Excerpt from: Forgive, Let Go, and Live
Prologue: Why Forgiving Is So Hard
“Even as a little girl, when kids would cross me in any way, I never let them back into my good graces.”
My mom’s words echoed in my spirit and found rest there for many years of my life. Similarly, my father never forgot a single offense that anybody committed against him. He and my mom argued frequently about things that happened or had been said in the far distant past. They served faithfully and sacrificially inside and outside the walls of the church. Nevertheless, a spirit of unforgiveness plagued them.
Just days before my dad passed away at age 78, I had the privilege of reconciling him and his best friend after a three-year rift. They were fellow members of their church trustee board and had disagreed over a financial transaction. Prior to their split, they had enjoyed rich fellowship and great family fun over their 50-year history. Notwithstanding, Dad believed the church had treated him unfairly (I didn’t agree with him based on the facts he presented) and he was not going to let it go—especially in light of his extreme generosity and long-term service. Through much prayer and long conversations in which I reminded him of the consequences of unforgiveness, he finally relented—or, I should say, repented.
My mom, who passed away four years later at 82, frequently recounted the many instances of my dad’s physical and verbal abuse. After 21 years of marriage, she’d finally mustered the courage to literally escape to another state with five dependent boys in tow (my older brother and I had already left the nest). They remained separated for 40 years but never divorced. I’m convinced it was bitterness that ushered her into her 10-year battle with dementia prior to her death. All of her imaginary conversations had an angry tone and centered on her painful issues with my dad.
My parents’ legacy of holding on to offenses influenced how we, their seven children, dealt with people who offended or crossed us. With such a heritage, I knew unforgiveness was poised to become a stronghold in my life. The pattern had already started to evolve. If people offended me, I never viewed them the same. Depending on the nature of the relationship, I would either keep my emotional distance or make a mental note never to trust, favor, or include them again in my dealings. My most common tactic was to hide behind being “too busy” to interact with them again—ever. They finally got the message: Once you offend Deborah, you are out. No three strikes policy here!
Shortly after I married my wonderful husband, I sternly warned him, “Please try not to do anything where I’ll have to forgive you because unforgiveness runs in my family. We do absolutely no forgiving!” This statement seems hilarious to me today, but I was dead serious at the time I said it.
It was not until I met one of my most beloved spiritual mentors, the late Dr. Juanita Smith, that I began to make headway in conquering this emotional giant. She taught and modeled forgiveness on a level I’d never seen. She frequently proclaimed, “I release everybody who has hurt me.” She didn’t just give lip service to the idea; I watched her walk it out many times.
I finally decided that unforgiveness had wreaked havoc in my life long enough. It had caused me to write off several relatives, friends, coworkers, and others. I spent way too much time in my head rehearsing the wrongs people perpetrated against me and imagining the awful things I could have said or done to retaliate if I weren’t a Christian. I started to realize how counterproductive it is to engage in such thinking. So, as an act of faith and obedience to God, I declared my freedom from unforgiveness. It was and is a giant I could never conquer in my own strength.
You may be asking, “Why is forgiving others such a hard thing for so many to do—even strong Christians?” I believe when we have been damaged, deprived, or disadvantaged by another, we instinctively want to be compensated for our loss. The loss can take any number of forms, including property, affection, freedom, self-esteem, innocence, and physical well-being.
Every offense is an assault on our emotions. The root meaning of emotion is “to move.” When our emotions are attacked, we want to move against the offender. But when the law or our better judgment or other circumstances prevent us from moving to exact revenge, to gain justice, or to be made whole, anger rears its head. Some people choose to bury their anger. In doing so, they develop a root of bitterness that can quickly infiltrate their hearts and minds—stealing their joy and turning them into someone they don’t want to be.
This book will show you a better way to handle the inevitable offenses of life. I hope that as you read the following pages, you’ll look at how you deal with your hurts and make a commitment to walk in forgiveness—no matter what!
In Part 1, we will take a brief walk down Revenge Row and see how retaliation impacted the lives of those who refused to forgive, let go, and move forward.
In Part 2, a number of contributors share their heart-wrenching, as well as heartwarming, stories of deciding to release the perpetrator of their hurtful experiences. I have changed the names and circumstances to protect their privacy except where the facts are disclosed in their published writings or in news reports. I make no attempt to weigh the magnitude of the offenses as they are each so personal. From being a victim of gossip to enduring the horror of rape to financial rip-offs, these forgivers will inspire, challenge, and motivate you to let it go.
In Part 3, faith and practicality converge as we explore and debunk the myths of what forgiveness is and what it is not. I hope the guidelines I present for working through the forgiving process will transform your thinking and move you to a higher quality of life.
In Part 4, we’ll look at the spiritual, emotional, relational, physical, and yes, even financial benefits of forgiveness. The Holy Spirit’s illumination of these truths will challenge you to grow and to go forward as a model and ambassador of forgiveness in a revengeful world.
Finally, the “Forgiveness Prayers” at the back of the book address a variety of hurts and offenses and will guide you in praying to release the person who has harmed you and to stand in faith for your deliverance from unforgiveness. Through these Scripture-based, courageous prayers and faith declarations, God will surely turn your ashes into beauty.