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Your Journey to Freedom
By Nancy Leigh DeMoss Lawrence Kimbrough
Copyright © 2006
Nancy Leigh DeMoss
All right reserved.
A friend told me as I was working on this book, "I don't
really relate to this subject-I just don't struggle with
bitterness or unforgiveness."
While that may be true for a few, I've come to believe that,
whether they realize it or not, unforgiveness is, in fact, a very real
issue for most people. Almost everyone has someone (or ones)
they haven't forgiven.
I've seen it confirmed over and over again. For many years,
whenever I have spoken on this subject, after defining and
describing forgiveness from a biblical perspective, I have asked the
audience this question: "How many of you would be honest
enough to admit that there is a root of bitterness in your heart-that
there are one or more people in your life-past or present-that
you've never forgiven?"
I have asked for a response from tens of thousands of people,
including long-time believers, Bible study leaders, and vocational
Christian workers. It doesn't matter what the setting is or who's
in the audience. In virtually every case, somewhere between 80
and 95 percent of the hands in the room have been raised.
It still affects me profoundly to think that the vast majority
of people sitting in church Sundayafter Sunday (and many who
are sitting at home, having left the church, disillusioned) have at
least a seed-if not a forest-of unforgiveness in their heart.
In many cases, those raised hands reveal hearts that are still
wounded, still bleeding, still suffering, still hearing the words,
still seeing the offenses, still having a hard time getting over what
In other cases, the hands represent hearts that have been
anesthetized; they have become indifferent or detached, perhaps
putting up walls to keep from getting hurt again.
Whatever the story behind each hand raised, I am convinced
that unforgiveness in the hearts of God's people is not the exception-it
has become the norm for most. They may have learned to
live with it. They may be "coping." They may mask it with laughter
or bury it with busyness. But when they get honest with
themselves and God, they are not free.
So while I'm well aware that there are other good books and
resources available on this subject ... I keep seeing that sea of
raised hands. People just like you. I keep thinking of the eyes I've
looked into and the stories I've heard from tormented-or
jaded-hearts. More important, I keep thinking about how different
people's lives can be once the walls are broken down, once
they choose the pathway of forgiveness and are set free from the
prison of hurt and bitterness.
Deep Slices of Life
We can't talk about forgiveness without acknowledging the reality
of pain. If we were never hurt, there would be no need for
Truly, we are a generation of wounded people. And wounded
people tend to wound other people. (You may have heard it said
that the most dangerous animal in the forest is the one that's
been wounded.) Just look around at all the random violence and
dysfunction. Road rage. Kids walking into schools with guns and
blowing people's heads off. Where does it all come from? More
often than not, it is the result of harbored hurt and smoldering
bitterness that has turned to anger, hatred, revenge, and violence.
When I speak of hurt, what comes to your mind?
You may have been forced to endure a childhood of sexual
abuse. Perhaps it was a brother, a relative, maybe your own father
who used you to meet some twisted, missing need in his own
heart. Perhaps the fallout led you into a life of promiscuity that
even now haunts you with anger, guilt, and regret.
Maybe the abuse wasn't as much physical as it was emotional
and manipulative. Perhaps the dysfunction in your home played
itself out in ways that have complicated and convoluted nearly all
your relationships ever since, and you've never stopped blaming
your mom or your dad or your grandparents-somebody!-for
giving you such a poor start to life.
It could be a husband who is habitually distant and inexpressive,
a mate whose priorities have never really been on the same
page as yours, who regularly forgets or ignores things that matter
It could be a sister or brother who's quibbled with you over
both important and petty family matters. It's made your adult
relationship with that sibling strained and superficial, turning
almost every holiday or family gathering into an awkward chore,
another opportunity for taking sides and enduring insults.
Perhaps it's a new management player in the company you work
for who has made you feel unvalued and marginalized. Perhaps it's a
son-in-law who's brought pain into your daughter's life or has poisoned
your relationship with your grandchildren. Or a pastor who
broke trust with your whole fellowship by entering into an adulterous
affair, making your church more soap opera than sanctuary. Or
perhaps it's a woman who lured your husband away from you, and
now your anger and resentment toward both of them has infected
your thoughts, your attitudes, and your daily routine.
Or if it's none of these ... it's something. Someone. Some situation
that rears its head with painful frequency and brings all
the emotions flooding back in like a torrent.
It's left you with a heart that often feels like it's tied up in
knots. It seems like you're constantly at war, always on guard
against an onslaught of conflicting feelings.
