Posted on  by Mark

LET us begin this new day, these new beginnings: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Your unconditional love, lavished upon me when I least deserve it. Thank You for giving me the life of Your Son so that I may truly live. Come now Holy Spirit, and enter into the darkest corners of my heart where there still lingers painful memories, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Shine the light of truth that I may truly see; speak the words of truth that I may truly hear, and be freed from the chains of my past. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another. But when the kindness and generous love of God our Savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of His mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… (Tit 3:3-7)

Before we go further, I invite you to close your eyes and listen to this song written by my dear friend, Jim Witter:


Little Mickey Johnson was my very best friend
In first grade we swore we’d stay that way to the end
But in seventh grade somebody stole my bike
I asked Mickey if he knew who did it and he lied
Cause it was him…
And when I found out it hit me like a ton of bricks
And I can still see that look in his face when I said
“I never want to talk to you again”

Sometimes we lose our way
We don’t say things we should say
We hold on to stubborn pride
When we should put it all aside
To waste the time we’re given seems so senseless
And one little word shouldn’t be so hard…forgiveness

A little card arrived on my wedding day
“Best wishes from an old friend” was all it had to say
No return address, no, not even a name
But the messy way that it was written gave it away
It was him…
And I just had to laugh as the past came flooding through my mind
I should have picked up that phone right then and there
But I just didn’t make the time

Sometimes we lose our way
We don’t say things we should say
We hold on to stubborn pride
When we should put it all aside
To waste the time we’re given seems so senseless
And one little word shouldn’t be so hard…forgiveness

Sunday morning paper arrived on my step
The first thing I read filled my heart with regret
I saw a name I hadn’t seen in awhile
It said he was survived by a wife and a child
And it was him…
When I found out, the tears just fell like rain
Cause I realized that I’d missed my chance
To ever talk to him again…

Sometimes we lose our way
We don’t say things we should say
We hold on to stubborn pride
When we should put it all aside
To waste the time we’re given seems so senseless
And one little word shouldn’t be so hard…forgiveness
One little word shouldn’t be so hard…

Little Mickey Johnson was my very best friend…

—Written by Jim Witter; 2002 Curb Songs (ASCAP)
Sony/ATV Music Publishing Canada (SOCAN)
Baby Squared Songs (SOCAN)
Mike Curb Music (BMI)

We Have All Been Hurt

We have all been hurt. We have all hurt others. There is only one person who has hurt no one, and that is Jesus — the very one who forgives everyone their sins. And this is why He turns to each of us, we who crucified Him and who crucify each other, and says:

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. (Matt 6:14-15)

Unforgiveness is like a chain tied to your heart with the other end tethered in Hell. Do you know what is interesting about Jesus’ words? He doesn’t cushion them by saying, “Ya, I know you’ve really been hurt and that other person was quite a jerk” or “It’s okay to be bitter because what happened to you was terrible.” He just flat out says:

Forgive and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37)

This doesn’t diminish the fact that you or I have experienced genuine hurt, even terrible hurt. The wounds that others have given us, especially in our younger years, can shape who we are, sow fears, and create inhibitions. They can mess us up. They can cause our hearts to harden to where we find it difficult to receive love, or to give it, and even then, it can be distorted, self-centred, or short-lived as our insecurities eclipse the exchange of authentic love. Because of our wounds, notably parental wounds, you may have turned to drugs, alcohol or sex to numb the pain. There are a number of ways that your wounds have affected you, and this is why you are here today: to let Jesus heal what remains to be healed.

And it is the truth that sets us free.

How To Know When You Haven’t Forgiven

What are the ways that unforgiveness is expressed? The most obvious is taking a vow: “I will never forgive him/her.” More subtly, we can express unforgiveness by withdrawing from the other, what is called “the cold shoulder”; we refuse to speak to the person; when we see them, we look the other way; or we are purposely kind to others, and then obviously unkind toward the one who injured us.

Unforgiveness can be expressed in gossip, taking them down a notch whenever we get the opportunity. Or we rejoice when we see them falter or when bad things come their way. We may even treat their family members and friends  ill, even though they may be completely innocent. Finally, unforgiveness can come in the form of hatred and bitterness, to the point of consuming us. 

None of this is life-giving, to ourselves or others. It taxes us emotionally. We stop being ourselves and become actors around the ones who have hurt us. We let their actions turn us into puppets such that our minds and hearts are constantly yanked from peace. We end up playing games. Our minds get caught in memories and imaginative scenarios and encounters. We plot and we plan our reactions. We relive the moment and what we think we should have done. In a word, we become a slave to unforgiveness. We think we are putting them in their place when, really, we are losing ours: our place of peace, joy, and freedom. 

