Once I got to the point when I realized I was a major part of the problem in my relationships, it was a bit freeing. But there was also a part of me that wanted to continually bang my head against the wall for being so dense and dull minded.
I never claimed that the past men in my life were entirely blameless for what they did, but I did take a lot of the burden off of them. I didn’t need to confront them, or call them up and apologize. That would have only opened a whole new door of abuse for them to tap into. Instead, I sat with God and handed it all over to Him. That meant forgiving people whom I believed weren’t worthy of such a thing. But God does.
Forgiving others isn’t really even about them anymore. It’s about you. And it’s about you and God. It’s about being free of all that extra baggage you carry around that weighs you down and wears you out.
Someone very close to me has carried an incredibly heavy burden of unforgiveness as a yoke around her neck for over eleven years. She refuses to forgive, but she also hasn’t accepted any responsibility for her actions or her role in the failed marriage. They have been divorced now for eleven years and she still continually brings his name up in a derogatory manner. She still brings up very specific incidents, and has even in fact distorted the truth of some very beautiful moments to better suit her hatred towards him. He has moved on. He is happily remarried and living an incredibly successful life. She remains so stagnant and so bitter that she barely lives life at all anymore. She drinks heavily, rehashing relationships gone bad from even as far back as forty years ago! She still mourns them, and still bitterly bites at their heels. Forty years! And now she lives alone…achingly alone.
Her story isn’t exclusive. I have another dear friend of mine who is living nearly the same exact way! Although I love her, I can’t bear to talk to her very much anymore. Her bitterness and resentments have crossed the line to self-absorbent self-pity and misery. How can you continue listening to the same sad, sorry stories for years and years that your life becomes insignificant to them? Nothing else matters but their bitterness.
That is what unforgiveness does. When you hang onto past angers, past situations, and past hurts, you become lost in them. You will never heal and you will never move on. You will never find the right person, because you will always be seeking out the same exact person who hurt you in hopes of righting a wrong. “I’ll make it better this time. This time I’ll change him. This time I’ll fix it. This time will be different.”
These two incredibly wonderful women have chosen to remain angry with people who have moved on. They not only hate the men who hurt them, but in doing so, they end up hating themselves, too.
There is most certainly a time for release and anger. Absolutely! But make sure it's not destructive to you and others. I spent about two years being aggressively angry after my last marriage failed. I made a lot of enemies in the process, lost a few friends along the way, and even lost an amazing high-paying job because I couldn't focus on anything but my anger. I lashed out at anyone who crossed my path. I decided to cut myself off from the world and be angry there, where it was safer for everyone. I drank, I broke things, I cried, I screamed until my throat bled. I eventually even gave up everything I owned and moved far away from him.
Although it was necessary to feel what I felt and to release it somehow, I could have released my anger sooner (and in a much healthier way), but I had no idea how to do that. I was too lost in the anger and pain. I hated myself during that period. I hated who I became. Hated who I had been. And eventually just hated me in the process. That’s the prize of being the winner in the blame game. Congratulations, you win! And by winning, you end up being the real loser. But had I not escaped my hate by taking responsibility and forgiving myself and others, I would still be wallowing and rotting away like my two dear friends. They haven't yet given it up. They are still cut off from the world, thinking it's safer there when it's not...not anymore. But it's so easy to get stuck there.
ACTION PLAN: Ask God for forgiveness for the choices you've made. He is faithful to forgive. Then tell yourself that you are forgiven; that you forgive you for the choices you’ve made. Tell yourself that it’s okay now, because things are going to be different. You are going to be different. You are going to make better choices. You are going to be healed and healthy.
GO FURTHER: Forgive others. Tell God, out loud, who you forgive and why. Tell God you are ready to move on from your past and you accept His healing. You never need to look back, because you can be renewed and freed by forgiving yourself and forgiving those who hurt you.
Now consider your past (and those in it) as literal baggage. Pack it all up (cry if you need to), zip up the suitcase, and wheel it straight to God’s feet. Got that image in your head? Good. Now do it. You don’t need to carry the past around anymore because God took it for you. He will happily discard it. Let God embrace you and feel His comforting arms around you as you are released from past pains and heartaches. (And from this point on, if you are hurt by someone, make your load easy and pack less pain.)
Pray for those you have forgiven. Ask God to heal them, too. Ask God to reveal how they hurt others, and then ask God to renew them, too.
FACT: Jesus said: “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4). God forgives you, so you can forgive yourself, also. Forgiveness isn’t about “them,” it’s about you. It’s about setting you free to love again.