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Have you ever been offended by someone? That was a rhetorical question!
We’ve all been either offended, hurt, betrayed, abandoned, abused, misunderstood, wrongly accused, slandered, or wounded by someone at some point in our lives. For some of us, we’ve experienced all of the above.
As a mentor for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I’ve encountered many painful stories. Stories of extreme offenses where it would seem utterly impossible for anyone to be able to ever forgive. One such story involves a woman who I will refer to here as Jill.
Jill was really struggling with some serious anger issues when we first met. As we began to talk through that emotion together, she revealed that as a young child she was sexually abused by a family member, repeatedly. When she told her parents of the abuse, they did not confront the family member, but decided instead to not speak of it further and simply try to avoid putting Jill in any further compromising situations.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work. The abuse continued for a short while longer.
Jill felt betrayed and abandoned by God and her parents. Now, in her late thirties, married and with children of her own, she was feeling the full weight of that abandonment. She was angry, and hurt. Her anger spilled out into her daily life, her marriage, her interactions with her children, co-workers, and friends.
Jill was mad at Godwhen we first met, but before long it became clear that what she was upset overmost was the abandonment and betrayal she felt because of the lack of proper response from her parents when learning of her story of abuse.
Acknowledging the damage her unresolved feelings were causing in her own life, and then processing those emotions through prayer and surrender to God, Jill was able to finally release her anger and resentment and come to the place in her journey of healing where she could forgive.
Anger is a tricky tactic of our enemy, Satan – that old snake who can’t seem to come up with any new material. He’s a record keeper. He keeps track of wrongs and reminds us to do the same – stirring up our emotions at every opportunity and whispering to our soul that we deserve apologies, restitution, and even revenge, ultimately inciting in us feelings of bitterness and resentment.
His purpose is to keep us in our problems, bound and chained by the pain we feel inside. That pain can lead to bitterness, and bitterness leads to resentment. Unresolved feelings of resentment lead to anger, and anger (while in itself is not a sin) can ultimately lead us to sin.
Sin separates us from God.
Prolonged and unresolved anger can lead to physical and mental problems, too: issues of depression, confusion, loss of memory, high blood pressure, risk of stroke and heart attack, social problems, thoughts of suicide, and even death.
Do you see the trick in all that?
But we don’t have to fall prey to Satan’s schemes. I have learned that forgiveness is the best line of defense we have against his tactics. It is the right response that Jesus calls us to, and the healing balm to our deepest wounds.
Maybe you’re like my friend, Jill, and you’re wrestling right now with unresolved feelings of resentment or anger towards someone who has offended you deeply. Maybe it involves past wounds of abuse. Perhaps you see that you need to work through these emotions and reach a place of forgiveness, but you just don’t know where to begin.
I’d like to share some important truths that may help you gain an eternal perspective when it comes to the reasons we need to choose to forgive:
1. God calls us to forgive others their offenses against us – “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” - >Ephesians 4:32, NIV
2. Unforgiveness separates us from God – “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” - Matthew 6:15, NIV
3. When we forgive others we experience true freedom – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” - Galatians 5:1, NIV
We are called by God to forgive one another, because in Christ He has forgiven us. That is the number one reason we need to choose to forgive, no matter how great the offense. But, there’s more: if we won’t forgive someone of their sins against us, then our sins won’t be forgiven. Our unforgiving heart can separate us from God.
Finally, we need to choose to forgive the offenses of others because when we don’t we become enslaved by our feelings of bitterness and resentment. When we choose to forgive others their offenses against us, we are set free from the hold they have on us. It is for freedom that Christ set us free.
Choosing to forgive the offenses of others is a difficult path to take, there is no doubt about that. There are arguments we can make on both sides. But, the reasons we need to forgive will always far outweigh any reasons we may have to hold on to a particular offense - no matter how great.
What are you holding onto today, friend?
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Crystal M. Sutherland is a speaker, ministry leader, mentor for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and author of Journey to Heal: Seven Essential Steps of Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse. Sutherland holds a MA in Theological Studies from Liberty University and has more than 18 years of ministry experience, including women’s, youth, worship and Bible teaching. She is also a biblical counselor at her church. Her work can also be found on her blog and in contributions to lifelettercafe.com.