So, we’re going to pause now for a moment. Take a blank sheet of paper (separate from your journal) and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the people in your lives whom you still hold unforgiveness toward. Take your time, go back as far as you need to. It could even be the smallest thing that you have not let go. God will show you. Be honest with yourself. And don’t be afraid because God already knows the depths of your heart. Don’t let the enemy shove things back into the darkness. This is the beginning of a new freedom.

Write their names down as they come to mind, and then set that paper aside for the moment.

Choosing to Forgive

Decades ago, my wife, a graphic designer, was creating a logo for a company. She spent a lot of time trying to satisfy the owner, generating dozens of logo ideas. In the end, nothing would satisfy him, so she had to throw in the towel. She sent him a bill which covered a mere fraction of the time she put in.

When he received it, he picked up the phone and left the most horrible voicemail you can imagine — foul, filthy, degrading — it was off the charts. I was so angry, I got into my car, drove down to his business and threatened him.

For weeks, this man weighed on my mind. I knew that I had to forgive him, so I would “say the words.” But every time I drove by his business, which was near my place of work, I would feel this bitterness and rage rise within me. One day, the words of Jesus came to mind:

But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28)

And so, the next time I drove by his business, I began to pray for him: “Lord, I forgive this man. I ask you to bless him and his business, his family and his health. I pray that you would overlook his faults. Reveal Yourself to Him that He may know You and be saved. And thank You for loving me, for I, too, am a poor sinner.”

I kept doing this week after week. And then one day while driving by, I was filled with an intense love and joy for this man, so much so, that I wanted to drive over and hug him and tell him that I love him. Something released in me; it was now Jesus loving him through me. The degree that the bitterness pierced my heart was the degree that I had to persevere in letting the Holy Spirit withdraw that poison… until I was free.

How To Know When You’ve Forgiven

Forgiveness is not a feeling but a choice. If we persevere in that choice, the feelings will follow. (Caveat: This doesn’t mean that you should remain in an abusive situation. It doesn’t mean you need to be the doormat for another’s dysfunction. If you have to remove yourself from those situations, particularly when they are physically abusive, then do so.)

So, how do you know when you are forgiving someone? When you are able to pray for them and wish them their happiness, not ill. When you genuinely ask God to save, not damn them. When the memory of the wound no longer triggers that sinking feeling. When you are able to stop talking about what happened. When you are able to recall that memory and learn from it, not drown in it. When you are able to be in the vicinity of that person and still be yourself. When you have peace.

Of course, right now, we are dealing with these wounds so that Jesus can heal them. You may not be in that place yet, and that is okay. That’s why you are here. If you need to scream, shout, cry, then do it. Go out into the woods, or grab your pillow, or stand on the edge of the city — and let it out. We need to grieve, especially when our wounds have stolen our innocence, messed up our relationships, or turned our world upside down. We need to feel sorrow, too, for the way that we have hurt others, but without falling back into that self-loathing (remember Day 5!).

There is a saying:[1]

You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.

If all this seems hard, then ask Jesus to help you to forgive, He who taught by His example:

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)

Now take up that sheet of paper, and pronounce each name you wrote down, saying:

“I forgive (name) for having ___________. I bless and release him/her to you, Jesus.”

Let me ask: was God on your list? We need to forgive Him too. Not that God has ever wronged you or I; His permissive Will has allowed all things in your life in order to bring about the greatest good, even if you cannot see it now. But we need to let go of our anger toward Him as well. Today (May 19) actually marks the day when my older sister died in a car accident when she was only 22. My family had to forgive God and put our trust in Him again. He understands. He can handle our anger. He loves us and knows that, someday, we will see things with His eyes and rejoice in His ways, which are far above our own understanding. (This is something good to write about in your journal and ask questions to God, if it applies to you). 

After you have gone through the list, crumple it into a ball and then throw it into your fireplace, firepit, BBQ, or a steel pot or bowl, and burn it. And then come back to your sacred retreat space and let the song below be your closing prayer. 

Remember, you don’t have to feel forgiveness, you just have to choose it. In your weakness, Jesus will be your strength if you simply ask Him. 

What is impossible for human beings is possible for God. (Luke 18:27)

I Want To Be Like You

Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus
Change my heart
And change my life
And change all of me
I want to be like You

Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus
Change my heart
And change my life
O, and change all of me
I want to be like You

‘Cause I’ve tried and I’ve tried
and I’ve failed so many times
O, in my weakness You are strong
Let Your mercy be my song

For your grace is sufficient for me
For your grace is sufficient for me
For your grace is sufficient for me

Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus, Jesus
Jesus, Jesus,
Change my heart
O, change my life
Change all of me
I want to be like You
I wanna be like You
Change my heart
Change my life
I wanna be like You
I wanna be like You

—Mark Mallett, from Let the Lord Know, 2005©

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↑1This has wrongly been attributed to C.S. Lewis. There is a similar phrase by author James Sherman in his 1982 book Rejection: “You can’t go back and make a new start, but you can start right now and make a brand new ending.”

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