We’ve all heard the phrase at some point, “Just forgive and forget.” We’ve most likely said some version of that sentiment ourselves at a time we were offering some well-meaning advice to a friend. It sounds easy enough, and depending on the type of offense involved it may even be doable.
But, how do we forgive someone of a past offense when what they did still hurts?
First, let me say that I believe true forgiveness doesn’t fully happen without God’s help. This has certainly been true for me. Second, I don’t really think there is a one-size-fits-all answer, but I can tell you what I’ve learned from living through the grueling process of recovering from childhood sexual abuse.
I was sexually abused by a stepfather, between the ages of about ten to fifteen. It was a very dark time in my childhood, where I felt trapped by fear and very alone. During that time, I was so afraid to speak up and tell my mother what was happening to me. My biggest fear was her reaction. I was sure she would blame me for it.
When I eventually found the courage to speak up, her response turned out to be what I feared most. She blamed me and questioned why I didn’t tell her sooner. I believe her response was out of shock and fear, more than anything else. While the abuse stopped, we all remained together under the same roof until I moved out at seventeen.
For years I harbored a subtle, smoldering resentment toward my mother for not being there for me when I needed her most. I felt she had abandoned and betrayed me in the cruelest way. My resentment built over time and ultimately manifested in my heart in some ugly ways, both as a wife and a mother.
I became a controlling perfectionist who had little patience for things like spilled milk or other minor infractions my husband or children might commit. I yelled a lot, and often behaved irrationally. Honestly, I was a bear to live with!
It was my husband who finally helped me to see that my real frustration was coming from a much deeper place than our marriage or our kids. It was coming from an unhealed wound in my heart. Between his insight and God’s Word, I began to see and acknowledge that wound.
It came to a point where I realized I had to face the pain of my mother’s betrayal and address the bitter root of resentment that developed in my heart towards her through the years. Through much prayer, reflection, and surrender, the weight of that burden eventually lifted from me, through the act of forgiveness.
It was a process, and it took time, but God helped me get there. I came to realize the real pain I was feeling wasn’t the wound my mother inflicted on me as much as it was the resentment I harbored towards her because of it.
It really doesn’t matter what type of offense is involved – small, deep, devastating…they all hurt. I believe what really matters is the weight we give it in our daily lives, and the posture we take towards our offender(s). It comes down to how long will we allow their offense to steal our joy and hinder our walk with God.
The truth is, God didn’t really design us to carry the burden of an offenses for very long. Our bodies aren’t able to stand under the weight of it. He desires that we, “cast all our anxiety on him, because He cares” for us (1 Peter 5:7, paraphrased by me).
In full context, that text reveals the posture God wants us to take in the face of trials and afflictions: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6,7, NIV). When we look at a past offense through the lens of that passage, it becomes clear what we need to do. The question then becomes how.
Through this journey of forgiving my mother, I discovered three important steps to take in order to forgive someone when what they did still hurts:
1. Take it to God in prayer: “An when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done.” – Mark 11:25
2. Trust God to make it right. “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
3. Remember who you are in Christ. You have been forgiven, so… “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:13
Whatever the wound is, the first step is to take it to God in prayer. Ask him to help you reach a place of forgiveness, because it is through forgiveness that you will find lasting relief. Then, trust God to set things right. He is just and he loves justice! There is no need to seek revenge, because God is the one who avenges us. Finally, remember who you are in Christ: a child of God. As God’s children, we have been forgiven and because we have been forgiven we also need to forgive others.
This is not an easy road to walk on, by any means. In fact, the terrain is rough and wild at times. But through identifying the real source of our pain, surrendering that hurt to God in prayer, trusting him to make it right and remembering who we are in Christ, we can reach a place of true forgiveness.
Is there someone you need to forgive today?
Will you start the journey to forgiveness by taking it to God in prayer?