It's interrupted the free
flow of worship and sweetness
you used to experience
in your relationship with
God. You miss it. You miss
Him. It's like going around
each day with a low-grade
fever-if not a dangerously
high one! It's changed everything the word "normal" used to
mean in your life.
The question is: Do those wounds-past or present-have to
define who you are, where you're headed, and how you get there? Is the
ugly residue of hurt just your lot in life?
And would you really believe it if the answer was no?
If You Only Knew
Matters that require forgiveness tend to hit us right where we
live. They rarely play fair and can come with little or no warning.
And though they may be similar to what others have experienced,
they often raise their own set of tough questions.
What do you do when the problem is not simply an old
wound from the past but one that's continually being opened and
re-injured? How do you handle it when the activity that led you
into your current state of anger and bitterness isn't a distant
memory but rather an ongoing occurrence (as a friend asked me
Or how do you simultaneously forgive someone while also
bearing the responsibility of protecting yourself-perhaps even
your children-from the danger this person poses to you?
How do you deal with the sights and sounds, the flashbacks
that crop up out of nowhere, the markers and anniversaries that
continually roll around or unsheathe themselves at random times
What about when your anger is focused not against a person
who did something to you but against someone who has harmed
a person you love? Should it not bring out the mother bear in you
when your son is bullied at school, or your daughter is mistreated
by other girls, or your husband is backstabbed by an unscrupulous
What about the guy who talked of marriage, who seemed like
the man God wanted in your life, but in the end he walked away,
playing lightly with your heart? How do you deal with the damage
he left in his wake?
Where do you even begin to forgive your wife, who's seemed
to have become a whole other person in the past year, who's giving
you every indication that she's enjoying the advances of
another man and doesn't really seem to care what you think
How do you respond to the person who writes,
Trouble has come upon my family. Where there should be love there
is hatred, and where there should be compassion there is sorrow and
fighting and arguing.
Or this one:
Please, please pray for my family. I am at the end of my rope with
all the anger and unforgiveness and hatred in my family.
Truly, these are God-sized wounds that need God-sized
answers. No formulaic words, no wave of a wand will put things
back like they were. We can't press the "UNDO" button and
hope to see our lives returned to the way we once knew them or
the way we hoped they would turn out.
When the pain is this close, when the wound is this tender,
when the offense is this obvious, how do we forgive?
I want to begin sorting through these questions by just letting
this one expectation settle in around us, as basic and obvious as
it may seem:
Everyone will get hurt.
It's a fact of life. Pain is unavoidable in this fallen world. You
will be hurt, wronged, and offended by others. There's no way
"In this world you will have trouble," Jesus assured His anxious,
bewildered followers (John 16:33 NIV), much as Paul would
remind his young charge, Timothy, at a later time: "Indeed, all
who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted"
(2 Timothy 3:12). So the issue is not whether we're being particularly
godly or not. For while obedience does bring its share of
eternal blessing, it is equally true that problems and pain can and
will rain down on the best of us-sometimes harder on
Christians than others.
True, one person's experiences will differ from another's by
specifics and degree. Some will experience pain that's far worse
than that of others. But the fact remains universal that all of us
will suffer harm of some kind ... likely many times along the way
We will all encounter situations that provide fertile ground for
resentment and unforgiveness to take root and bloom in our
That much is obvious. No disagreement there. But I want to
challenge you to consider another observation that may not be
quite so easy to accept:
The outcome of our lives is not determined by what happens to us
but by how we respond to what happens to us.
Did you get that? The outcome of your life and mine-who
we are, how we function, our personal well-being, our future, our
relationships, our usefulness-none of that is ultimately determined
by anything that anyone has done or could do to hurt us.
Of course, we will be affected by the circumstances that form
the backdrop of our lives.
They will carve grooves into
our hearts that will always be
part of our experience. But
those circumstances, horrendous
as they may be, do
not have the power to control
the outcome of our lives.
As long as we believe that our happiness and well-being are
determined by what happens to us, we will always be victims,
because so much of what happens to us is beyond our control.
There's no possibility of hope in that perspective-we can never
be different, never be whole, never be free. To greater or lesser
degrees (depending on how we have been treated or mistreated)
we will always be damaged goods, destined to be dysfunctional
people in a dysfunctional world.
We simply don't have any choice about many of the things
that happen to us. Our only hope lies in realizing that we do have
a choice about how we respond to life's circumstances-and it is
those responses that determine the outcome of our lives.
