I remember vividly when my husband left me. I told a friend, “It just doesn’t seem fair. I am hurting and he is living it up. He got off scot-free. ” My friend’s reply was thought-provoking: there really are reasons to forgive even when we are hurting.
Why is it so hard to forgive when you are hurting?
There are a lot of misconceptions wrapped up in the word “forgiveness”. Personally, forgiveness appeared to be condoning bad behavior. That was a lie. We need to let God take care of punishing or pardoning. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you are setting the offender free or excusing their actions. God sees and in His time will deal with the other person.
A second misconception centers around toxic marriage relationships. The abused person often believes that forgiveness means going back into that dangerous situation. Please don’t believe this lie. You can forgive while still remaining apart and safe. You can forgive and not trust the other person.
“Some people ‘imagine forgiveness involves saying, ‘I forgive you’ and includes a hug, pat on the back, or a blessing. That may be true sometimes, but not all the time. Forgiveness doesn’t have to involve the other person and it is not for their benefit.” (1)
Another misconception is that we must feel forgiveness in order to actually do it.
“People who wait until they ‘feel’ like forgiving are in for a long ordeal. Forgiveness is a decision born out of a heart and mind dependent upon God, His word, His ways, and His will.” (2)
What happens if you don’t forgive when you are hurting?
“If you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can embrace peace, hope, gratitude, and joy.” (3)
There are many reasons to forgive when we are hurting. The Mayo Clinic documents what can happen if we don’t forgive. It mirrors completely what I have observed. Unforgiveness impacts all of your other relationships. Bitterness, anger, and the inability to enjoy the here and now are some of the consequences. You can become anxious, depressed, and sometimes suspicious of others.
I have seen unforgiveness totally destroy a marriage. Standing on the outside looking in, I don’t think the unforgiving person even realized how toxic their growing bitterness was from an offense that occurred years prior. Yes, what happened was totally unjustified, calculated, and caused real pain. But the toxic bitterness was destroying what should have been one of the most rewarding relationships in life.
“When we cling to our anger because it feels justified, we can’t heal … keep the focus on yourself. Focus on what you can do to make your life better.” (4)
This Chinese proverb is thought-provoking. If you are going to pursue revenge, you better dig two graves. Wow. Modern science confirms that unforgiveness, bitterness, and a desire for revenge will destroy us.
Why is forgiveness so important?
“Getting another person to change his or her actions, behavior or words isn’t the point of forgiveness.” (5)
There are many inspirational quotes about this topic. One that I especially like is this: “forgiveness is setting a prisoner free and realizing the prisoner is you“. (Lewis B. Smedes)
Did you know that unforgiveness is a miserable prison? Your thoughts hold you captive as you ruminate on the offense over and over. So one purpose of forgiveness is our own freedom.
Forgiveness helps us heal and move on. Forgiveness allows us to have hope, joy, and peace.
What about “forgive and forget?” You might be thinking, “I can’t forget. I try, but what happened it is still there.” While God forgets our sins when He has forgiven them, our human minds can not erase the experiences that are burned into our brain. There will be situations, music, and places that will trigger our memories. “When we find ourselves focusing on a past offense, we can learn to say, ‘Thank you, God, for this reminder of how important forgiveness is.” (5)
7 reasons to forgive when you are hurting
- Improved relationships
- Improved mental health, including less anxiety, depression, stress, and hostility, with improved self-esteem. (6)
- Improved physical health, including lower blood pressure, stronger immune system, improved heart health (7)
- Hope for the future
- Joy in the present
- Peace with God and with our past
- Purpose in life as God creates something good out of our pain and hurt.
How to pray when you are feeling hurt
Dear Jesus, I am hurting. It doesn’t feel good. I don’t feel like forgiving. I don’t understand how you can make something good from what has happened, but I trust you. I know that forgiving is a decision, not a feeling.
Please help me to remember that I too have been forgiven. Help me remember that the person who hurt me might not even know you. I pray that you will help me find your purpose in this pain. While I am waiting, help me not waiver in my decision to forgive.
In Jesus name, Amen.
-S. K. Brown
[a version of this article previously published on the Creators Classroom]
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- (1, 4) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201605/how-do-you-forgive-even-when-it-feels-impossible-part-2
- (2) https://news.ag.org/en/Features/When-You-Don-t-Feel-Like-Forgiving
- (3, 6, 7) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692
- (5) https://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/forgiveness-and-restoration/