Everyone expects a few rough spots when relating to
people. If you have kids, my guess is that you’ve had mud tracked in on
the living room carpet, a window broken from a stray baseball and
perhaps a car fender dented when your novice driver made a solo run to
the grocery store.
Or maybe you’ve experienced an upset over something as
minor as a family member’s missing an appointment or forgetting to take
a phone message. These minor ‘bumps’ on the road of life are usually
dismissed with a casual, “Oh, you’re forgiven. Forget it. It’s OK.”
What is harder to dismiss, however, is the ache of a
deep, personal hurt that continues to generate inner turmoil. You’re
convinced the pain has lodged permanently in the lining of your heart.
I can relate to that kind of pain. For years my personal
diagnosis could well have been charted: “Undealt-with pain. Bruised.
Tender. Internal bleeding.”
In such situations our response is never as simple as,
“Forget it. It’s OK.” This isn’t like getting mud on the carpet. We
can’t just phone the rug cleaners in the morning and have them remove
the pain by afternoon.
A Stain in the Heart
Whatever the source, emotional pain invariably lodges in
the heart. Undealt with, it remains like a stubborn stain, coloring
everything we do with its sorrow. It prompts us to close our hearts in
self-protection, building walls between us and God and between us and
those around us.
This kind of penetrating pain rarely goes away on its
own. It burrows underground where it fuels anger and resentment, then
surfaces when something or someone triggers it again.
What help is there for people locked in bitterness and
wounded by unfair treatment? What is the way out of these painful
The Bible is clear: Jesus holds the key that will unlock
the doors of our emotional prisons (see Luke 4:18). The key is
The Son of Man can relate to our frailty. He is present in our pain and wants to rescue us from its trap.
Satan, however, prefers to keep us ensnared in our pain
and bitterness. His strategy is to immobilize us by causing us to
harden our hearts. Then he can frustrate God’s plan for expressing His
love through His children.
The Way of Escape
The good news is that God has given us a way to walk out
of our hurts and wounds (see 1 Cor. 10:13). His way of escape?
Someone has said that forgiveness is love’s toughest work
and biggest risk. The act itself is simple, but because hurts occur
within a storm of complex emotions, we rarely feel like forgiving.
For years I protested: “I’ve done everything I can do to
make this marriage work! Howard needs to do something.” Convinced that
I was the innocent party, I closed my heart to Howard and lived longer
than I care to remember with pain and unforgiveness churning inside me.
Let’s face it, forgiveness is not an automatic human
reaction. Giving in to the desire for revenge is a much more natural
But the earthly ministry of Jesus showed us what real forgiveness is all about (see Matt. 5:21-24). It is about relationship.
Unforgiveness will always block our relationship with God, and that affects all our other relationships.
Jesus came to reveal the Father’s heart of love—a love
that impacts others with genuine mercy and heartfelt forgiveness. This
is the message of the kingdom of God.
God’s heart is that we give love without looking for
something in return. But how do you do this if you’re deeply wounded by
a husband’s unfair treatment? How do you forgive well-meaning parents
who caused painful hurts?
Scripture leaves no loopholes in admonishing us to
forgive (see Mark 11:25). But within ourselves, we don’t have what it
takes to leap over the hurdles of our hurts and offer forgiveness. Has
God called us to something we cannot do?
Yes! And the sooner we know the depth of our inability to forgive, the better.
God at Work
This was a revelation I came to gradually in my attempts
to improve my marriage. As my husband, Howard, and I worked to resolve
certain issues, our relationship was growing stronger and more open.
But when he answered me abruptly or lost his temper over what I thought
was “nothing,” anger crept in, and I reached for my old scorecard of
At the suggestion of friends, Howard and I began
counseling with a pastor and his wife, Dick and Marilyn Williamson. One
afternoon, Dick posed a hard question about my relationship with
Howard. “Jane, why do you continually go back to his behavior? Why
can’t you let go and forgive him completely?”
I knew immediately what Dick was talking about, but I
didn’t know why unconditional forgiveness was not flowing out of me for
Dick pressed in with another approach. “OK, then, let’s talk about your relationship with your father.”
That was easy. “We were very close. Like two peas in a pod. I always respected him as a man of God.”
Dick wanted a fuller picture. “Do you ever recall a time when you hopped up in his lap and he gave you hugs and kisses?”
I scrambled for a memory. Thick silence fell over the table as the true picture of my relationship with Dad dawned on me.
Dick broke the silence with his matter-of-fact statement.
“Jane, you have some very strong feelings toward your dad. Negative
The only feelings I was aware of were ones of admiration
and esteem for Dad as a man of God. “No,” I protested, “I really loved
“Well, if you really want to be released from the
emotional pain and unforgiveness you’re carrying, you’ll need to
identify these feelings. In the next few days, if some old memories
start surfacing, just start talking about them. I’m sure Howard will