Now that may not sound like good news to you. "You're
telling me that I'm responsible? That puts the burden back on me
-what kind of encouragement is that?"
But to whatever extent you may have been imprisoned by your
response to wounds inflicted on you by others, I assure you that
embracing this truth is the starting place in your journey to freedom.
When we as God's children realize that His grace is sufficient
for every situation, that by the power of His indwelling
Spirit we have the ability to respond with grace and forgiveness
to those who have sinned against us-at that point we are no
longer victims. We are free to rise above whatever may have been
done to us, to grow through it, and to become instruments of
grace, reconciliation, and redemption in the lives of other hurting
people and even in the lives of our offenders.
Yes, we can be free-if we choose to be.
There are essentially two ways of responding to life's hurts and
unfair experiences. Every time we get hurt, we choose to respond
in one of these two ways.
The first, natural response is to become a debt collector. We
set out to make the offender pay for what he has done. We may
be overt or subtle, but until we get a satisfactory apology, until we
determine that an adequate penalty has been paid, we intend on
keeping the wrongdoer in debtors' prison; we reserve the right to
punish them for their transgression. This is the pathway of
resentment and retaliation-getting even, exacting payment for
what they did.
Instead of releasing our grip on the offenses we've received
and letting God be the one (the only one) who's big and strong
enough to handle the problem in His perfect, just, and redemptive
way, we grab hold of the hurt and refuse to let it go. We hold
our offender hostage (we think).
Think Esau and Jacob. A birthright deceptively stolen. The
lifelong expectation of opportunity and prosperity finally within
Esau's grasp, but now-by a trick, a conspiracy worked up by a
mother playing favorites-Esau's rightful pathway to a father's
blessing is wildly derailed at the last minute.
"So Esau bore a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing
with which his father had blessed him; and Esau said to himself,
'The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my
brother Jacob'" (Genesis 27:41 NASB). He was storing it up, biding
his time, intent on getting his revenge ... and then some.
But the problem is that being a "debt collector" does more
than keep our offender in debtors' prison; it puts us in prison.
A colleague passed on to me a heartrending story he had
heard a woman share with her church family, as the Lord was
revealing her need to choose the pathway of forgiveness. As a
young girl, she and a little friend of hers in their small town went
out one day to see the county sheriff, whose office happened to
be in the same building as the town jail. The children had always
considered the man to be their friend, the nice person with the
uniform and the badge who was just fun to be around.
At some point in the afternoon, her girlfriend ran off to play,
leaving her alone with the sheriff in his office. Suddenly, the look
on his face began making her uncomfortable. The feel of the
room became strangely tense and frightening. He moved close to
her and whisperingly said, "If you ever tell your parents what I'm
about to do to you"-pointing to the iron bars behind him-"I'll
put you in one of those jail cells."
And with that, he proceeded to molest her.
The events of that day had occurred many years in the past
by the time, as a grown woman, she finally told the story of how
the man she thought was a trusted friend had shattered her childhood
innocence. Thinking back to what the sheriff had said
about locking her up if she were to report him to her mom or
dad, she said, "I realize now that in my heart I put him in a 'jail
cell' that day, and all these years I've kept him in that prison."
When God finally opened her eyes to see what unforgiveness
was actually doing to her (and to her marriage), she realized
something else: on that day so many years ago, she had put herself
in jail as well. And though the man was now long dead, unforgiveness
and bitterness had kept her locked there-in a cell of
her own making-for all those years.
Was it her fault for being taken advantage of by an authority
figure? Of course not. That cannot be said strongly enough. But
who had been hurt the most by her unforgiveness? And why
should she be in "jail" for a crime someone else had committed?
Debt collecting is the natural response of sinful humans to
being harmed, abused, or mistreated. Invariably it produces the
bitter fruit of deeper pain, resentment, and bondage.
But there is another way. A better way. God's way.
As an alternative to being debt collectors-the pathway of
resentment and retaliation-God calls us to the pure, powerful
choice of forgiveness-and to pursue, wherever possible, the
pathway of restoration and reconciliation.
Actually, this is not presented in Scripture as an option. "As
the Lord has forgiven you," Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, "so you
also must forgive." There's not a lot of grey area or wiggle room
Excerpted from CHOOSING Forgiveness
by Nancy Leigh DeMoss Lawrence Kimbrough
Copyright © 2006 by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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