Forgiveness is a reflection of loving yourself enough to move on.
Do you really want your pain to define your life or do you want to own your power to define your life? How much misery would you be feeling right now if you had never let go of past pain? Nelson Mandela stated, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” When we hold resentment in our hearts it is a form of self-punishment. We've all been hurt, disappointed and angry over how some event unfolded in our lives when we expected otherwise. When our lives do not go as well as we hope, we have a choice to become bitter or better. We get to choose if we're going to be pitiful or be powerful. We have the power to choose if we're going to wallow in misery and unforgiveness or walk in love and exercise forgiveness towards ourselves and others. In A Wise Heart, Jack Kornfield writes, “Letting go does not mean losing the knowledge we have gained from our past. The knowledge of the past stays with us. To let go is simply to release any images and emotions, grudges and fears, clinging and disappointments that bind our spirit. Like emptying a cup, letting go leaves us free to receive, be refreshed, sensitive, and awake.”
Early in my adult life, I walked around nursing negative emotional pain from my life experiences. I had to face a brutal truth: no one owed me anything just because of what I'd gone through or what I was going through. It was my responsibility to get over the anger, bitterness and unforgiveness I felt in my heart. My parents never told me that life was fair or perfect. They told me if I put my mind to doing something, I could do it. In spite of my parent's wisdom, I was walking through life as if I had been short changed because of the number of adversities and challenges I'd faced since my adolescence.
Anger and bitterness had taken root in my heart as a result of the negative thoughts and beliefs I had about my circumstances. I often thought, “If God is so good, how could he let all of these things happen to me.” I was allowing my resentments towards those who had hurt me and my circumstances define what I believed I was worthy of experiencing in life. I made excuses and rationalized why I couldn't do any better. It was easy for me to dwell on what I didn't have in my life. I rarely focused on what was going right in my life. I majored in pity parties and my heart was full of bitterness. You know as well as I, when we open the door to self-pity and bitterness nothing good can come of it. Except for my children, much of my life was seen through a critical lens. At the time, I felt my children were the only good thing in my life.
Fortunately for me and my children, I experienced a divine intervention when my life's path intersected with Pastor Cynthia DeBerry of Abundant Life Ministries in Columbia, SC in the early 80's. Through the power of the anointing on her life and the authority in which she taught God's word and the faith growing in my heart, I started to see myself and life from a different perspective. I began to believe that my future was not defined by my past. In the freedom of my choices, I had the power to change the trajectory of my life.
During various sermons and bible teachings, Pastor DeBerry reminded our congregation about the story of Job and how he was a good man, yet, he lost all of his family and his worldly possessions. She taught us about the betrayal Joseph experienced when his brothers sold him into slavery, yet, what was meant for his harm resulted in him being in a position to save his family. In each of these men lives, the temporary conditions of their lives appeared hopeless. However, their faith in God in the midst of these difficulties resulted in their adversity positioning them for greater blessings. It was these and similar sermons that planted the seed of faith in my heart that all of my adversities would position me to experience greater blessings.
After several months of Pastor DeBerry's teachings, I began to experience inner promptings in my soul to forgive those that had hurt me in some way. For years, I'd harbored a tremendous amount of unforgiveness and resentment in my heart. They kept me chained to my bitterness and anger. I majored in the blame game and pity parties. The unforgiveness and resentment in my heart meant that my present was being held hostage by my past. Shortly after I began to sense these hunches to forgive those who had hurt me, Pastor DeBerry conducted a teaching series on 1 Corinthians chapter 13. She urged our congregation to use this chapter as a blueprint for the love we show towards one another and others. We were reminded that Christ died for us while we were sinners. Our gift of eternal salvation through Christ is a gift from God because of his unconditional love for us. God allowed Jesus to die on Calvary's cross. Anyone who believes in their heart that the death and resurrection of Jesus is payment for their sins receives eternal salvation. The more I thought about the sacrifices Jesus made for me to be in right relationship with my Heavenly Father; I couldn't justify the unforgiveness in my heart.
Sure, I had been wronged, but I hadn't shed blood until death like Jesus. Harboring resentment and bitterness in my heart was not hurting the people who hurt me, it was hurting me. On many occasions, I'd heard this truth spoken by my elders. It wasn't until my relationship with God moved from an intellectual understanding to a “heart” understanding of the depth of his love, mercy and grace towards me was I willing to forgive those who had hurt me. The more I meditated on 1 Corinthians 13 and other scripture verses on love and forgiveness, the more I realized that I could actually forgive and let go of the hurts from these experiences. Mind you, I didn't wake up the next morning without unforgiveness in my heart. It was a process. However, as I committed myself to the process of forgiving those who had hurt me, the anger and bitterness began to dissipate. My soul was less burdened. I felt liberated. I began to have a sense of direction for my life that was being fueled by the enthusiasm and passion I felt about my children's future and my life. Proverbs 3:13 reads, “Joyful is the person who find wisdom, the one who gains understanding.”
