Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Letting Go of Past Hurts

Past emotional, mental or physical abuse, or being deeply hurt or mistreated by a friend or an enemy, are common causes of depression. I have had my share of such experiences. Bitterness, anger and unforgiveness are typical responses to such injustices suffered, but as these reactions hinder our walk with Christ, the Bible gives us ample instructions on how to overcome them.

Let me also mention here that in many of the above cases, especially where abuse is involved, getting help from a trained Christian counsellor or a professional health care worker is very highly recommended if not absolutely necessary.

Keep No Record of Wrongs

Isaiah 43:18-19
"Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland.”

This passage provides a vivid description of a life damaged by past hurts – a life that has become a wasteland, a desert. Dwelling upon a record of wrongs weighs us down and heavily burdens us. But the Lord’s instructions to forget those former things and not dwell on them, comes with a beautiful promise. Letting them go releases streams of living water into our life and enables God to do a new work in us.

One of the greatest new works Christ does in our lives is to bring us to a place where we can forgive those who have hurt us. This is such an important aspect of our daily Christian walk that Jesus included it as part of the Lord’s prayer. Luke 11:4 “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”

Instead of dwelling on past hurts, we can let go of those memories and forgive the person that hurt us. Although we cannot make ourselves forget the memories, if we stop clinging to them the painful associations will fade significantly.

1 Corinthians 13: 4-5 ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.’

“But it is Part of Who I am…”

One reason I had trouble letting go of past hurts was because they had become part of my identity. “I am this way because of how that person mistreated me,” was an excuse I believed. I feared that if I let go of the anger and record of wrongs and forgave the person who had hurt me, I would lose a part of myself, part of my very individuality.

However, Jesus taught me that such fears were unfounded, that I did not have to hold onto past hurts in order to maintain my identity. He showed me that there was another option - to allow His love and forgiveness to flow from me towards the person who hurt me. And when I did this, instead of anger and the record of past wrongs being part of who I was, Christ’s love and forgiveness became part of my identity.

If someone were to meet me and hear my testimony now, they would not hear me say, “I am this way because of how that person mistreated me.” Instead, they would see that I have forgiven the person who wounded me, and in fact love them dearly with the love of Christ. If they were to ask me how this could be so, I would answer, “I am this way because of Christ’s work of love and forgiveness in my life.”

When we let Christ's love and forgiveness become part of who we are, we change and become more like Christ. And is that not our goal, to become more like Him? 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.' Galatians 2:20 (NLT)

As we learn to surrender our lives to Christ, He can give us such a powerful revelation of His love for us that we can view others through His loving gaze rather than through our own eyes. I have experienced this very powerfully in my life.

Let us be like Stephen, whose attitude towards those who unjustly stoned him to death was: ‘While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Luke 7:59-60

What a wonderful testimony this is to the power of God’s love. When others see us forgive - even love - those who have hurt us, they see the power of God’s kingdom in action, and their lives are changed too. I have heard of many cases of abusive prison wardens in Soviet countries coming to Christ after witnessing the unconditional love and forgiveness of their captives.

Harbouring Unforgiveness Hurts Ourselves

If we have been deeply hurt by someone in the past, we earnestly desire to flee that pain and be set free from the wounds. A thought that I would like us to bear in mind is that by consciously or unconsciously harbouring anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness towards that person, we unwittingly participate in keeping those wounds fresh and unable to heal. That is one reason that Jesus spoke so often of the importance of forgiving those who have wronged us. By not forgiving them, we hurt ourselves even further.

To Forgive Others, Reflect On How Much God Has Forgiven Us

The most liberating Biblical truth that helps us to forgive those who have treated us unjustly is to recognise the depths to which God has forgiven us.

Why does the Bible say, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” Matthew 6:14? It is because for us to refuse to forgive others after God has forgiven our massive debts towards Him, shows a lack of appreciation of how much God has forgiven us.

We all know of the parable in Matthew 18:21-35, where a servant who owed millions of dollars to a king, had that debt cancelled when he asked for mercy. The servant then went on to throw a fellow servant that owed him a few dollars into prison, because he had not paused to reflect on the mercy the king had extended towards him.

This is the key to forgiving others, as Selwyn Hughes writes: ‘I would not judge you or condemn you if you said: “I can never forgive that person for what he (or she) did to me.” But what I would say to you is this: the more you reflect on the wonder of how much you have been forgiven the easier it will be to forgive even the worst sins that have been committed against you.’ (1)

So, regardless of how much we have been hurt by others, let us forgive them. If God forgives us of our numerous sins towards Him, we can forgive others of their (comparatively) lesser sins towards us.

