SOURCE: Adapted from Your Family Voyage by P. Roger Hillerstrom
Some of the heaviest weight to unload is that of resentment.
The object of animosity may be a parent, sibling, authority figure, or some other significant person from your past. You attempt to “get them back” by withholding love or approval, withdrawing, being uncooperative, ruminating on your anger, or severing the relationship altogether. You may have denied or buried your anger so long that you aren’t even aware of your bitterness, but the emotion is expressed in a variety of ways:
Unmerited explosions of anger.
Avoidance of certain individuals.
A strong desire for vengeance or retaliation.
A pessimistic or critical outlook on life.
Sarcasm, cynicism, or critical attitudes toward individuals or situations.
Over-reactions or under-reactions out of proportion to the current situation.
In harboring resentment you suffer more than anyone else – anxiety, tension, regret, and isolation as well as physical effects such as headaches, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. The offending individual may not even be aware of or affected by your indignation.
The resolution of resentment is forgiveness.
When we choose to forgive another person, we receive the primary benefit – the freedom to choose our responses and commitments to others, to ourselves and to God.
Our model of forgiveness is God.
Each one of us has broken God’s laws and erected barriers in our relationship with him. The offenses are ours, not Gods. God’s forgiveness is not based on his denial of our sin; he is very aware of our offenses against him. God’s forgiveness is not the result of his ability to pretend that we never committed any wrong. The forgiveness our heavenly Father offers is based on his willingness to bear the cost of our sin. Christ’s death on the cross was the payment for our sin. Because of that payment, God is free to respond to us as a gracious loving Father rather than as a righteous judge.
When we decide to forgive someone who has offended us, we must choose to bear the cost of the wrong committed against us. Once we forgive, we no longer require a payment for the offenses we experienced. We cancel the debt by accepting the offense. In essence, we pay the debt owed us. We no longer punish the offending person through anger, silence, avoidance or criticism. This process frees us from the burden of resentment and allows us to let go of troublesome patterns from the past.
If we are going to unload baggage from our past, it will be necessary to relinquish any bitterness we may harbor. Forgiveness is necessary. Without letting go of our desire for vengeance, we trap ourselves into the patterns of the past.
Does forgiveness mean I’ll forget the offense? No. Forgiveness isn’t a matter of blocking memories or denying the past. You will probably always carry a memory of the offense, but your emotional response to that memory can change as you forgive.
How long does forgiveness take? This varies a great deal. Forgiveness is a process and seldom occurs instantly. The process of forgiveness begins with a conscious decision. Once you have decided to forgive, God can begin to work in you to heal your wounds and change your perspective.
How will I know when I’ve forgiven this person? While the memory will remain, the experience of that memory will become a recalling of history rather than a current experience of anxiety, anger, or hurt.
How do I start forgiving? Forgiveness begins with a decision. Once you’ve decided to forgive, prayerfully ask God to soften your heart and broaden your understanding of this experience from your past. As you sincerely look to him, he will be faithful to shape you into his image in this area. Once you have confronted those painful memories, they lose their power. When they “feel” real, you react emotionally.
Your painful memories may cause incredible and unpleasant discomfort the first few times you mentally walk through them. But once you’ve confronted them, they lose their immediacy. Conversely, as long as you expend effort trying to avoid a memory it will retain its vivid reality and negative power, even if in your dreams or in the far corner of the haunting attic you try to pretend doesn’t exist.