Rarely do people go through healing of damaged emotions without having to forgive someone. It is critical that we have a right definition and understanding of what forgiveness is and isn’t. Forgiveness does not mean that an offense was okay. Please don’t let children who fight say, “I’m sorry.” And then respond, “That’s okay.” It’s not okay. Kids carry that idea of forgiveness into adulthood and end up refusing to forgive. Teach kids to say, “I forgive you.” And when they’re adults they’ll be more ready to forgive an offense that no one recognizes as being okay.
Forgiveness means to face up to a wrong that was unjustly perpetrated and 1) release anger and resentment, 2) release any desire for revenge. Forgiveness does NOT (never did, never will) mean that an offense was okay. It means letting go. When we let go, we leave it in God’s hands. He promises to judge, either in this life or in the life to come (2 Thessalonians 1:6–9). When we forgive, we place judgment where it belongs: in God’s hands.
Unforgiveness actually puts us in a dangerous position: the judgment seat. That’s God’s seat, which is a bad place for any human to sit. The Bible tells us, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Anyone forgiving another must ask, “Do I truly believe that God will deal with the wrong on my behalf, so that I don’t have to, so that I can be free?”
Forgiveness is ironic because we do it more for ourselves than for the other person. That person is still guilty before God and subject to judgment, unless he or she repents. We forgive primarily because God forgave us and expects that we in turn forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the few things in the Christian life that we can do from a rather selfish motive!
When we forgive someone, we set a prisoner free. Then we discover that we ourselves were that prisoner.
Unforgiveness is an emotional cancer that leads to bitterness and transmutes itself into all kinds of illnesses and disabilities, depending case-by-case on the vulnerabilities of the person. These illnesses are both psychological and physical. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. We only hurt ourselves when we harbor unforgiveness.
Forgiveness also does not mean restoration. People often confuse the two. Restoration means to reinstate to a previous position or relation. People who have sinned are to be forgiven but not necessarily restored. In the context of healing damaged emotions this is important, because sometimes the perpetrator is related in some way, and the person wronged should in most cases not have to endure restored or normal interaction with that person. Doing so can generate unnecessary pain, and for abuse victims, even danger.
Two other areas related to forgiveness are those involving God and ourselves. We don’t really “forgive” God as much as we release our anger against him—and a lot of people are mad at God. A lot of people are mad at themselves too. For them, release of self-condemnation brings freedom.
When a person is emotionally traumatized, damaged, or neglected, it will affect their self-identity. This is particularly true when the problem has occurred repeatedly or over a long time.
That person must receive—and feel—God’s cleansing, love, and restoring grace. That person also needs to go through the discipline of changing the way they perceive themselves. This is particularly done by personalizing Scripture—what God thinks of us.
In most cases, it is important to renounce and affirm. To renounce means to reject or repudiate something, especially by making a declaration of refusing to follow it. To affirm means to do the opposite by making a positive declaration of agreement. This is an effective practice to help a person who has had negative elements ground into their self-identity. Thus one would say, with conviction, “I renounce . . .” and in place of that which is renounced would refer to Scripture or a positive replacement, “I affirm . . .” This can, and usually should, be done over and over. Why? Because a negative identity was pressed into the person’s mind over a long period. Transforming that identity from negative to positive naturally takes time as well.
The process goes beyond cognitive understanding. It addresses deep-level identity, how a person perceives and feels about him- or herself.
Another very helpful exercise is to go through Scripture verses that address how God sees us or relates to us—as opposed to how we may have been seeing ourselves or how others thoughtlessly or cruelly saw us. I encourage people to meditate on verses and ask themselves if they really believe them and identify with them or not. If they can’t identify with what a passage of Scripture says about them, they internalize and meditate on those verses until they can.
Here are a few verses:
Who I Am
John 1:12 – I am a child of God
1 Corinthians 6:20 – I was bought at a price
2 Corinthians 5:17 – I am a new creation in Christ
Ephesians 1:4–5 – I am chosen and adopted as God’s child
Ephesians 1:13–14 – I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit
I Am Secure and Able
John 10:28 – No one can snatch me out of God’s hand
Romans 8:35 – Nothing can separate me from God’s love
Philippians 3:20 – I have citizenship in heaven
Philippians 4:13, 19 – I can do what needs doing, and God will meet my needs
Hebrews 13:5 – God will never leave me
I Have Value
John 10:11 – Jesus laid his life down for me
1 Corinthians 3:16 – I am God’s living temple
Ephesians 2:6 – I am seated in the heavenly realm
Ephesians 2:10 – I am God’s workmanship
Ephesians 3:12 – I may approach God with freedom and confidence
Top photo credit: Tiffany Holmes www.stock.xchng.com
Lower photo credit: KatB Photography www.flickr.com