As I’m preparing for our inner healing retreat next week, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned through the process of inner healing. God has taken me through this transformation process for 12 years (and continuing). Each day I continue to grow and change because of what Jesus is doing in my heart. I am grateful to God for this process of inner healing and also blessed to be part of a wonderful inner healing community.
One of the areas where I’ve experienced the most growth is forgiveness. Especially toward those who have hurt me the most severely. Jesus says we are to pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-45). Through inner healing, I have learned a lot about forgiveness. And not just learned, but also put it into practice in my own heart. I am walking out my forgiveness more and more each day.
Here are 12 things I’ve learned about forgiveness:
1. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse what the person did to you. It just moves you out of the way so God can work directly with that person on their own issues.
2. Forgiveness benefits you by preventing bitterness from taking root in your heart.
3. Forgiveness doesn’t need to match your emotions. In other words, you can still feel angry while you forgive. Over time, God will line up your emotions with your forgiveness.
4. Unforgiveness only hurts you. It does nothing to the other person. I’ve often heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person.
5. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. If you have been severely hurt by someone, you need to pray as to whether or not you are to remain in relationship with that person. If the relationship continues, you need to set healthy boundaries. That person needs to rebuild trust with you. If you are in a situation of abuse, please first get out of the abusive situation and get immediate help in walking this out. Forgiveness can come later; your safety comes first.
6. When you forgive someone, remember that you are also in need of forgiveness in so many areas of your own life. In fact, you are in such need of forgiveness that you needed a Savior to forgive you so you can be reconciled to God. Approach forgiveness with the humility of knowing you too have been forgiven.
7. You can’t forgive by your own ability or strength. You need God’s help to forgive. Begin the process of forgiving by saying, “God, please help me forgive.”
8. Forgiveness is an act of obedience. Do it through gritted teeth if you have to, but do it.
9. Sometimes you may need to forgive God and other people who were innocent in what happened to you. For example, you may be angry at God for allowing what happened. Or you may be angry at someone else for not protecting you.
God didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s okay to say, “I forgive You, God.” That is simply a way of getting your anger toward Him out of your heart.
You may also need to search your heart and see if you hold unforgiveness against other innocent bystanders. For example, I was abused by a man many years after my father died. In my heart, I was angry at my father for not being there to protect me. I had to pray to forgive him and let that go – even though my father didn’t do anything wrong and was no longer living.
10. If you have trouble forgiving, ask God to help you see the other person the way He sees them. Ask Him to break your heart for what that person is going through that caused them to behave that way. As you begin to forgive, God will continue to change your heart toward that person until one day you can pray for God to bless them.
11. Forgiving yourself is often the hardest prayer you will ever have to pray. Often when we are hurt, we blame ourselves for allowing it. We have to forgive ourselves. Many people struggle the most in this area.
12. Jesus commands us to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22). If you are a follower of Christ, forgiveness is not optional. Take comfort and strength in knowing the Lord will help you to forgive, as long as you are willing and ask for His help.
Forgiveness often feels unfair and seems like an insurmountable obstacle. But forgiveness is one of the biggest keys by which Jesus sets you free. Don’t miss it!
Forgiveness also invites the kingdom of heaven to earth and invites God to work in your heart and in the life of the person who hurt you. How amazing to realize that when you forgive, that person’s life can be radically changed by God. Look at the big picture of eternity. It’s worth it.
If you would like to learn more about forgiveness, here is one of my favorite articles on forgiveness, written by my friend Kerri Johnson at The Center for Inner Healing: Wash, Rinse, Repeat.