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Forgive Others and Unlock Your Heart

Each of us can be like a woman’s purse. If a woman does not change purses frequently, it is typical that stuff builds up in a pocketbook. She might toss in cough drops in cold season, but then forget to take them out as the weather changes. And so it goes with more things added than taken away. In time there is a lot of extra stuff to clean out.

            Our lives can be like an overloaded purse, filled with things of which we need to let go. This is especially true of past hurts. We tuck those wounds in to our emotional purse and hang on to them. Every once in a while we take out those old injuries and look them over before tucking the pain back in the purse.

            Yet it is for our own health and healing that God advises a different path. We should let go of past hurts, forgiving the people who have wounded us. We are, in fact, to forgive as we have been forgiven. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgiving others in the same way that God forgives us is how Jesus taught us to pray in what we call The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus said, “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors,” which can also mean “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us” for the debt Jesus mentions is the debt owed due to the ways we have wronged others.

In forgiving someone who has mistreated you, it is best to start by remembering that person is as human as you are. To take but one example, imagine that your father treated you roughly when you were growing up. You can start by recalling that while he tough on you, he treated you as badly as he himself was treated by his own father. By forgiving your father for the wrongs he did to you, you may break the cycle that began generations earlier.

Breaking that cycle of abuse usually starts by seeing the person who has hurt you as yet another fallible person like yourself. Then try to see that person as God sees him or her. God sees this person as someone in need of forgiveness and healing, just as you are in need of that same forgiveness and healing.

This forgiveness you offer is an act of the will first. You will not be able to at first say with all your heart that you forgive someone who has hurt you, but say it anyway. Pick a person who has wounded you even as you read this column. You won’t have to think long. The name that first came to mind may be a person that you have trouble imagining how you can forgive. Try it anyway.

Say to yourself, “I forgive,” then say the person’s name, “for the ways they have injured me, especially,” and then name some of the ways this person has caused you pain. Saying this is not a heart decision first, but something that you do by force of will.

Saying the words has power. For in the end, it is not through your own force of will that the healing power of forgiveness comes. That healing comes from God’s love, which you can begin to release more fully by saying those words. If you can only say the words and not really believe them, don’t fret. Try it again later. Keep coming back to those words of forgiveness. There is power in releasing the other person from that debt they owe you for the suffering he or she caused.

            Please know that forgiving someone does not mean forgetting, or staying in a place where the person can continue to hurt you. You can forgive someone of abuse even as you move away from him or her.

The Bible says that you are to love others as you love yourself. So, you must start with loving yourself as God loves you and removing yourself from an abusive situation. Once free from the abuse itself, you can move to forgiving the person who has abused you.

            Nationally-known speaker Mariah Burton Nelson tells how when she forgave the man who molested her, it released her as well. She no longer defines herself as a survivor of sexual abuse. That past is behind her. She is free to define herself without reference to what that man did to her.

You do not have to be the sum total of the injuries you have received. This is the secret of forgiveness. For in forgiving others the hurts, often very bad emotional pain, they have caused you, you too are released. Yes, you release that person, but in so doing, you no longer have to hold on to the hurt that person inflicted on you.

Forgiving others who have wronged you unlocks your heart so that you can receive more of God’s love and forgiveness. Need a little extra inducement? Here’s my one last reason to forgive those who have treated you wrong: It’ll drive them nuts. That’s not just me talking, it’s actually scriptural and you’ll find it in the Bible in Proverbs (25:11) and Romans (12:19-21) “But if your enemy is hungry; feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

In forgiving those who have hurt you, you fill their need for forgiveness just as you can help them by treating them well as the Bible says you should in those two verses. You shift the burden away from you. The hurt you carried becomes something for that person to deal with alone. Their healing becomes easier once you have released the debt, and you move on with a heart more open to God’s love.

(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)

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