Letting the Baggage Go…And Feeling the Freedom of Forgiveness
Forgiveness: a simple word and a complicated concept. It’s hard to explain and understand, but it’s an absolute must. Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Here are some clues and tips to get you closer to letting that unhealthy baggage go:
Why? Those who forgive little, love little.
Your soul is a tender space. What you think and say and do is a testament to what lies in your heart. If an unreleased grudge takes over your insides, very soon it’ll take over what comes out of you as well. Refusing to forgive someone is not painful for the wrongdoer, but to your own heart. Bitterness is the principal outcome of a spirit that refuses to let go of past hurts. If you hold onto your resentment you will become captive to the wounds and message of the hurt and pain. Bitterness makes the heart hard, and when it begins to sink in, its stronghold can last a long time, affecting not just the one relationship, but eventually your bitterness will grow so thick it’ll affect every relationship. Forgiveness is for yourself, not for the person who hurt you. In forgiving someone, you are claiming that what he or she did was not ok and that it hurt or negatively affected you. Holding a grudge against someone is not revenge, it only makes you calloused and leads to stress. You’ll know you need to forgive when healing from the pain will only come from asking God to help you with those deep hurts. Let the burden go and begin to feel the lightness of forgiveness.
Forgiveness ≠ Reconciliation
Reconciliation is often confused with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is about you deciding not to hold something against the other person. It does not require that the other person even know, much less participate in the process.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, requires both parties to decide to resume a relationship. You should only reconcile with somebody if it is “safe” to do so.
For example, although it’s good to forgive somebody who beat you, it is not good to reconcile with them and get beaten up again!
What? Forgiveness is a choice.
Forgiveness is a decision, it isn’t a feeling, so don’t waste your time trying to feel “forgiving,” and don’t wait to forgive until you feel ready. You must be willing to forgive before healing can begin. When you forgive you are placing the hurt and the situation in God’s hands and asking Him to mend your heart. When you choose to forgive you are choosing not to be the judge of the situation. It’s easy to justify your own actions because you know your own weaknesses, but refusing to forgive someone else’s actions for the same thing becomes judgmental and condemning. Those who hurt you have also been deeply wounded and God desires to relieve you both from your pain and sorrow. That doesn’t let them off the hook for the pain that they caused you, but it can help you understand that they need your forgiveness as a testament of God’s love, power and strength. By forgiving others you’re recognizing that you, along with everyone else in this world, are far from perfect. Everyone is fallen and in need of forgiveness. Mark 11:25 says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Who? Offer and receive forgiveness with all the people that have hurt you and those that you have hurt.
You may think you’re in the clear when it comes to forgiving, that you’ve patched everything up and no grudge remains, but it never hurts to do a heart check. Maybe it was that sleazy ex-boyfriend, your gossipy best friend or even a family member that said some hurtful things. If resentment comes into your heart and mind when you think about that person, you have not forgiven them. Simply pushing hurtful thoughts out of your head isn’t going to help you heal, and trying to forget the hurt isn’t the right solution. Belittling the experience or “squishing” down the issue is not forgiveness.
Elements of a Good Apology
When offering an apology, finding the courage can sometimes be as daunting as finding the right words to say. To help make sure that you’re offering a true, good and legitimate apology, try following this simple guideline:
- Offer an expression of regret such as, “I am sorry that . . .”
- Accept responsibility “ . . . I did or said. . .” with an explanation of what you said or did
- Acknowledge the negative impact on the other person “. . . and that cost you . . .”
- Offer to provide restitution if possible “I will pay to replace the torn dress”
- Express your commitment not to repeat the offense, and if appropriate, the steps you will take to make that desire a reality “I have started attending a self-help group for . . . to help me to understand why I do this and help keep me from doing it again.”
- Ask for forgiveness “Will you please forgive me?”
Making a sincere offer of apology is your responsibility when you have wronged someone. But understand that the act of forgiveness rests with the other person. Their decision to forgive you, or not forgive you, is theirs alone.
When? Forgiveness never ceases.
Forgiveness isn’t going to happen overnight. But it is important for you to realize that just because you aim to forgive someone, that person doesn’t have to accept your forgiveness. Just because you forgive the offender doesn’t mean you have to maintain a relationship with them. You don’t have to tell that person either. Ask for forgiveness of another person only if it will help the relationship and won’t hurt you or the other individual. You are stating that the issue is real, is a big deal and worth your time and consideration by claiming internally that you need to forgive someone. The hurt and pain you feel from another’s action is never petty enough to brush away and ignore. If it matters to you, it’s important and needs to be forgiven.
How? A grudge needs to be released completely.
Talk to someone who will keep you accountable for your decision and remind you that you’ve moved on. Take action to demonstrate that you’ve let go of the hurt caused in your life. For example: take the person out to lunch or coffee to talk to them, write them a letter explaining your frustrations, asking them to help you let it go or make a list of loveable attributes about the person. If you ever feel the grudge coming back to haunt you, work on forgiving them again, no matter how many times it takes to really move past the bitterness. Making a decision to not hold the pain against the person also means that once you’ve forgiven someone, you don’t bring the issue up again.
Unfortunately, the consequences of the incident don’t go away, so you must accept that they will be a part of your life and that you’re responsible for growing from the negative event. You’ll know you’ve truly forgiven someone when you no longer feel anger toward them and can honestly say to yourself, “I wish the best for him or her.” Real forgiveness brings about inevitable personal growth and all of your relationships will benefit when you’re finally able to let go of the baggage.