Summary: When we fail to forgive we hurt ourselves. This sermon offers practical information on signs we have not truly forgiven, what forgiving actually means, the relationship between unforgiveness and bitterness, and how to overcome bitterness with forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an easy word to say but a difficult action to carry out. However, the Bible repeatedly speaks of forgiveness so we cannot ignore its importance. Nor can we over emphasize the significance and impact of forgiveness.
Being unforgiving is a much more natural result for us human beings, but it is far more damaging as well. An unforgiving spirit does not just sprout up within us over night. It involves a series of responses, or lack of responses, and therefore takes time to develop.
Charles Stanley, in his book The Gift of Forgiveness, identifies ten stages that his experience has taught him people with an unforgiving spirit go through (pp. 110-115). As my experience has led me to similar conclusions I am going to use his list as a springboard for mine. I will of course be changing, editing, adding, subtracting, and adapting it to my own personal specifications. With my list I come up with nine.
In Developing an Unforgiving Spirit WE:
One: Get Hurt – An unforgiving spirit starts when we are hurt or wronged in some way It does not matter if the hurt came from a physical, emotional, or verbal source. It does not matter if the hurt happened when we were children, teens, or when we are adults.
All of our hurts really stem from some type of rejection; that's really what it boils down to. We may not even recognize it as rejection right away, but that is what happens when others wrong us. We can feel “hurt, pain, abandonment, embarrassment, hatred, or some other negative emotion.” But it all comes back to rejection.
So, feeling rejected is usually what starts the development of an unforgiving spirit. And guess what? This means every single one of us can easily fall into this category because we have all felt rejected at one time or another. We need to be aware of this in order to protect ourselves from letting his attitude creep in.
Two: Become Confused – Many times our initial reaction to being hurt is confusion. It is similar to a mild form of shock. It is hard to believe it is really happening. Sometimes there is even a physical reaction like an empty feeling in the pit of our stomach. This stage usually lasts only a brief period and then we move straight on to the third.
Three: Look for Detours – All of us want to avoid pain. Because this is true, when we are hurt emotionally we tend to find ways of avoiding those painful thoughts and memories so we do not have to think about them. “We take mental detours.” When certain thoughts begin to enter our head we block them. When a topic of discomfort comes about, we suppress it or change the subject. This desire to work our way around previous pain instead of through it is what causes many people to spiral into alcohol, drug, and other types of addiction.
The detours we make are not just mental in nature. Physical detours are also taken. We start avoiding places that cause us to relate to our past hurts. We begin avoiding certain people even that are in some way connected to our past hurts. Anything, anyone, or any place that reminds us of the pain becomes taboo to us.
Four: We Bury It – After we do the above, we try and rearrange our thoughts and lives in a way as to never have to come in contact with anything reminding us of our pain. We bury the pain; we dig a hole as deep as possible and cover it up in a feeble attempt to forget anything ever happened.
Five: We Deny It – The next step, or stage, is denial. We deny we even felt pain from a given situation. We deny we are covering up any emotions or past hurt. We put on a happy face, a mask really, and make claims such as, “Oh, I got over that a long time ago.” Or “I forgave that person months (or years) ago.” Or “Oh, I don't let the kind of stuff bother me.” And all the while we are lying to ourselves.
Six: Become Defeated – No matter how successful we think we are at attempting to bury our pain it will force force its way out through how we behave. Temper problems, paranoia, anxiety, shyness, jealousy, and being overly critical can all be signs of rejection that has not been properly dealt with. And, until we deal with the root of the problem we will continue to be unsuccessful at trying to change.
Seven: Becoming Discouraged – This is the most crucial stage, in my opinion. It is usually the point where one gets professional help or “bails out” of their current situation altogether. After time continues to pass by and nothing seems to have gotten better, or no change has been noticed at all, we start to feel hopeless about the whole situation.