Forgiveness Ends Self-Induced Suffering
Taking responsibility for your life and gaining an awareness of the freedom and power that dwells in your choices, you are able to better position yourself to be your best, do your best and experience more of God’s favor in your life. You won't rely on excuses or major in the blame game or pity parties as to why your life is in its present condition. Exercising forgiveness releases you from reliving past hurts. It helps you identify bitterness before it takes root in your heart. The ongoing development and practice of faith, in God and in yourself will reduce your anxiety, worry and anger. God's grace is sufficient. Forgiveness is not about how you feel. Forgiveness is a choice that you are given every day. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. It implies that you refuse to allow your life energy to be consumed by something that is done and over with. No matter how hurtful the offense, you will always have the power to choose if your pain or your power will define you. Forgiveness releases your soul from anger, bitterness and resentments that can influence you to take actions that you’ll regret. Forgiveness is a demonstration of the strength within you. Max Lucado writes, “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner.”
How much life energy do you use up in negative thinking about people that caused past hurts? In STOP Self-Sabotage Pat Pearson writes, “The reason to forgive is simple: it takes too much negative energy to stay stuck in a state of non-forgiveness of ourselves or others. When we stay stuck, we obsess and revisit the event over and over again; we traumatize ourselves and consume monumental amounts of energy that could be used elsewhere for our business and personal lives.” How do you know if you have forgiven someone? Pearson says, “If you can think of that person without the intense feelings of guilt, anger, hurt or sadness that means you're in the zone of forgiveness.” “Intense feelings, she points out, keep us connected to the person or problem. The umbilical cord of anger is just as strong as the umbilical cord of love.”
Feelings are in the body. Reactions are in the head. Nisargadatta writes, “Pain is physical, suffering is mental. Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting. It is a sign of our unwillingness to move, to flow with life. Although all life has pain, a wise life is free from suffering. A wise person is friendly with the inevitable and does not suffer. Pain they know but it does not break them. If they can, they do what is possible to restore balance. If not, they let things take their course.”
If you are harboring resentments, anger and bitterness in your heart towards anyone or about a life experience, I encourage you to consider how much of your life energy you are allowing to be consumed by an event that you cannot undo. You can't change your past, no matter how much you may desire for it to have been different. You do have the power to define how any experience affects you by the way you interpret your experiences and the emotional meanings you attach to them.
Sarah Ban Breathnach states, “Forgiveness is a form of gratitude. When we forgive others we show them the mercy that we have often received and been thankful for.” I have come a long way from my early 20's when anger and bitterness dominated my mind and heart. I believe that my faith in God and the transformation of the word in my heart played major roles in my ability to move beyond the shackles of these mental and emotional states. I had to recognize that I had the power to choose whether or not I was going to live the rest of my life feeling like a victim or make the choice to be a victor. You have the same power. It rests within your choices.
Every offense that you experience provides you with the opportunity to choose if you will be better or bitter, if it will break you or strengthen you and whether you will become a victim or victor. You're not going to bat a home run each time you are hurt or disappointed by an action committed by someone or yourself. After all, you are human. You can make the choice to be forgiving of yourself and others by accepting the reality that all human beings are imperfect. Forgiveness does not mean that you have to accept or tolerate behavior that demeans you in any way. Forgiveness releases you from the emotional attachment to offenses so that you have the emotional energy to get clear about the actions you will need to take to address the situation. Forgiveness plays a huge role in releasing your soul from the shackles of negative emotional pain. It's time to end your self-induced suffering. Begin to let go of the resentments, anger and bitterness in your heart by embracing the process of forgiving yourself and others. Your actions will help you get to a better state.
Has an act of forgiveness liberated you from a past pain? Are you diminishing your emotional energy by harboring resentments, anger and bitterness in your heart towards someone? Share your comments below.
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Note: This article is an excerpt from my new book, Get Unstuck Now. Feeling stuck in anger, bitterness and resentments? Learn how to transform the 'word in your heart' and how you show up in the wold with the road-tested strategies outlined in my book, Get Unstuck Now: Changing Your Story, Unleashes Your Power to Move On and Be Happy by clicking here for more details and to purchase.