And then we will be sons and daughters of God, revealing His nature to a hurting world, as it shows us in Luke 6:35-36 “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High…Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

(1) Every Day with Jesus, Monday 18th Feb, Selwyn Hughes, CWR, Jan/Feb 2002.

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All verses from NIV unless noted otherwise.

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    1. Such a crucial CRUCIAL part of "getting over" past hurts. There is so much incredible insight here. Thank you for sharing.

    2. I like the scriptures you referred to. Forgiveness is vital if we are going to be healthy. I always think of the domino effect, too, and how I pass bitterness on to everyone I meet if I don't deal with it. God gives us a way out, but we have to meet Him in the pain. I don't want to be responsibile for pulling others down. And I want to stay healthy myself and have healthy relationships. Thanks for this teaching!

    3. I really, really, needed this today, Peter. Your words and the scripture you quoted on "Keep no Records of Wrongs" spoke to me in a huge way. Thank you for being so willing to share your heart here.

    4. Thanks, Joanne, for your continued encouragement, you are such an inspiration to me. And to think you've been a Christian for ten years? To see the work God has done in and through your life, in just ten years, is just amazing.

      Thanks for the feedback Saleslady371, and I love your comment that bitterness has a domino effect - that is so true.

      And so glad the Lord could help you through my writings today, Teresa. I felt compelled to slog away at the article for hours yesterday, until I finally uploaded it a 1.00am. God's timing never ceases to amaze me. God bless.

    5. Perfect!!!!

      I cannot imagine what my life would look like today if I had not forgiven someone for past abuse in my childhood.

      Oddly enough, I just attended a workshop put on by June Hunt of "Hope for the Heart" on forgiveness and letting go. She had someone stand up, and she put a rather large book bag around their neck, and put a hook around the other handle on it. She had them mention some areas where they might have unforgiveness. For each grief they mentioned, she put a brick in the bag. By the end, she showed that by transferring the grievances from our own hook to God's hook ("Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord), we actually lightened our own load. How true is that? That is my exact experience.

      One other thought she had that I thought was interesting. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation. Forgiveness can come without another person's repentence, but reconciliation cannot. I had never thought of it that way before, but I think that's why some people think they can't forgive...they're afraid that means they're back in a relationship or situation that makes them uncomfortable.

      You are soooooo onto the important stuff in life, Peter. I didn't mean to hijack your post, but somehow I thought you wouldn't mind the additional information. When we get past our own depression, part of the healing comes with letting go of the past. AMEN!!!!

    6. Laura, you can 'hijack' my posts anytime! That's an awesome way of demonstrating how by transferring our grievances and burdens to God that we lighten our own load.

      Good observations about forgiveness verses reconciliation too.

    7. Peter, I know so many people who have suffered physical ailments because of unforgiveness...one major one is arthritis! What keeps me from harboring this terrible sin, is the the knowledge that God doesn't forgive those who don't forgive!

      I have something for you, Peter, on my blog... I hope you'll accept it!

    8. I'll try. Again. I've been trying for years, and succeeded once but then I let that old, long-instilled hurt and resentment fester again. And it IS a huge reason I am how I am, but it doesn't mean I have to stay that way. I've seen great strides God has been making in me and I can only imagine what might be in store if I could only truly forgive.

      I like LauraLee's comment about forgiveness not equaling reconciliation. I certainly don't see repentance on the horizon, but you never know with God, do you?

      I thank you for your post, Peter. As painful as it is for me to embrace, it is the Truth. And the Truth is what can (and WILL) set me free.

    9. Thanks Catrina, for sharing what you are going through. I'm praying for you and cheering you on as you keeping taking those great strides towards recovery.

      Laura's comment was very helpful, and a great distinction for us to remember.

      Although I have forgiven and love the person who hurt me the most in the past, that person has never apologised to me, as they would never admit (even to themselves) that any of those times even occured in the first place.

      But that is between them and God, my responsibility was not to try and get them to recognise what they did, but to get myself right with God. And that brought so much relief and healing.

    10. Forgiveness is so hard...and for me, I find it to be an on-going process.

      I think one of the things that held me in my depression for so long was that I felt guilty for not being able to forgive once and for all and leave it behind me. But when I viewed forgivness as a process rather than a one-shot deal, I released myself of a lot of unnecessary guilt. Now I forgive people from my past daily, if need be, as I approach each new situation in my life.

      Another thing that helped me tremendously was having a therapist validate my pain. I spent so many years hiding my pain or down-playing my pain because I thought I should have been "over it" by now. Just having someone validate it--tell me it was bad and shouldn't have happened--released its power over me.

      I'm writing a post about that on 4/1...


