What is Forgiveness, and How Do I Stop Suffering?

This is probably one of the most confusing topics out there. It’s misunderstood and is also, frankly, misused. People say they’ve forgiven someone, yet can’t seem to stop obsessing about those hurtful effects the person or event had on them. I am reading an amazing book called, The Heart Mender, by Andy Andrews, where Danny, a teen-aged boy diagnosed with Autism, gives nearly the best definition of what forgiveness truly is than any definition I’ve ever read. He has a conversation with Helen, the protagonist in the story, who displays a very different kind of disability. She is unable to forgive the people who killed her husband. In the sweet and innocent words of Danny,


“Helen, whenever you get hurt by somebody, you can either think about them all day long and let them keep hurting you inside, or give them to God. If you forgive them, it doesn’t mean they get away with what they did; it just means that you don’t have to think about it all the time. You can’t do anything about it anyway, except to be mad or sad.”


Helen soon discovers that the anger and sadness she’s experiencing are the symptoms of a much bigger problem; it’s the sin of un-forgiveness. And a little deeper than that, the sin of pride.


The prison in which the devil wants to hold us captive, is that we think we’re hurting the person who hurt us by not forgiving them. False. That other person couldn’t care less whether you’ve forgiven them or not; they’re not thinking about you at all, and they’re probably living a normal and happy life. But you and your hurt slowly become a festering infection (and it’s you who’s infected; not them), as you want them suffering the way you are from what THEY did to you.


Look at this analogy for a minute:


The feelings leading up to forgiveness could possibly be likened to the prep needed to take the BAR exam. Is it really worth the risk? I’m sure many law students don’t understand why an exam of this magnitude is necessary. I mean, they pay beaucoup bucks to study for many years, take tests and quizzes along the way; why the need for a big exam that could wipe out years of money and work in just 2 days? Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter what they’re feeling about it, as they can’t change what’s required.

The fact is this: The BAR exam must be paid for and taken by every law student who desires to practice law, whether they feel it’s fair or not. The choice is theirs. Now, I’ve never taken the BAR exam and never will, but I’ve heard horror stories that people agonize over it; they can think of nothing else day and night. They study for months-to-years on end. Some have to take it over and over, literally giving up their whole life until finally, they pass it. It’s over. A sigh of relief. A boulder off their chest. They can relax and let that nasty exam go forever. Done. On to making the big bucks. Wouldn’t that be a feeling you would want? Freedom like that?


I desperately want you to be free from the hurts others have inflicted on you, my friend. Really free. And the only way is to let go. Take your hands off of the neck you’re strangling. Let the whole thing go.


But you say, I can’t.


I say, You won’t.


It’s not a feeling. It’s a decision. There’s a part of you that needs to have your hands around that person’s neck, gripping, squeezing. But why? Why do you feel better trying to kill that other person by ignoring them, gossiping about them, or getting them in a chokehold? That’s the question you’ve got to answer before you let them loose. What is it that gives you the satisfaction? The truth is, you’re not hurting them. Unless you’re a real-life terminator, and it’s a real chokehold, they have no idea about the pain you’re suffering. The strain on your hands and the ache in your head and heart must be more than troublesome. Listen. The past cannot be undone. Ever. You are suffering at the hands of someone who isn’t hurting you anymore. You are allowing them to continue hurting you, and for what exactly?


It is my humble opinion that control is what you’re after. The person or event you couldn’t control at some point in your life, controlled you, and now you’re trying to get even by controlling your feelings about what happened. But by not relinquishing, you’re keeping yourself tied to them. Bound. Chained like a dog to their linked fence, only the chains are already loosed. The angry dog could easily be free to roam but doesn’t know it. He just stands there barking and growling at the people passing by.


You’ve got to ask yourself:


What am I really accomplishing?


If your answer is:

I’m making them pay for what they did to me.


I hate to say this, but they’re not paying. You are. Like the people passing by the angry dog chained to the fence, they’re fine. They might hear the dog barking and growling for 30 seconds, but once they pass by the dog, they eventually don’t hear it anymore. If they’re smart, those people will completely avoid the dog next time. They’re fine. Really they are. And you’ve got to get fine too, my friend.


In the next few moments, I’m going to try my best to show you some powerful and supernatural scriptures that will help you to finally move on. But you’ve got to be willing. You’ve got to honestly and truly desire to finally say goodbye, to let go, to hand in the keys to your prison of un-forgiveness. Pray to the Lord right now to help you ready yourself to forgive that person. It’s a difficult journey but a highly necessary one if you’re ever going to be joyful again.


Dear Heavenly Father,

Forgive me. I’ve been so selfish. My pride has caused me to try to hurt the people who’ve hurt me. I’ve tried to get even. I’ve trusted in my own power to get me out of this prison instead of my asking for Your help. I don’t understand why it happened, but you do. I turn it all over to you now. I’m surrendering to You my hurt, my pride, and my selfish need to control. Help me to once-and-for-all, release my hands. Help me to let go. It’s up to you now. I’m leaving the consequences to you. I trust in your perfect plan…



You may have to pray this prayer more than once, but that’s okay. God, in his loving-kindness, is gentle. He’s long-suffering. He wants so much for you to live in full freedom that He’ll help you again and again if that’s what it takes. He wants you to have His peace, that is, the peace that passes all human understanding. It’s a supernatural peace that no human can give or even understand. It’s a peace that is born from total surrender. In your extreme exhaustion, surrender. Hand it over. Raise your white flag.


  • Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32
  • And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:4
  • And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” Luke 11:4
  • And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:12-15
  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
  • I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; Psalm 121:2-3




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Suzanne Sommerville

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Christ-follower, daughter, mom, Mimi to 6 grandchildren, teacher, writer, and musician

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