When someone has wounded us, sometimes it takes a while for the hurt or anger to subside. When it does, we can often feel like we have moved on, and everything is ok. We're 'over it'. After all, doesn't the old saying go 'Time heals all wounds'?
Just because the pain has become dull, and we have moved on, does not mean that our 'wound' has 'healed'. Moving on is not the same as forgiving.
When we study the Bible, it is helpful to understand the ‘law of first mention’ - which means that when something is mentioned for the first time in the Bible, then every other time that same thing is mentioned throughout the Bible it is always referring to the first occurrence and its original meaning. One example would be that after the Fall, Adam and Eve sewed together Fig leaves to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:7-10), and then later during Jesus ministry he cursed a Fig tree for not producing fruit, even though it was the wrong season, and the tree withered and died - a reference to the fig leaves Adam and Eve used to try to cover their shame, and how Jesus was doing away with our attempts to justify ourselves, i.e. the old way of things.
The same thing applies when we're talking about wounds and lies in our lives. When things wound us or something happens to make us believe a lie about ourselves or the world around us, that first incident holds a lot of power over us if we don't deal with it right away. The Bible tells us, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27). When we let our anger simmer, and we don't forgive the person who has wronged us, then the unforgiveness in our heart is left to stew and grow, and becomes insidious, wreaking havoc on us and our relationships. Identifying and dealing with the first time that we were wounded by someone or something, or the first time we were led to believe a certain lie, will remove the authority or power that it holds over us.
If someone has wounded us, in childhood or adulthood, it can cause us to experience pain, anxiety, anger, we can build up walls of self-protection, we can believe lies about ourselves such as 'I'm not good enough', 'I have to look after myself', 'I can't trust anyone', 'I have to please everyone so that they don't criticise/judge me', 'I am not safe', 'Eating will bring me comfort', 'I must be in control', and so on. Forgiving that person, especially for the first incident that brought the wound or lie into our life, will bring us the freedom that we long for.
I once heard unforgiveness described as 'taking poison and hoping it will kill the other person'. That's what unforgiveness is like - we think that forgiving would be letting the other person off the hook for what they did, or validating what happened, pretending that what happened was ok or acceptable. That's not what forgiveness is - it is an act of will, to release you from the burden of judgement, allowing God to forgive the sin in your own life. It will set you free!
The Bible tells us that God doesn't forgive our sins until we forgive people who have hurt us (Matthew 6:14-15). Sometimes that's hard to stomach - especially if someone has seriously wronged you. You might be thinking that it's ok for some people to talk about forgiveness, but no one else knows or understands what your father, grandfather, colleague, mother, or friend did to you. That's true, I don't know how you've been wronged, but I can say from personal experience that no matter what someone has done to hurt you, it is possible to forgive them, especially with God's help, and if you do forgive, God will forgive you. The American Standard version of the Bible describes it this way, ‘release, and ye shall be released’ (Luke 6:37) - it will set you free.
Here's how we can forgive:
1) Consider the negative incidents in your life that stand out in your memory - they can be big (abuse) or small (embarrassment), from childhood or just yesterday. If you're struggling to think of something, ask God to reveal these incidents to you (if you've never gone through this process you will definitely have some forgiving to do, we all do!)
2) Say out loud 'I forgive (name of person) for (wound/lie)'; for example, 'I forgive my father for making me feel as though I was never good enough', or 'I forgive ----- for abusing me', or 'I forgive ----- for taking my pet dog to the vet to be put down', you get the picture...it doesn’t have to be something that seems ‘big’, it just has to be something that matters to you…
3) Ask God to help you to feel that forgiveness
You will note that the final step is about feelings. A lot of times people say to me, 'but I don't feel like forgiving' - forgiveness is not about a feeling, it is an act of will. It is saying, out loud, I release myself from this burden and give it to God.
Try forgiving someone today. It will set you free!