restore me and transform me. May your mercy fill my memory, and your grace flow in my heart. And may you give me the bold strength to forgive; This I pray for the praise of Christ Jesus my Savior, Amen.
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.
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Originally published Wednesday, 28 September 2022.