How do you forgive the unforgivable?
Three American doctors were gunned down this week in Afghanistan by an Afghan guard who was supposed to protect them. The next day, Jan Schuitema Umanos, wife of Dr. Jerry Urmanos, one of the slain doctors, came forward to say she forgives the man who shot her husband.
How is that possible?
Mrs. Umanos spoke openly about her and her husband’s faith in Christ. It is this faith that enables Mrs. Umanos to forgive the unforgivable. “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke18:27 NIV).
As Christians, we are called to forgive others as we have been forgiven, but that is often easier said than done. It helps to understand how hanging on to resentments hurts us.
In Codependent No More, Melody Beattie defines resentment as “hardened chunks of old anger that clog the heart, preventing the flow of love and compassion, much the way plaque restricts the flow of life-giving blood to the heart.” Forgiveness is the angioplasty that breaks up those chunks of old anger and releases you to love more freely.
We don’t compartmentalize our anger, keeping it just for the person we resent; it spills over into our marriages, our parenting, our workplaces, and our churches. Smoldering anger will erupt from time to time with a force not equal to the situation that triggered it, leaving us to wonder, “Where did that come from?”
In my years as a counselor, I often helped people work through long-held resentments that kept them stuck in self-defeating behaviors, including addictions. Even when they knew they should forgive the person who wronged them, they didn’t know how to go about that. Here are some of the steps I suggested to get them unstuck:
- Realize that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. The other choice is to harbor resentment and become bitter.
- Pray. Ask God to work in your heart to make you willing to forgive and to help you do what is impossible on your own.
- See if you can gain any understanding of why the person who hurt you is the way he/she is. (In her statement of forgiveness for her husband’s killer, Mrs. Umanos said, “We don’t know what his history is…”). A person’s past does not excuse their behavior, but it may explain it.
- Release your self-appointed roles as Prosecuting Attorney, Judge, and Probation Officer (Beattie). Stop reviewing the evidence that makes your case against this person.
- Write a therapeutic letter to the person who hurt you, spelling out how they hurt you and how it affected you. Then tell them you forgive them. In most cases, do not mail the letter – this is for you, not them. Consider sharing the letter with a trusted person, i.e. your pastor or a counselor. Next, destroy the letter – shred or burn it – as a symbolic way of letting go.
- Pray for the person you resent. Pray for God’s blessings in their life. It seems illogical, but it’s easier to forgive when we believe that God will make all things right in His time: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:14, 19 NIV).
Choose to forgive.
Experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness.
TODAY’S CHALLENGE: If this hit home with you, try this: Pray with your hands palms-up, as a symbol of your willingness to release your resentments to God. Pray: Lord, This resentment is too heavy for me to carry for one more day. Forgive me for hanging on to it. I give it to You; vengeance is Yours, not mine. Work a miracle of healing in my heart. Thank You for the freedom of forgiveness. Amen.
Kathy Ptaszek (pronounced tay-zack) loves people and is known for her warmth and the ability to connect with audiences of all ages. She has spoken to thousands of women at retreats, as well as community and church events throughout Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Colorado for over 40 years. Kathy has a wonderful blog full of encouragement over at Holy Ground All Around.
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