One of the hardest things to do in life is to forgive a person who has deeply wounded you.
When a somebody attacks us, forgiveness is not usually the first thing on our mind. For some of us, our initial impulse may be to retaliate. For others of us, we may tend to nurse a grudge. When we hold a grudge, we end up swallowing the bitter pill. And swallowing the bitter pill has the potential to destroy us.
I’ve been a Christian for 43 years. God by His grace has freed me from many negative behaviors. But I still struggle occasionally with bitterness. When people attack, and harmful words are spoken, or hurtful behaviors are committed, I tend to internalize my anger. If I don’t get in front of this default response quickly, the bitter pill lodges itself in my heart and begins to spread its poison.
Perhaps you’ve seen the commercial of an egg in a frying pan followed by the caption: “This is your brain on drugs.” Our brains on the hotplate of bitterness don’t do much better.
Does bitterness trip you up periodically too? If yes, what can you do about it? How do you avoid swallowing the bitter pill? One word… the F-word… forgiveness. Forgiveness is much easier to say than do. So, I thought it might be useful to share some ideas that may make it easier for us to forgive. Not an exhaustive list here—but hopefully some thought starters:
Be aware forgiveness doesn’t marginalize our pain
Forgiveness isn’t denial, nor a minimizing of our pain. Forgiveness is not amnesia. Forgiveness is not the same thing as trust. It’s simply a decision to release someone who’s hurt us so we can move on with life. Most offenses that happen to us we need to get over quickly. A driver cuts you off on the freeway, or a store clerk treats you rudely. Somebody blasts your political view (that never happens, right?). Let minor violations such as these roll off your back. Refuse to be easily offended.
But let’s be honest: some wounds cut deep. King David wrote: “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God” (Psalm 55:12-14 NIV). Sounds like a few painful encounters I’ve had with people. When the wound is deep, real forgiveness is probably not possible without acknowledging the pain we feel about it. Simply saying “Wow that hurt” is a positive step toward rejecting the bitter pill.
Be committed to the process
Forgiveness isn’t always instantaneous. Jesus commands us to forgive—but occasionally we have to work through a process in order to release our offender. Depending on the severity of the wound, the process takes commensurate time.
If you have been betrayed by a close friend, or stabbed in the back by a family member, or verbally ripped by a person who attends your church, you’ll need time just to figure out which way is up. You’ll probably also have to reach out to qualified people who can help you work through your pain. Asking God to help us respond properly helps too. Forgiving from the heart can take time if the wound is deep.
Realize bitterness = bondage
Resentment and bitterness imprison us in our pain. Forgiveness propels us toward healing. If the wound inflicted on you was severe, it will take time and effort to forgive, but ultimately, releasing your offender frees you. Perhaps you’re thinking, “John you don’t know what that knucklehead did to me!” You’re right—I don’t. But this I do know: an unwillingness to forgive keeps you chained to the person who hurt you.
Bitterness, left unchecked, destroys our physical and emotional health, our spiritual well-being, as well as our relationships. Nursing a grudge always hurts you more than it hurts the person who hurt you. It will stunt your personal and professional growth.
Remember how much God has forgiven you
It’s amazing how often we forget the sheer number of times God has forgiven us. And when we forget, it’s easier to swallow the bitter pill. I’m thinking of Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. The servant owed his master an unpayable debt—millions of dollars. The servant begged for mercy, and his master obliged, forgiving the debt and releasing him from prison. Upon his release, the servant ran into some guy who owed him two bucks, and he put this poor dude in a choke hold and ended up throwing him into prison. It didn’t take long for this servant to forget the amount of mercy he’d received. If you’re a Jesus-follower, it’s highly likely He has forgiven you more times than you’ll ever need to forgive others. Keep His generous mercy toward you front and center every day, and it’s less likely you’ll swallow the bitter pill.
People will hurt you. That’s the bad news. But here’s the good news: forgiveness is within our reach. And we don’t have to forgive in our own strength. The Holy Spirit is poised to assist. He can help us respond to the inevitable wounds that come with living in a fallen world. He can help us to give grace when grace is the last thing we want to give. He can help us stop swallowing the bitter pill.
I’m rooting and praying for you!