Several years ago, the Lord taught me a lesson that, like a child, I stubbornly wanted to ignore. It was a lesson on learning how to forgive people who hurt me. Before this lesson, I was a person who clung to my anger and grudges as a cat clings to a branch in the tree. My fingernails were so deeply embedded in my own self-assured righteousness; I often was blind to my shortcomings. I want to share with you the needed characteristics, how to let go of bitterness, and the way to pray to help forgive someone who hurt you.
Boy, have I been hurt! I have been lied to, lied about, insulted, had words put in my mouth, and my words twisted. I have been hurt by Christians and non-Christians alike. And I wanted to remain rooted in my anger at everyone. The Lord decided to burn away anger and bitterness in a year, which I call my “refiner’s fire year,” that I felt attacked from all sides.
Situation after situation kept piling up on me in which I thought I was terribly wronged. To name a few: a parent in the church was displeased with the way I handled their teenage daughter’s underage drinking. That parent responded by telling me that I was a lousy youth leader, accused me of playing favorites, and finally that I was “a disappointment as a pastor’s wife.” That stung.
Coupled with that, I was dealing with a toxic co-worker who loved to tell me I was a “nobody,” and that my religion was “a sham,” and that I had “no clue” what I was doing at work. She actively tried to turn other co-workers against me and made my work life torture.
“What I really wanted most was to hate them.”
I was a volcano of anger ready to erupt that year. Overflowing emotions just oozing out of my pores. I wanted to scream and shout at these people. I wanted to hurt them as they hurt me. What I really wanted most was to hate them. It’s so easy! I was convinced they deserved nothing more than hatred after the way they treated me.
However, “..if anyone says they love God yet hates their brother, they are a liar.” These jolting words of Christ set themselves up like a wall against a declaration of full hatred. Never did I allow the words “I HATE this person” to cross my lips. Who wants to be considered a liar?! But like a Pharisee who can’t fully comprehend Christ’s rejection of piety for true righteousness, I found it easy to brush past verses that I didn’t want to apply to myself.
What the Bible says about forgiveness
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus himself says, “you have heard it said before that you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies…” Then Paul, in Romans, tells us to “bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.” Umm… what? Do I really have to do that? Surely I’m not meant to love and bless people who have worn me down to my bones! But in Mark 6 we are warned: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
It’s not an option for us. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. We love them by forgiving them. I wish it was easy. I wish I could say, “oh, love my enemies? Great! Hey, you that drove me to anxiety, love ya!” But it’s not like that. It’s not a switch we can flip. We have to fight for it. So how? How can we go about loving and forgiving people who have wounded us so badly?
Characteristics that help forgive those that hurt you
Thankfully, God has provided the answer for us in scripture. I believe the first step is found in Ephesians. Ephesians 4:1-2 says, “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In Colossians 3:12 it says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility (also known as lowliness), meekness and patience.” Did you catch the similarities? Lowliness and meekness; two characteristics that we need to apply to our lives if we are going to forgive some who hurt us.
Be like Superman: Lowly and Meek
So what is meekness? What it is not is weakness. Consider for a moment my favorite Superhero of all time, Superman. When I try to think of someone (besides Jesus) who displays meekness, Superman comes to mind. In Superman, we see a man with tremendous power and strength, show incredible self-control and gentleness. Biblically, a meek person is someone who has trust in God, has committed their way to God, is quiet before God as he/she waits on him.
They are also slow to anger and have their emotions under control (which has not been me!!) Being meek takes strength. A strength that only the Lord can provide for you. And what does lowliness or humility mean? I believe that it means you accept who you are. Now I know that is a phrase we hear a lot in society, “accept who you are” or “love yourself,” but that’s not what I mean here.
Forgiving someone who hurt you means accepting who you are
A few years back, I listened to John Piper’s sermon, discussing lowliness and meekness. What he said has really stuck with me. In fact, when I heard it, his words hit me like a slap on the face! “…lowliness and meekness mean you realize you don’t have the right to say ‘who does she/he think they are’ but that you have to say ‘who do I think I am.” Who am I? If I accept myself for who I am? A sinner. A sinner saved by “grace through faith, not of my own doing, but as a gift from God” (Eph 2:8).
Who are the people who hurt you? Sinners! Some saved by grace, some not. When I was spiritually dead, my dead was no better than their dead. And even though I am now spiritually alive, it is not because of anything I did that I can boast. We must stop comparing those who hurt us to ourselves. Let’s be honest; no one will ever live up to our view of ourselves!
Pastor Piper went on to say that “if an ant compares himself to the height of the Sears Tower, he knows he has nothing to boast about over the flea.” If we compare ourselves to Christ, to his perfection, to his sinlessness, to his holiness, we know we have nothing to boast over those who hurt us. We see that we have no right to withhold forgiveness from someone who hurt us.
Forgiving others means removing pride
Several years ago, I ran a ladies’ book club. We read two books together that I did not expect to speak to me about loving my enemies. It is amazing how God will bring just what you need into your life to meet you where you are. We read “Calm My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow and “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering” by Timothy Keller. In Keller’s book, he relates the story of a woman wrongly accused of child abuse. Her children were removed from her home for only a few months, but the emotional scars were long-lasting.
She was finally able to confront the person who had falsely accused her, and this is what she said, “I suddenly saw myself in the flawed women facing me. How many mistakes have I made in my life? Do I know how many people have I hurt, intentionally or unintentionally? How many times have I allowed pride to prevent me from doing the right thing? After all, how was I any different from my accuser?”
