The Freedom of Forgiveness

Forgiveness. It is at the core of our redemption, it is the foundation on which our faith stands (Ephesians 1:7); yet I struggle with it constantly. I wrestle with its depth and its implications. I want it for myself, but I grip it, bury it, lord it over others when it is time to release it to its rightful owner. I thought about the power of forgiveness as I walked my dog late one evening. I asked God, “Why is it so hard to forgive?” When I contemplate my frustrated response to difficult situations, I try to step back from the triggering event and get to the ‘why’ of my reaction. As I prayed that evening, all of my past hurts played like a slideshow in my head. Every hurt felt tied to my worth. Therefore, every time I forgave, I felt like I was saying I wasn’t worthy of better treatment.

I have battled insecurity my entire life. Growing up in a home where children were to be seen and not heard, I rarely had a voice. Decisions were made for me and there was little room for hurt feelings. “Grow thicker skin!” was my dad’s mantra. I wasn’t taught how to express myself in a healthy way. The message I received from my parents was that I had nothing of value to offer. I wasn’t worthy of being heard. When I was old enough to be heard, I made sure I was the loudest and the meanest. When people questioned my approach, I’d say, “I’m just being REAL.” As if that was enough to excuse my bad behavior. Since then, God has done such a work in me. Three solid years of therapy with a woman who loved me like Jesus and prayed for me like Paul, enabled me to face the brokenness of my past with the Word of God. I learned to believe in the worth that God established for me on the cross, when Jesus decided that I was worth dying for. Knowing helped me to understand why, without it, I was sabotaging all of my friendships and why I struggled to trust anyone. In therapy, we talked a lot about how pain had shaped the way I viewed relationships with people. When I encountered conflict, it triggered responses that came from that pain rather the reality of the new situation. By making me aware of that flaw in thinking, she taught me how to respond from a position of the Truth I know, rather than a reaction to the things I feel. That clarity of mind enabled me to separate my worth from situations of conflict because I knew (from God’s Truth) that I was valued.

It softened me. I learned to respond out of love when I was hurt because I no longer felt the need to defend my worth. It enabled me to extend the benefit of the doubt because my thought life had been renewed, no longer reacting to the wounds of the past. God continues to do work in me. He continues to teach me that I’m not too much, that I am enough. My battle with insecurity has helped me to recognize longing in others and how to create space for it as we learn how to have that need met by God (Philippians 4:19). As women, we can compete and compare. Sometimes we distrust, lack compassion, and lack graciousness. It’s not because we’re heartless monsters. It’s often because we don’t know how to offer ourselves freely. Sometimes I feel so busy protecting my heart – my worth. This isn’t to say that there isn’t genuine love and encouragement and openness in our community, because there is. But there is also pain.

I remember, so vividly, drowning in my own pain. I remember acting out of it and at times, in moments of conflict, I catch myself slipping back into old ways of thinking and responding. I have spoken too harshly, backed out of a conversation, minimized myself, given a look instead of grace, and talked over others whose opinions I didn’t agree with. In those moments, I was either exerting or preserving my worth. It is in that space where my feelings are hurt that I misunderstand someone, or I react with self-righteousness because it’s difficult to see beyond myself (James 3:14-16). Sometimes I forget that my worth is already secure. Sometimes I’m terrified that if I’m open, if I’m vulnerable, someone will swoop in to prove my deepest fears – that I’m not worthy at all. This terror comes on as a feeling and lasts like a spirit — a spirit of offense. Unlike regular offense, a spirit of offense is in direct opposition to reconciliation, to grace, to understanding, and to compassion. A spirit of offense refuses to make amends and keeps (not so accurate) records of wrong. It is one-sided and therefore eliminates opportunity for relationship. At its core it is a lack of forgiveness.

When we’re striving to preserve our worth, a painful event can confirm a lie as truth: I’m not worthy. But it’s not His Truth for us. When we live according to His Truth, we’re able to respond to pain with His forgiveness. That forgiveness isn’t a verdict based on evidence, it’s based on the abounding grace and mercy He has for us. It’s part of how we’re called to love. When we forgive, we are saying “Lord, you’ve already told me I’m valuable. I’m choosing to believe You and allowing them off the hook so I can get back to Your business. Heal me and remind me of Your Truth.”

The more often we forgive, the more opportunity God has to confirm His truth to us and His truth sets us free (John 8:32). He wants to release us from the grip of grudges and soften our hearts. We have access to a God who wants to turn us away from old thinking and toward a life of freedom and hope. That privilege is the right to know God and understand who we are and are intended to be. We’re able to appreciate the gift of salvation when we recognize that we are more precious to Him than rubies (Proverbs 3:15). He adores you. He wants to give you the freedom to live and think and love without fear. Allowing Him to heal you as you release forgiveness is unlike any bliss you’ve ever encountered. It’s in that place of complete surrender that we grow and in that place of growth that we’re able to experience more of Him. Forgive.

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