    11. what do you do when you have pleaded and begged for a person to leave you in peace,to move on and just leave us alone and instead they do anything and everyhting to destroy you on every possible level-day after day,night after night,year after year and there is no escape for they live next door to you and you have asked for their forgiveness and pray for them and still they continue to instil fear with unprovoked attacks-what do you do then to calm your anxiety attacks?

      1. I've been dealing with the same situation. I forgave my ex as he forgave me as well for all of the pain we have caused in each others lives. We decided to move forward and make things work for the better, but I guess I was the only one who kept my promise. He didn't keep his end of the deal when we agreed to leave the past in the past. I continued to love him as he continued to love me and his ex. I went through so much confusion, pain, stress, anxiety attacks etc. you name it I had it. I decided that enough was enough! Even after I forgave him again. I told him that I loved him but did not want to be in a relationship with him any longer. Why doesn't he get it. He talks so much about God and that I should not run from him. But I doIn't deserve the abuse. He calls me, texts me, e-mails and all. I had to change my number and still he tries to make me feel guilty saying that I'm not a true Christian because I won't stick by him. And he loves me so much and I'm losing Gods blessing if I leave him. I don't know whatelse to do. Please give me some advice... Thank u. Be blessed<3

      2. Dear Lia,
        In a situation such as this I recommend that you talk to a pastor at your church, preferably a senior one who has had a lot of experience. Perhaps even to a pastor's wife. This is because I believe you need to talk to someone face to face to get the best Biblical advice, and where you can better explain your situation to them.
        Praying that the Lord will guide you,
        God bless

    12. Thank you Peter for sharing God's word. I love our God and try so hard to live by his word and pray everyday. I guess I still have a problem with letting go of past hurts and especially the mental abuse my own mother has, and is still doing. I can not perceive the fact a woman/ mother who'd been a Christian since as long as birth, was once a Youth Minister (which I led about 80 teens to her) could hate me as much as she does, even my little girl. She now has us "homeless" even though she has done a lot of terrible things, I'd never would want to hurt her in no way. Although a few of my siblings take such advantage of her, and again siding together Again against me. Please pray for my mother, siblings, and my children. I want more for them than I'd ever ask for myself. Again, thank you for passages you share, they are very helpful with compassion.
      God bless,

    13. Dear Kim,
      Thank you for sharing your situation, and I would be honored to lift you all up in prayer.
      What you have described is a question that often confronted me as well, "how can a Christian treat a family member so badly, even to the point of emotionally abusing them?"
      The conclusion I came to is that the Holy Spirit is a Gentleman, and will only invade and change those parts of us that we open to Christ's Lordship. Sadly, when some become Christians they do not open their whole heart to Him. In doing so they hurt themselves and others.
      I pray that the Lord will bless you and continue to strengthen and help you as you persevere, even giving you His peace and joy.
      God bless

    14. I've dealt with emotional and physical abuse growing up and it has affected me and my identity ever since. My sister had a friend who emotionally abused me and sexually abused both my sister and brother. The fact that she threatened my our lives and her own if I told, I feel, shaped me heavily because I was at the age when you're in middle school and a pre teen and you being to notice things about yourself and others and begin friendships. I kept no friends because of her and instilled comments made when my peers made fun of me.

      It took me until this past year to try and a conversation with friends to try and fix this and learn how to let go. Reading this article has given me a better insight and I'm thankful I read t.

    15. Dear Anonymous, it always pains and saddens me when I see the way that some people hurt those around them. Good on you for facing this and taking the steps towards letting go so that you can become whole again, and I praise Jesus that He promises to help us in this too.
      Have you ever received counseling for these past hurts you have received? I think that this may also be of great help.
      God bless

    16. Peter - I cannot forgive the bullying I suffered growing up in church. I still attend with most of the same people. I have to see them every Sunday and I must say I do not like them. My depression makes me feel inferior and I cannot be the person I want to be at church because of the distraction I feel with outspoken and overbearing people. How do I co-exist with these people?

      1. Dear Wendy,
        Do you have a counselor or pastor to whom you can go to about this problem? Someone who can pray with you, and counsel you as well?
        Can you read Matthew 18:21-35 each morning (or evening) and prayfully meditate on its message? And spend time with Jesus, and while focusing on Him, view these people through His eyes, from His loving, forgiving perspective?
        God bless

    17. Peter - thank you for replying to my post. I will read Matt 18:21-35. Thank you. I cannot talk to my pastor about my situation. You see, we are taught we need to overcome our "sin nature" and that means going through fiery trials. I will try to see them with a different perspective.

