Set Free Through Forgiveness (Part 2)
John had been dating Laura for two years. They shared a lot of common interests, enjoyed spending time together and often talked about a future together. So it is understandable that John was devastated when Laura broke off the relationship and began dating someone else. A year after the break-up he was still unable to date anyone or let go of a hope that Laura would return to him. Her picture was still beside his bed and in his wallet. He had some of the things she had given him sitting around his apartment and frequently wore the t-shirt they had purchased when they were out together. Finally, when Laura became engaged, a counselor urged John to release Laura and move on. He instructed John to gather up all of the reminders of Laura, the pictures, the gifts, the cards, the clothing and take it to the dumpster. As he let go of these items, he was to make the emphatic statement , “I am letting go of Laura and moving on.” The choice to engage his will in this activity and physically release something served as a breaking point for John. He was finally able to slowly move on and begin dating again.
We have learned that forgiveness is like releasing a debt. Whether it is a debt we owe to God (sin) or a debt we believe others owe to us (wound), it was all paid for by the blood of Christ and we can choose to “let it go”. When we think about forgiveness in this way it sounds so easy. However, as we begin to move toward the actual choice to forgive the question arises, “How do I let it go?”
Like John, we will not be able to “let it go” until we gather up everything that is connected to the sin or wound. The sin or wound was an actual action or attitude that was committed. When we think about “letting it go” we often only think about trying to forget about what happened. This is not really forgiveness. Along with the action of the sin or wound, there were feelings that we associate with that action. Perhaps we felt fearful or lonely, dominated or powerless, out of control or humiliated. These emotions, like the pictures of Laura, take us right back to the action as if it is still occurring. As long as these emotions are given power over us, they continue to keep the sin or wound fresh in our minds.
Not only is there a feeling attached to the sin or wound, there is usually a lie about our identity that we connect with it. The thoughts that run through our minds when we think about the sin or wound become negative self-talk that keep us tied to the past event. I am so weak. I am so stupid. I am so inadequate. I will never measure up. I am a pervert. I am screwed up. These negative identity statements have the power to undermine any attempts to let go of the past. The lie is connected to the sin or wound and constantly brings it back into the present.
Following the example of John, let’s gather up everything that is connected to our sin and wound and release it all to God. I recommend that we get a journal and begin to write down the actions first. What sins or wounds still seem to trouble you today? After you have written down the actions, write about any feelings or emotions that were felt because of those actions. Journaling honestly about our feelings takes time but these feelings are key to letting go of the past. Now journal about the negative self talk that comes out of the sin and wounds. Think about how you view yourself, the things you say about yourself and the thoughts that run through your mind when you make a mistake. As you journal all of these things, imagine you are John gathering up all reminders of the past.
Now it is time to release them. I recommend you verbally go through the journal and release each action, feeling and lie to God. Don’t just rehearse it in your mind, say it out loud. Allow yourself to feel some of the emotion associated with these sins and wounds. Picture Christ dying on the cross to pay for these things. Emphatically state to God that you believe the Scripture that says the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:9).
Having engaged your will to verbally release these things to God, I think it is helpful to follow up by releasing them physically. When John physically carried the items to the dumpster, he created a memory that he could go back to as the moment he let Laura go. Certain situations or places would still trigger his memory of her but he would remember the dumpster and reaffirm his choice to let it go. We can be creative in forming a memory of forgiveness. Take the journal you just wrote in and burn it, bury it, tack it to a tree and shoot it! Get a helium balloon and write some key words about your sin/wounds on it. Go outside and release it, watching it until it completely disappears. These actions create a new memory that gives us a mental place to go to when we get triggered by reminders of the past.
So choose forgiveness. Choose to let it go… all of it… verbally… and physically!