The Cost of Unforgiveness - The Warrior's Journey®

The Cost of Unforgiveness

Author: Evan Owens, Executive Director of REBOOT Combat Recovery

Shake Off the Dust. Photo by Marines is licensed under CC By 2.0

The parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 18:21-35 is a story about forgiveness.

Often, warriors can relate to one or more of the characters in the story. Many have found this story offers deep insights about our own spiritual and emotional health.

Let’s dig a little deeper:

This poor servant owed the king 10,000 bags of gold. That’s the equivalent of $10 million in today’s economy. There was no way he was going to be able to repay the king. Nevertheless, the servant falls on his knees and begs the king for an extension of time, pleading, “Just give me more time and I’ll pay you back!”

The king in his mercy, forgives all of the servant’s debts and sets him free. However, we see that the servant’s idea of forgiveness is very different from the king’s. Rather than forgive the debt owed to him by another man who could not pay him back, just as his own debt had been forgiven, the servant instead shows no mercy.

When it comes to healing a wounded soul, nothing is more critical than the subject of forgiveness.

Through my work at REBOOT, we see two major causes of emotional and spiritual wounds:

  1. Failure to receive, understand and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness.
  2. Failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness and grace to other people.*

32056467614_8eaf80272a_kMany of us are like the unmerciful servant in this parable. Because he misunderstood the offer the king gave to him, the unmerciful servant left the king’s presence operating under a debtor’s mindset.

The poor servant couldn’t really believe the wonderful news. It was too good to be true. He couldn’t live it. He couldn’t internalize it and accept the gift. Perhaps he thought he was still under the weight of his debt, so the emotional tormentors of anxiety and achievement went to work on him.

Notice that his first thought was to go and collect the debt from his fellow servant. It’s as if he was still hedging his bets against the king changing his mind. It’s easy to understand, many of us are tempted to work to make ourselves right with God even though He’s made a way us to find complete forgiveness through His grace. Grace can be defined as undeserved mercy and favor extended to us.

Failure to truly understand and allow ourselves to receive God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness will lead us into a life of anxiety. Our “earner’s” mentality will take over and we will continue striving for God’s approval instead of resting on His grace.

Unforgiven people become unforgiving people.

When we fail to accept, and receive God’s grace and forgiveness, we lose our ability to extend that unconditional love, grace and forgiveness to others. A vicious cycle is formed as we fail to internalize God’s unconditional forgiveness of us. We open ourselves up to the Unforgiveness of others.

The unaccepted become the unaccepting. The ungraced become the ungracious. Hurt people hurt people.

Bitter people are easy to spot.

They are ultra-sensitive, easily offended, constantly defensive, and quickly angered. They are rarely the most likeable people around and they will often find something to complain about even when things are going well. Bitter people are covered in tiny scars from head to toe and each scar tells a different story of a time when they were hurt by the world.

Have you ever had a paper cut on your finger or a metal shaving in your hand? Everything that touches it hurts. You are constantly aware of the tiny little cut. Bitter people live as if they are covered in papercuts from head to toe. Everything and everyone they touch hurts. This leads them down a path of isolation and anger. Soon they can no longer tolerate having anyone close to them.

The unaccepted become the unaccepting. The ungraced become the ungracious. Hurt people hurt people.

Someone once said that failing to forgive someone is like hugging a cactus. The harder you hold onto your pain the more it hurts and the more damage it causes—to you! The funny thing about Unforgiveness, is that the people who hurt you often aren’t even aware of the pain they have caused.

You might be thinking, “I can accept God’s forgiveness, but how do I forgive myself?” You aren’t alone. The majority of combat veterans who have come through REBOOT have felt this way.

Jesus gets real in Matthew 18:35 when he says, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Wow! How harsh is that? If you don’t forgive, God won’t forgive you.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “love your enemies.” Perhaps you’ve recited the Lord’s Prayer and asked God to help you forgive your debtors and trespassers.

Here is the question:

What if you are the “brother or sister” Jesus speaks of in Matthew 18:35? What if you are the one who needs to be forgiven – by yourself? Does that make Jesus’ statement any less true? Read it a little differently:

31852906240_392fc03ab3_z“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive yourself from your heart.”

Anger and resentment are just as damaging when directed at yourself as when directed at others. Some of us are our own worst enemies. But we must forgive ourselves and let go. Are you ready and willing to forgive yourself?

Maybe your hurt is unlike anyone else’s hurt. Maybe you have been scarred your entire life and no one can understand. You’ve probably been told by friends to just “let it go.” But that seems like a dramatically oversimplified solution. After all, who are they? They don’t know what you’ve been through! They don’t know about the cactus your squeezing! They’ve never hugged a cactus like this before!

It’s a simple as letting go

Do you see how silly it sounds when you think of holding onto unforgiveness like squeezing that painful cactus? The process of forgiveness isn’t complicated. It may not be easy, but it is simple.

It starts with a decision.

You know that in order to experience the freedom that God offers, you must make a decision to accept his offer of unconditional forgiveness and extend that forgiveness to others.

Next, determine if you need to try to reconcile with those who have hurt you.

This may not be necessary and in some cases, it may not be possible, but it can be helpful. If you are still in close contact, reconciliation is essential.

Those who have hurt you may not recognize or admit the pain they’ve caused you, but it doesn’t matter! Forgiving them doesn’t mean they didn’t do anything wrong or that you have to let them into your inner circle. It simply means that you choose freedom over pain.

Forgiveness happens in this order: faith, facts, feelings. So you may have to wait for the feelings to come.

Remember – you forgive because Christ forgave you, not because you are seeking to earn a specific response from the person you are forgiving.

Just let it go! Let go of every messy bit of the hurt that you’ve been clinging to. Over time, the feelings of pain will decrease and you will begin to experience true freedom.

Have you been battling to forgive yourself?

Do you hold grudges against those who have wronged you? Have you been trying to settle accounts instead of living in forgiveness? Connect with us and allow us to walk this journey with you. Simply click one of the buttons below and we will contact you.

*[Footnote: David Seamands. 2015, Healing for Damaged Emotions Workbook, pg. 45 Colorado Spring, CO, David C. Cook Publishing.]

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