This is a truth that we must accept about ourselves if we are going to forgive someone who hurt us. We have to remove pride and live in humility. This is the reason why we must never ever grow tired of hearing the gospel. To remind ourselves daily what the Lord has saved us from. God himself came to earth so that I could be forgiven of my sins.
Get rid of bitterness
Our next step is to get rid of bitterness. It’s poison, but we love it. Smokers, who inhale a toxic and harmful chemical into their lungs, will tell you that they love the ritual of smoking, the focus it gives them, and the pleasure that they experience. They love it, knowing that it is slowly destroying them inside. We want to hold onto bitterness because we think we have a right to be bitter; it makes us feel justified in our anger.
Bitterness, however, destroys your happiness. It destroys your family. I don’t know how many times I came home so bitter from work and took it out on my husband. I was just suddenly angry with him. Linda Dillow quotes Charles Swindoll in her book. “Bitterness seeps into the basement of our lives like runoff from a broken sewer pipe. Every form of ugliness begins to float to the surface of those murky waters. Prejudice, profanity, suspicion, cruelty, hate, and cynicism. There is no torment like the inner torment of bitterness, which is the by-product of an unforgiving spirit. It refuses to forget. There is no prison more damaging than the bars of bitterness that will not let the battle end.” This is so true. I experienced that for years.
“There is no torment like the inner torment of bitterness, which is the by-product of an unforgiving spirit.”
I dealt with that co-worker I mentioned earlier, who really did what she could to drag me through the mud. It really was so stressful to go to work. Even though everyone saw her as a toxic employee, she was a hard worker, and therefore, my boss didn’t want to fire her. I said to my husband once, “why do I have to forgive someone who continually mistreats me?! Why do I have to fall on my sword when I’ve done nothing wrong!”
Fortunately, I have a wise husband who knows how to guide me in a Godly direction. He reminded me that Jesus has forgiven us for so much, even though we don’t deserve it. Then not too long after, she came up to me and said, “I don’t understand how you can be so nice to someone who had been so rude. I could never do it.” Wow! Talk about a shock. Once I picked my chin off the floor, I was able to say to her, “Listen, you know that I am a Christian, and what that means to me is that I have been forgiven so much that I have no right to withhold forgiveness from you.”
That was an amazing moment for me. I wish she heard that and said, “Oh! I want to be a Christian now.” She didn’t, but now I can see that the Lord was using this situation to reach those around me. And to reach me! To make me learn to be a better Christian by extending forgiveness and love. Now I can say if 30 years from now my co-worker becomes a Christian because of the forgiveness I showed her, then it was all worth it. Pointing People to Christ is why you must forgive someone who hurt you.
Pray for those that hurt you
There is one more step we can do to help us forgive someone who has hurt us. Continuing in Matthew 5, where Jesus is instructing us to love our enemies, he also tells us to “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” You have to love your enemies. It’s not an attitude of indifference. You have to love them with your heart.
You can do that through prayer. I don’t mean, “Dear Lord, move them far away from me, so I never have to see them again.” Even though that would be amazing! I mean to pray for them in such a way that you begin to care for their spiritual well-being! Desiring God has an article written by John Piper titled “Pray for those who abuse you.” This article gives us guidance on praying for your enemies. It says:
Use The Lord’s Prayer as a guide
“The place to start in praying for our enemies is the prayer that the Lord taught us to pray. Whatever else you pray for your enemies, pray for them like this:
- Father, grant that my enemies — my colleague who snubs me, my wife who belittles me, my child who disrespects me, the ISIS member who wants to kill me — grant that they would come to hallow your name. Grant that they would treasure you above all, and reverence you, and admire you more than anything.
- Father, grant that my enemies would come under the saving, purifying sway of your kingly rule and that you would exert your kingly power to make my enemies your own loyal subjects.
- Grant, Father, that my enemies would love to do your will the way the angels do it in heaven with all their might, and without reservation, and with the purest motives, and with great joy.
- Grant, Father, that my enemies would have all the physical resources of food and clothing and shelter and education and healthcare and transportation that they need to fulfill your calling on their lives.
- And forgive my enemies their sins, as you bring them to repentance, and make them forgiving people, and protect them from overpowering temptations and from the destructive power of the devil.
This is what we should be praying for ourselves. And therefore, it is what we should be praying for our enemies.”
How long do we pray for them in this way? Until we can hear their name without wanting to spit, or without steam coming out of your ears or a frown automatically forming on your face. Even if it takes you years to get there. Pray until you can forgive someone who has hurt you.
Do Good to them
And finally, do good to them. The bible says we must. Is she your co-worker? Do you know if she likes coffee? Then bring her some. Is this person someone with a lot of children and could just use a break? Offer to babysit. There are so many wonderful ways you can reach out to this person and offer to do good to them.
I can say this, I am so thankful for a God who has come down and forgiven me of my sins. I am also so thankful that he doesn’t just leave me there. God is so interested in my individual life. He willingly brings things into my life that will cut away the nonsense of being unforgiving. He is going to teach me how the best way to live is His way, to “love your enemies.” Coming through all of that, I can say I now experience great joy and greater closeness with God because the bitterness has moved out. I can better reflect my creator’s image to those around me, including those that hurt me. With prayer and reliance on Christ, you too can forgive someone who has hurt you.
Do you think you can use these steps to help you forgive someone who has hurt you?