We’ve heard it time and again from every source imaginable, forgive one another. It’s all throughout the Bible and is an essential practice in every religion I’ve ever studied. Jesus calls us to forgive not 7 times, but 77 times.
But why? What really happens with forgiveness? How does it benefit us? Can one really find freedom through forgiveness? And how can we make it a routine part of our lives? I’ll not only answer these questions, but I’ll also share some of my own forgiveness stories in this series on one of God’s greatest gifts.
So What is the Big Deal About Forgiveness?
To start with, when we forgive, we don’t condone the action. We also don’t let ourselves be treated like a doormat. We don’t even have to have an ongoing relationship with the person who hurt us.
Forgiveness is about moving on. It’s about letting go of the bitterness, anger, frustration, resentment or whatever emotional power weighs us down after we’ve been hurt (intentionally or unintentionally). It’s about not defining ourselves by what happened.
Finally, forgiveness is about not letting that person or those emotions have power over us any more and moving on. It frees you up to move forward in life without all that extra baggage weighing you down.
Stuffing Your Feelings vs. Feeling Your Feelings and Forgiving
True, it’s healthy to feel those feelings when they emerge – or maybe you won’t let yourself feel them. Maybe you think you shouldn’t feel angst about what happened (or you’ve been conditioned to think that). But feelings are real. When we stuff them or hang onto them them for too long they tend to show up in other ways, many times, festering as physical symptoms.
How many times do you think about a past hurt or someone who has hurt you and your shoulders, jaw, lower back or stomach clench up? Not only that, but our stress response kicks in and our bodies start producing stress hormones, like cortisol and glucagon, while telling our thyroid & female hormones to lay low for a while. Our blood pressure, blood sugar and hunger may spike all as our metabolism slows, upsetting our digestion & reproductive system.
Now what if that happens several times a day, for several days, months even years?
We find ourselves in a mess with chronic health issues that range from pain (tense muscles constricting nerve and blood flow as well as pulling joints out of alignment) to weight gain (because the body thinks it’s not safe to burn energy and/or we try to ‘stuff our feelings’) to other chronic disease.
And it doesn’t have to stem from one event or person. Little irritations or annoyances can accumulate over time, until that one straw finally breaks the camel’s back & we explode. That was how I rolled until about 5 – 7 years ago.
Since then I’ve worked hard to just let things go, move past them, get on with life. It worked for a while, but I still wasn’t at peace. Especially when I thought about this one person.
It wasn’t until I really reached out to God and told him I wanted to forgive (especially this one person) that I finally felt the Holy Spirit’s peace settle over me and stay with me.
Freedom through Forgiving Others
It was an amazing experience and one I’ll never forget. I laid down on the floor, closed my eyes, placed one hand on my heart and other on my tummy, took a few slow deep breaths as I tuned into what I wanted to do.
Then, I asked God to help me truly forgive this person. In my mind’s eye, (like a dream) I saw myself straining to stand up, hunched over, burdened with this huge, heavy cross on my back. No wonder I was having issues moving forward!
Jesus appeared right in front of me asking me if I’d like him to help me lift this cross off my back, pointing to the cross and something else behind me.
I turned around and there, right behind me were God’s open, cupped hands. He was waiting to catch this cross if I was willing to surrender it to him. Let him take the hurt, the pain, the shame, the remorse, the guilt, the anger, frustration and all the stuff I was dragging around.
I snapped my head right around noticing Jesus’ look that seemed to say, “Girl, I already did that. I know what it’s like to carry that thing around.” With determination in my voice, I boldly told Jesus, “Yes! Let’s do this thing!”
So, I lifted from underneath & Jesus helped from the front & we heaved that heavy cross right off my back & shoulders. It tipped over backwards, landing right into God’s hands & I started sobbing. Not just in my mind’s eye, but real, racking physical sobs. Sobbing for lost years, sobbing for hanging onto it for so long, sobbing for I really don’t know what. But sobbing. Letting it go…….
My back physically arched up off the floor, like something painful was ripped off me, yet there was no physical pain.
I put my arms around myself & rocked back & forth, tapping on my heart at times, just letting all the emotions come up, feeling them fully and giving myself this space, love and compassion. Giving myself this amazing gift of forgiveness and letting myself receive it.
After a few minutes, I noticed I was much calmer. Once again, I saw in my mind’s eye, God’s cupped hands behind me, but they were moving up, like he was drawing them back up to heaven. But he wasn’t holding a cross.
Instead he held this crouched, red, shriveled up, whimpering, moaning version of this person I was forgiving. Kind of like the repulsive child-like version representing one of Voldemort’s split souls in the Harry Potter series.
Right then & there I knew that was the burden I was carrying around. This person’s brokenness. Their woundedness. Not mine.
I then felt Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to minister to my back & to my heart. Feeling myself opening up to allow God’s healing love in. I just stayed there until I felt the Spirit’s peace settle over me, feeling the Spirit’s love & peace flowing through me with ease (the opposite of disease).
Opening my eyes and rising up off the floor, I felt lighter, freer than I had in years! I slept well that night and all kinds of energy the next day. Ideas & inspiration started flowing to me and I truly felt joy mixed in with a deep sense of peace. I also felt compassion for this person. This wounded, broken person who hurt me.
Just the Beginning
As powerful as that was, it was just the beginning of the forgiveness work I had to do. The forgiveness work God calls all of us to do. Because God doesn’t want us burdened by all this ‘stuff.’ Especially other people’s ‘stuff.’
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not 7 times, but 77 times.”Matthew 18:22 (NASB)
It does get easier, but depending on who or what it is, I do bawl like a baby. And you know what, that’s OK. Our feelings are meant to be felt. Like I stated earlier, when we stuff our emotions (in one form or another), they tend to fester up into physical problems and cause disease.
The lightness I now feel is freeing. I find myself not reaching for food to stuff my feelings near as much as I used to. It’s also been easier to keep my shoulders back & down, maintaining good posture which has been better for my voice and overall health.
In short, forgiveness, or letting go/surrendering this burden to God opened my body, mind & spirit up to more love, peace and JOY in my every day life. It’s so much easier to jump for joy!
Stay tuned for more on forgiveness in the coming weeks. I’ll take a deeper dive into asking God and others for forgiveness as well as forgiving ourselves . This is probably the hardest of all to even think about doing, much less carry out. But probably the most rewarding and freeing of all.
Have you received unexpected gifts when you’ve forgiven someone?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your comment may be the spark someone else needs to start their own forgiveness journey and help us all