The reality is, in this sinful world we will be hurt. We will be sinned against. We will be disappointed. When painful circumstances come, how do we handle our hurt? Some, like myself, have an easier time letting go of things, but even then, deep down, there are still traces of bitterness that linger and build up over time. It has been said that our emotions affect our physical health and well-being. An emotionally healthy person is a whole person. Feelings of anger and bitterness will eventually wear down the body mentally and physically. How do we deal with these feelings? We go to the root. Where there are feelings of anger and bitterness, there’s usually a heart of unforgiveness that needs to be dealt with. Nancy Leigh DeMoss does a wonderful job in this book discussing these, acknowledging that pain is real, but yet not excusing our responsibility in how we respond to circumstances in our lives. She shares several stories with varied circumstances where individuals had to choose to forgive despite their pain and loss and at the end of each chapter are follow-up questions to apply what you’ve read.
She discusses bitterness and how to recognize when it has crept into your heart. In connection with this, a question that lingers throughout the book is, who is really being hurt by the bitterness, anger and unforgiveness in your heart? By holding another person hostage by our unforgiveness, we are holding ourselves captive as well. She compares it to “drinking poison and hoping someone else would die” (p. 50). Bitterness often feels good, it’s like a safety-zone. But “it’s a fall-back position doomed to failure… the cure for bitterness is to trust both His hand and His heart and to ‘draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that [you] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’ (Heb 4:16, NASB).” (p. 79)
She also reminds us that “forgiven people forgive others” but that “even forgiven people can struggle to forgive”. (p. 69) Ultimately though, our unforgiveness comes back to our relationship with God and our understanding of His forgiveness. She also reminds us that it is only God’s grace that we are enabled with the strength to forgive, even when we don’t feel like it. It’s a choice, not a feeling. But not usually just a one-time choice; we have to choose over and over again to let it go. It does not have to be a process, it’s something you practice. She writes, “I believe that, as a rule, the point of forgiveness is followed by a process of healing and restoration – not the other way around.” (p. 176)
Do we need to “forgive ourselves”? What about “forgiving God”? These are things she discusses as well. In chapter 6 she discusses anger towards God which is often the heart of anger towards others. She answers questions about how we deal with those feelings and what our attitude should be towards God in spite of our trials. Knowing that God is sovereign in our trials gives us hope – there is a goal and an end in sight! We can trust Him and we must trust that He has a purpose in our trial, yes, even this. Even Jesus was “perfected through suffering,” (see Hebrews 2:10) and so are we.
I found this book immensely helpful. It was convicting but so encouraging! A must-read for all Christians, no matter where you are in life – if it doesn’t help you now, it will at some point and also equip you to help others.
"But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27-28, NKJV)