    18. Thank you for sharing God's word. I have recently came to the realization that a person can be emotionally abusive and not even know it. I don't know if they block it or they intentionally choose to forget. Growing up I was emotionally abused by my mother and older siblings, I'm the youngest of five. I have put the past behind me once already, but a new situation came to be and it caused all the past pain to surface again. This time I tried to confront them and have them acknowledge what they have done so that they understand how I feel and why. To my surprise my Mom denies she ever did anything wrong and seems honest when she says she can't remember. My mother says she cannot recall me telling her about my brother-in-law molesting me. I remember the exact conversation I had with her and her response was "see that's why I wanted you to enroll in summer school" as if that was a reason to entice someone to molest me. When this happened I was barely 12. I can't possibly imagine forgetting a conversation like that with my own daughter, but apparently my Mom can. Why do abuser forget the pain they have caused. In my mom's case she seems genuine when she says she can't remember, but I find it hard to believe she forgot. I'm giving my pain to God and He will be judge. I will forgive, and I will love.

      1. Hi Lisa
        From what I have seen, it can be common for those who emotionally abuse family members to never admit it when confronted by it. I believe that in many cases they are not even aware they are doing it. As they are unaware they did it, confronting them of it is normally non-productive, especially when many years have lapsed. Your mother may have been unable to accept the truth of what you told her, and then blotted the memory from her mind, even without doing so deliberately.

        Are you able to see a Christian counselor about this? Deep wounds from the past that surface often need special guidance to help us deal with them and be healed.

        And may God bless you richly for choosing to forgive and heal, that in itself brings release and healing.


    19. Hello Peter,

      Thank you for your article. I was bullied from 3rd grade all the way through high school and even after that. I did not realize how much I had NOT let go until after my first marriage failed, partially due to my explosive outbursts when my ex and I disagreed. If I felt in any way belittled, I went off. I have since been through a men's domestic violence program which helped tremendously, and remarried to a wonderful woman I met at church. We have two awesome kids, but I am failing again as a husband and father by not fulfilling my role as the spiritual head of my household. We hardly go to church anymore and I worry about my kids and my wife's spiritual well-being.

      The person I am not forgiving is God, because I cannot wrap my mind around why he would let the things that happened to me as a little kid happen at all. If He cares so much for me, then why let a defenseless little kid get beat up so often? I didn't deserve it, I didn't ask for it, but I got it. I am now 46 and very cynical and jaded. God created me with a nature of tenderness, kindness and compassion, but I refuse to let that nature through because I am afraid others will perceive it as weakness and take advantage of me - vulnerability is impossible for me to display anymore. Unfortunately it is only hurting me and the ones closest to me, but I cannot figure out how to move past the hurt and anger I hold against God...

      Some may say it is wrong to be angry at God, but I'm just being honest. Just writing this out brings back a well of painful emotion from over 30 years ago. I wish it would just go away.

      Thanks again,


      1. Dear Thomas
        Thank you for sharing what you have been going through, and I can sympathize with you as well, for I too was bullied frequently in my first three years of high school.

        There's nothing wrong with getting angry with God, for we are being honest with Him. However, this anger is just the beginning of a dialogue with Him, for as we focus on Him and His word, He can guide us out of that anger and into the perspective that He wants us to have. May I encourage you to read the Psalms, and look for every Psalm where the Psalmist vents anger and disappointment with God, and study how God leads Him out of it.

        Also, may I encourage you to ask Jesus to use your childhood sufferings to help you grow and develop in your faith. During my years of being bullied, I learned to rely on Jesus and my faith grew as a result. Look at James 1:2-4. Even in the midst of such sufferings, we can make Jesus our hiding place, and find inner peace.

        Are you able to receive prayer and counseling from a Christian counselor regarding these parts of your childhood that have affected you so? I believe you can be set free completely from your reactions to it, so that your nature will become like Christ's. Your memories will be there, but the painful associated emotions will be gone.

        God bless

    20. Thank you for writing this article. My pastor taught today on grief and grudges. He taught from Psalm 23:3a, "He restores my soul." His message spoke straight to me about the role I have been playing in destroying my marriage. I have been holding onto my husband's past and not truly forgiving him.

      Thank you for the wisdom you shared and the passages from scripture. Isaiah 43:18-19 particularly spoke to me. I am praying for God to help me let go of the past and hold onto what I have.

      1. Dear Anonymous, I love the way God reaches out to us through different sources, confirming the work He wants to do in us through each of them. I pray that the Lord will empower you to let go of the past, so that it no longer damages and hinders your 'now.'
        God bless

    21. I need help letting go of past hurts...
      I am deeply hurt by my eldest sister's harsh words and the way she treats me with no fair judgment and respect.
      She said so many awful things to me, that makes me it hard for me to forget how she made me feel. I wish it can go back from the way it was...but no the relationship is damage! even if I gather the broken pieces it will never be the same...