I was depressed this summer. I didn’t want to get out of bed, and I literally felt as if the entire world was weighing down on me. My brain was in a fog, my thoughts were cluttered, and all I wanted to do was cry—in fact, all I did was cry for two straight months. I couldn’t do it, I told myself—I couldn’t get out of bed and get going in life. Even though I had been on a pretty nice first date the evening before, even though I had plenty of friends to care about me, even though my life was going well (despite some rough circumstances), I couldn’t get out of the funk. I couldn’t move forward because I was holding on to some hurts that others had dealt out to me earlier in the summer. I was deeply depressed because I couldn’t forgive.
Forgiveness is a choice, and probably the most difficult choice we have to make when it comes to emotionally healthy habits. I still struggle with it! But every time I practice forgiveness, I realize three important things happen:
- Forgiveness releases you. The moment that I prayed to forgive, I felt the burden on my soul lift. The heaviness that I was experiencing, the weighted sense of doom, the cloud of darkness that had hovered over me—these all disappeared immediately. But I didn’t just get released from the weight, I was also released to receive forgiveness from God. In Mark 11:25, Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” In order to be in right standing with God, we are also encouraged to leave our offerings at the altar and go work out our issues with others—including forgiveness—before we make an offering to God. So forgive—so that you can be released and receive from the Lord.
- Forgiveness heals you. Psalm 38:3-4 says, ‘…there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.” Does this sound familiar? It should—it is exactly the way I described feeling when I was harboring resentment and unforgiveness. And in case this isn’t clear, let me reiterate: unforgiveness is a sin, because we are choosing our anger and our hurt over the forgiveness that the Lord offers to us. And when we are sinning, we can’t be healthy! But once we choose forgiveness, we can begin to experience healing from the Lord. 1 John 1:9 says that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse us from our unrighteousness. But cleansing and healing can’t happen until you choose to forgive.
- Forgiveness challenges you. If one of our main goals in life is growth in all areas, then forgiveness meets that criteria. We don’t just want to forgive to be released and healthy, we want to grow from our experiences as forgiving people. It is against our natural desires and flesh to want to forgive others; we are carnal beings who, without God, are focused solely on ourselves. We believe that withholding forgiveness from others harms then, when really, it harms only us. That is why we choose forgiveness. It stretches us in every way to forgive—the emotional darkness within clears, the physical heaviness lightens, and the spiritual sins are cleansed. That is the challenge in forgiveness—to act against our sinful nature and choose life through forgiveness. That is also why forgiveness is always a choice and a challenge that results in your growth.
The moment I realized that I was harboring resentment and unforgiveness, I prayed to the Lord and asked for forgiveness and then offered it to those who had hurt me—without ever speaking to them about it. Sometimes, forgiveness is about them, but mostly, forgiveness is about YOU. Seek to practice forgiveness not only for release, but for healing and growth as an emotionally healthy person!