One of the most difficult challenges for us to learn is the art of forgiveness. In Ephesians 4;;31-32 we read, Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you. Simple words, but so hard to do. In my counseling practice, many couples are embroiled in fighting, resentment, and negativity. In most cases this can be traced to an earlier time in the relationship where a conflict was left unresolved and through the years, each partner has silently harbored grudges that spill into their everyday life. The seeds of resentment started to grow like weeds, choking off the life of a loving relationship. It shows itself in snide or sarcastic remarks or in silence and indifference.
What causes us to "hang on" to our anger and resentments? There seem to be three basic reasons: 1) we don't know how to let go 2) we are afraid to let go or 3) we don't want to let go of our anger.
Many of us have never learned what it means to say "I'm sorry" or "I forgive you". We think if we forgive someone it justifies the wrong or removes accountability in the other. It doesn't! Rather, forgiveness is "surrendering my right to hurt you back if you hurt me" (definition by Archibald Hart). It is choosing not to remember a wrong done to you (definition by Don Baker). It is deciding "I'd rather be right with you than right.(Baker)
Some of us hang onto our anger because we are afraid to let go. Anger can serve as a protection. It is a powerful emotion and many would rather feel anger than hurt, stating, "I'm never going to get hurt again!" And then they put up a shield of anger which is very much like that of a porcupine, pricking you everytime you try to get close to them.
We hang onto our anger because we feel justified in doing so. "You can't expect me to forgive him after what he did to me!" or "It's unforgivable!" And some of the atrocities we see and hear about would definitely appear to come under the heading of "unforgivable". So what do we do with the admonition to love your enemies..and pray for those who persecute you (Matt: 5:44)?
We ask ourselves, often in the deep recesses of our souls, "where was God..how could he let this happen?" We don't understand His ways and secretly blame Him for our difficulties. We want to blame somebody, anybody thinking that somehow that will take away our pain. Yet holding onto bitterness is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person person will die (author unknown) Holding onto bitterness and unforgiveness poisons us while often the offender goes merrily along living out his or her life!
To forgive is in our best interest. Not to forgive affects our physical, emotional and spiritual health. Forgiveness is a process that takes time to work through. You see, we can choose to forgive even if we don't feel like forgiving. God promises to help us work it through. I would invite you to choose to begin the process of forgiving.
Written by Jill Dodge, LCSW