Finding Ways to Forgive after Deep Hurt

Finding Ways to Forgive after Deep Hurt

God’s Promise: God is compassionate and will provide the grace to return good for evil.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Forgiveness: an intentional decision to let go of anger and resentment; grant relief from a debt. It's a funny thing. It sounds easy, cleansing, and obedient, but forgiveness is impossible – true forgiveness is impossible without God. 

Yes, it may be easier to forgive if prefaced by a remorseful apology, complete with tears and the saddest faces. It may be easier to forgive if the apology includes the wrongdoers understanding the repercussions of their behavior and how it impacted others. And it may be easier to forgive if there is a genuinely repentant heart in the one who wronged you, a heart that is changed so that the behavior is not repeated. But it doesn’t always happen that way.

How do you forgive when there is no remorseful apology because the person feels they have done nothing wrong? How do you forgive if you see no change in the person’s behavior and the hurt continues repeatedly, or if the pain they caused is so deep that it alters your ability to trust? And how do you forgive if the wrongdoer is no longer here, leaving you, the victim, behind with the challenge of forgiving and living amid the memories that continue to flood in? 

Forgiveness is hard.

Who Gets the Blame?

Many emotions can be set deep within when you have lived through abuse, trauma, or wrongdoing. These unresolved emotions can wreak havoc on your ability to form future relationships, experience true freedom and joy, be at peace with yourself, and be at peace with God. Emotions like hate, blame, sadness, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, anger, and distrust can become so deeply embedded that if you can identify the feeling, you may not understand the source that it comes from or how to cope with it. 

Forgiveness also appears to be multi-dimensional. Forgiveness requires an offense, but sometimes, if you have experienced a trauma or have lived in a relationship with an abuser, there may be anger, hate, or blame directed at yourself or God, and neither party is guilty. It is a perceived offense from your distorted life and is just as real.

You may blame God for the infertility that you are suffering; for the abuse that He allowed to happen; for not answering a prayer that you diligently sought; or for the healing that never came. You hate, seek revenge, and disengage as a way of distancing yourself from a God who is innocent of the acts of wrongdoing you hold against Him. Your misjudgment of His character and lack of understanding as to the loving God that He is puts Him in a position of being required to make amends and seek your forgiveness. This offense is unfounded because God is a flawless creator whose ways are perfect without error. Still, your deep-seated emotion seeks to blame someone for the pain when the wrongdoer doesn’t accept the responsibility. 

Sometimes that blame settles unfairly on God.

And other times, that blame settles within yourself.

Paul’s Instruction to Forgive

Paul wrote the book of Ephesians during his imprisonment in Rome. It can be described as a circular letter because it was written to circulate from church to church to encourage believers. It first went to Ephesus but then moved from that location to other places. In Chapter 4, Paul switched gears and began advising the church on how to live with other believers in Christ. Ephesians 4:31 was an essential verse in dealing with the misgivings of others:

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”

Paul said, get rid of; put away from you; be removed from you. Get rid of anger and disappointment at being mistreated; resentment, wanting retributory punishment for an offense, having intent or desire to do evil; and revenge for an offense. 

Paul said to forgive.

What is your hurt? Was it a loss? Loss of a marriage, a child, a parent, a spouse, a job, a dream, or years stolen from you by addiction. Was it mistreatment by another person? Emotional abuse, bullying, physical abuse. Was it a criminal act toward you or a loved one? Were you unable to have children and feel robbed of that joy? Were you lied to, treated like dirt, rejected by your spouse for someone else? Has your child hurt you - the one you gave birth to and raised sacrificing everything for? Was it spiritual or religious abuse with someone who appeared to be Godly, worthy of the respect you gave them as a spiritual leader?  

Life is tough. Life is unfair. 1 John 5:19 says:

“We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” 

With the evil one in control, sometimes justice seems like a pipe dream so far out of reach that you learn to live in the pain, and forgiveness just feels impossible to give.

Our Hearts Are Sponges

Have you ever looked closely at a sponge? 

The reason that it is absorbent is that it is porous. A sponge is made up of tiny loose fibers with space in between them. Holes, crevices, and empty places fill up with whatever is being wiped up. A sponge soaks up the mess and hides it within its nooks and crannies. When rinsed and cleaned, the dirt still hides; it's probably more deeply buried than before. The damp darkness creates a fertile ground for the growth of the dirty substance. 

The sponge is like our heart. There is a mess in your life, and you use your words and your heart to wipe up the dirty countertop, forgiving the ugly you see and ignoring the wrong done to you. When you are finished, the dirt from the counter is gone, and all seems fine, but the sponge holds on to the ugly that was removed. You rinse it thoroughly with water and rid the sponge of all of the dirt in sight, and to the eye, it looks spotless, so you set it aside. But there is a residue that is hiding. It breeds deep inside the damp darkness; when you least expect it, it will return with a vengeance. You pick it up to use it again, and the hurt will be triggered, and the bacteria from the growth will spread onto new surfaces, infecting new relationships and interfering with the clean surface you thought was there. 

But God said to get rid of it, remove it, and start over with a clean slate. Rid yourself of hidden emotions and blame attached to the offense. It is impossible to do within your strength, but possible when you give it to God. 

6 Things to Remember about Forgiveness

Here are a few things to remember:

Healthy Boundaries

Forgiveness does not condone behavior that is unhealthy for you. Just because you forgive someone does not mean that you allow mistreatment to continue. Sometimes forgiveness will require that a boundary be set around you so that you can detach yourself from the emotion that may draw you back in.

Forgive and Forget

Forgiveness does not come with a guilt trip. Suppose guilt and insults are hurled at you - back away so that they do not take hold. Forgive and walk away.

Forgiveness Releases You

Yes, you can forgive someone who is no longer here through death or a broken relationship, and you no longer have contact. It will still have hold of you and control that may be deeply hidden but can erode future relationships and mental, emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical health and well-being. Speak aloud to them - forgiveness does not need an apology from another person. Forgiveness releases you from the hurt.

Forgiveness Takes Time

It takes time. It will require that you do it over and over until, one day, you will realize that God has healed the wound. Do not get discouraged. Speak the forgiveness aloud when memories come, then redirect your thoughts so that you do not give the enemy a foothold to fester. Ask God for strength because He knows how difficult it is to do.

Who Else Needs Forgiveness?

You may not only need to forgive those who wronged you, but you may need to forgive yourself and God for holding him guilty of some undeserved injustice.

Don’t Stay in Your Hurt

Part of the process of forgiveness is acceptance. It is accepting that we live in a sinful world where others may and will hurt you, but to stay in the hurt is to waste the life God has given you. Accept that it happened, ask God to give you the strength to forgive, and move forward. Sometimes moving forward means learning a new way, choosing new friends, paving a new path, and not returning to the place where you can be continually hurt again.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Westend61

Cindy Collier author headshotDr. Cindy Collier has retired from a 30-year career in the public school system, having worked with students with disabilities as a teacher, psychologist and administrator. She is currently serving as an adjunct faculty member for the University of West Florida and as an autism consultant. She has published two popular educational books and several online articles. Her doctorate may be in education but her passion is encouraging other believers through her writing. Cindy is a survivor of a marriage controlled by addiction, pornography, abuse, and mental illness. It was a life lived with someone that she grew to fear filled with secrets and deception, but is now a life restored by God and His promises. She is presently the author of where she allows her testimony to guide her writing by being transparent in her walk with the Lord.