The Healing Power of Forgiveness

That relationship. Yeah, that one. When you began the relationship, you didn’t sign up for heartache or headaches, did you? 

Oh sure, you know conflict is part of life. Everyone knows. What you didn’t know then was how deeply the spouse, child, friend, coworker, or church would wound you. 

But here you are. The conflict happened. Or is happening. 

The hurt is real. So is the anger. And the confusion. 

Conflict and the resulting hurt, resentment, disunity, and bitterness that often accompanies it, is one of the devil’s most effective tools to destroy families, friendships, churches, our inner peace, and our witness to the world. 

Enter the need for forgiveness.

Years ago, my husband and I worked for a thriving church where believers were growing and unbelievers were coming to Christ in record numbers. However, when the senior pastor decided to retire things changed. Factions developed as people jockeyed for power. We ended up mischaracterized (by some) which left us devastated and deeply wounded.  

As a result, I struggled with anger, resentment, and forgiveness. I knew Jesus commanded me to forgive as I had been forgiven, but I wrestled with how to forgive. Frankly, my heart felt like someone had taken a giant sledgehammer and shattered it into a million pieces. I often found myself wondering, how does a fractured person extend forgiveness? 

One evening I tiptoed my way into vulnerability and shared my private struggle with the worship pastor’s wife. “I know God tells me to forgive, and I want to forgive because I know I should. But I don’t know how. I don’t know if I can.” My confession revealed guilt and shame layered like globs of icky, black tar on my broken heart.

She placed her gentle hands on my shoulders, turned me to face her, eye to eye, and looked at me with complete compassion.

 “I want you to listen to me. The fact that you want to learn to forgive pleases God. He’ll show you how.” 

In that moment, the process of healing forgiveness began. 

The first step to forgiving is wanting to learn how—if only because God says we should. 

But perhaps you’re in a place where your wounds are so deep you don’t want to forgive. Maybe the idea of forgiveness seems unfair. Possibly the thought of forgiveness makes you mad. 

May I gently place my hand on your shoulders and whisper something to you? Pray for the “want to.” Start there. 

Biblically, to forgive means “to let go.” When we choose to forgive, we let go of our right to get even and we allow God to take over. We let go of our bitterness. We let go of our resentment. We let go of our propensity to bring up the past as an ongoing assault of guilt and shame. 

It’s been said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” The consequences for unforgiveness are lethal.

If we refuse to forgive, we eventually become bitter, resentful, or self-righteous people. When unforgiveness reigns unfettered, our joy, contentment, and usefulness to God die slow, painful deaths. The conflict we wish would go away lives on in our hearts, minds, and souls. Ironically, our perpetrator pays no price for the poison in our soul. 

As long as we cling to unforgiveness, we remain chained to past hurt. We live enslaved, revisiting the incident in our minds over and over, wondering how to unshackle the chain. 

The choice to forgive loosens the chain and sets us free. 

However, the choice to forgive will feel difficult—maybe even impossible—if we falsely believe (1) that forgiveness means offering the offender a free pass to hurt us again or (2) that forgiveness means saying, “What you did to me was no big deal.” 

On the contrary: forgiveness means the offense was such a big deal it cost Jesus His life. 

Since forgiveness is not giving our offender a free pass to hurt us again, the choice to forgive shouldn’t be equated with the choice to trust or be reconciled. Forgiveness takes one person, but trust and reconciliation take two. 

After years of working through forgiveness, here’s what I know: forgiveness is a command, forgiveness is a choice, and forgiveness is a process. 

In Matthew 6:12, Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”  In Colossians 3:13 we’re instructed to “[bear] with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, [forgive] each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (ESV). 

Forgiveness is a hallmark of a believer’s life.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.

However, inviting Jesus into the process of forgiveness makes it easier. After all, Jesus is the Master Forgiver. What’s more, Jesus understands betrayal, heartache, rejection, being misunderstood, physical abuse, abandonment, being despised, and false accusations, just to name a few. Our Savior is called “a man of sorrows . . . acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3 esv). Hebrews 4:15 also tells us Jesus understands and empathizes with our human condition. 

You can simply say, “Jesus, I invite You into my heartache.” 

When we invite Jesus into our pain and ask Him to help us to forgive, Jesus doesn’t shame; Jesus sympathizes. 

Jesus leans toward us, wraps His loving arms around us, and tenderly whispers, “I know. I’ve felt it too. I understand, and I can help.” 

If you find yourself struggling with the forgiveness process, picture your hand in a clenched fist. Better yet, make a fist right now. Envision the issue that wounded you—the one you know you need to forgive but can’t quite find it in your heart to do so—inside your tightly held fingers, resting on your palm. Each finger represents a reason you haven’t let go: it wasn’t fair; they got away with it; they skipped off to a new life, leaving you with their baggage; you want them to feel as badly as you do; they sinned while you tried not to; they need to make it right; you want them to pay for what they did; they shouldn’t have said what they said or did what they did; they treated you wrong. The list could go on. 

Now, gently unfurl each finger, one by one, until the core offense lays bare. 

Turn your hand over and drop the offense into the nail-scarred hands of Jesus. 

That’s forgiveness. 

It’s important to give yourself grace as you navigate the process of forgiveness, but don’t throw up your hands in despair and stop choosing to forgive, even if it takes time. Remember, forgiveness is both a choice and a process. If you follow God’s ways, if you invite Him into your hurt, and if you keep making the choice to forgive, one day you’ll wake up with the realization that unforgiveness no longer has a hold on you. The process of forgiveness will have morphed into actual forgiveness. 

The enemy’s strategy to destroy and divide will be defeated. 

And you’ll be free.

Excerpted from Healthy Conflict, Peaceful Life: A Biblical Guide for Communicating Thoughts, Feelings and Opinions with Grace, Truth and Zero Regret by Donna Jones. Copyright 2024. Published by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission.