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Forgiving the Unforgivable

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Set free so we can love others well

A few words. That’s all it took to make me feel insignificant and unwanted as a new student in high school. The girl who said them was beautiful, with platinum-blond hair and a perfect smile. All the boys wanted to date her, and all the girls wanted to be her. Twenty-five years later, I’m sure she has no memory of the conversation. But I stored her careless words in my heart and held a grudge against her for years.

Many teenage girls suffer far deeper hurts than unkind words. When others hurt us, especially those closest to us, it’s easy to hold on to grudges and painful memories for years. How do we forgive and let go of the hurt so we can move forward in freedom?

Jesus understands

When we’re hurting, we may be tempted to believe that no one understands our pain. But Jesus knows exactly how we feel because He experienced what it’s like to be mistreated and misunderstood:

  • His family didn’t believe in Him (John 7:5).
  • People in His community rejected Him (Matthew 13:57).
  • His friends deserted Him when He needed them most (Matthew 26:36-56).
  • One of His closest friends denied knowing Him (Matthew 26:69-75).
  • A frenemy betrayed Him for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16).

That’s a lot of pain! Even worse, those who hurt Jesus the most weren’t strangers. They were the people closest to Him, those who knew Him best.

Whenever you feel rejected, betrayed or unwanted, you can take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Jesus truly knows what you’re feeling and cares deeply about your pain.

What forgiveness looks like

Jesus not only understands what it’s like to be deeply hurt, He also wants us to forgive those who hurt us. Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him. Peter thought that seven times was generous, but Jesus said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). But that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to stop forgiving at the 78th offense. Jesus was saying that forgiveness has no limits. He tells us to forgive over and over, extending grace to those who hurt us rather than holding their words and actions against them.

Keep in mind that forgiveness doesn’t mean letting people continue hurting us. We can forgive and still have healthy boundaries. This might mean asking others for help to stay physically and emotionally safe from someone who is causing harm. Or it might mean not spending time with an abusive person who doesn’t truly care.

To illustrate what forgiveness looks like, Jesus told a story about a servant who owed a king an enormous amount of money that he could never repay. The servant fell on his face before the king, begging for mercy, and the king graciously forgave the large debt. Afterward, the servant found a fellow servant who owed him only a day’s wage and demanded the money back. The man begged for mercy because he couldn’t repay the debt. But instead of forgiving what the man owed, the servant threw him in prison (Matthew 18:21-35).

All the money in the world could never repay the enormous debt we owe our heavenly King. Jesus gave His life to pay the debt for our sin and set us free! In comparison, the debt others owe us is like the day’s wage the fellow servant owed. If God has forgiven us, He can help us forgive others.

Forgiving is never easy, but when we choose to show grace and forgiveness instead of holding on to grudges, God can set us free from the hurt so we can love others well.

Practicing forgiveness

When it feels impossible to forgive someone who hurts you, these steps can help:

List the ways God has forgiven you. When you’re struggling to forgive, think of the times God has forgiven you with mercy and grace. Thank Him for His amazing love and forgiveness. It’s often easier to forgive others when we remember that God has freely forgiven our sins.

How has God forgiven me?

Talk to Jesus. When you’re tempted to hold a grudge, talk to Jesus about it. Tell Him everything you’re feeling—He already knows, so nothing will surprise Him. Remember that He truly understands what you’re feeling.

What am i feeling?

Ask for help. We need God’s supernatural power to truly forgive others, so make sure to ask Him for that power. You may also need to ask a trusted mentor or friend to help you honestly think through a situation. When we’re hurt, we often want others to take our side and join us in saying mean things about the person who hurt us. But what we really need is a wise friend who can help us see the situation through God’s eyes, draw boundaries where needed and forgive the way He does.

Here is my prayer about asking god for help and finding the right mentor:

Start small. Life is full of opportunities to practice forgiving small offenses. When someone is rude, cuts in front of you or eats the last cookie, instead of letting anger get the better of you, choose to forgive. As you practice forgiving everyday offenses, it will become a lifelong habit. And you’ll know what to do when deeper hurts come along.

What small offenses can I forgive?

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