Forgiveness is key
As an introduction to this FAQ, we need to discuss the importance of forgiveness in the healing and restoration process. The Bible shows us that repentance (a change of heart that leads to a change of action) and forgiveness result in restoration and healing of many kinds. If you are seeking a personal victory or freedom in any area of struggle, this is a great place to start.
1. WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
Forgiveness is an act of mercy. It is the releasing of someone from the judgement you think they should receive because of an offense they committed (knowingly or unknowingly). When you’re forgiving an offender, you must remember this: A person doesn’t have to apologize, repent, or prove their trustworthiness to you in order for you to forgive them. It is not something they can earn from you. The gift of forgiveness is a selfless gift, and like any gift, it’s free. For example, you did nothing to earn Jesus’ forgiveness. It was a free gift to you.
By no means are we saying that forgiveness won’t cost you something. In fact, it may be one of the most costly things the Lord ever asks you to do…much like the Father asking Jesus to give up His life for you.
Forgiveness wipes the slate clean. It says, “You are free to go. You owe me nothing. I release you.” That, in itself is incredible, but there’s more to it than just releasing your offender; forgiveness frees you as well.
2. WHY IS FORGIVENESS IMPORTANT?
No one deserves forgiveness, but it is essential we give it in order to live the life God has called us to live. There are consequences to not forgiving. When we refuse to forgive, we are standing in God’s place as judge over a situation, and we must remember, the measure that we use to judge others, God will use to judge us (Matthew 7:1-2). This is why Matthew 6:15 says that if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you. In other words, if you judge…you set yourself up to be judged. This is why it is so important that we forgive: Without the flow of forgiveness, from us to others, we cannot receive God’s forgiveness.
Judgement is not the only consequence of withholding forgiveness. Unforgiveness acts likes poison in our soul and causes bitterness, anxiety, fear, anger, pain, physical illness, and broken relationships, among other things. We also know that we reap what we sow; don’t be surprised if you find yourself repeating the same actions you didn’t forgive others for. You can’t push forgiveness off until your deathbed and expect to live in joy and freedom now.
Forgiveness will also increase your ability to love. If you want to grow in your love walk, learn to practice forgiveness (Luke 7:47). Be quick to forgive, and keep short accounts with people.
3. HOW DO I FORGIVE?
WHERE SHOULD I START?
Any person, or thing (circumstance, culture, motive, process, etc.) that caused you pain or disappointment can be a territory in your life that needs forgiveness. Remember, forgiveness isn’t just limited to people. And it’s not just about releasing them, but finding closure for yourself. One indicator that you are free is that you don’t have a strong reaction when the person/situation crosses your mind. For example, running into them at Target no longer spikes your anxiety and interrupts the rest of your day.
If you know you need to forgive, or if you feel like Holy Spirit is prompting you to, you can do so by saying something like this:
“I forgive __________ for _____________. I give him/her/them/the situation the gift of forgiveness. They owe me nothing. I let it go to the foot of the cross. I give them to you, Jesus.”
Example: “I forgive Joe for ditching me on Friday night. I felt disrespected, angry, and rejected. But, I choose to forgive, bless, and release Joe, to You, Jesus. He owes me nothing. I let him go, and I receive the truth that I am loved, seen, valued, and accepted by You. What Joe did, says everything about Joe, and nothing about me. So, I give him to You, Jesus, and I trust You to lead me as Your daughter.”
Example: “I forgive myself for going too far with my girlfriend tonight. I’m disappointed with myself, I didn’t do what was right, and I didn’t lead well in our relationship. I feel the temptation to partner with guilt and shame right now, but I will choose to lean into the conviction of the Holy Spirit and not let shame and guilt be my teacher. I thank you Lord, that I am convicted about what I did. It shows that I am a son of Yours. God, please forgive me for what I did, I repent. Help my to clean up my mess with my girlfriend, and to lead her well. I also forgive myself, and forgive your Grace and mercy. Thank you Lord that your Word says that you make all things new, and I lean into that truth and that grace tonight. Amen.”
4. I THOUGHT I HAD FORGIVEN, BUT I KEEP GETTING TRIGGERED EVERY TIME I THINK ABOUT OR SEE MY OFFENDER. WHAT WOULD YOU SUGGEST?
All of us experience times when, though we have forgiven someone, our strong feelings resurface, and we find ourselves having to forgive the same offense over, and over, and over again. If you identify with this, we would suggest you explore the following ideas:
1. Ask God if there is any other offense you need to forgive. There are often layers to situations, and though you may think you have fully forgiven, you may not have gotten to the root yet. There may be more resolution to be had. Ask Holy Spirit to guide you as you explore this. Simply ask, “God, why am I still hurting? Why do I feel like this still has power over me?”
2. Consider if you are truly forgiving from the heart, or if you are simply going through the motions. Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” What we have found, is that those who still feel locked up due to unforgiveness, oftentimes have not acknowledged the pain/disappointment of what actually happened to them. In other words, they haven’t let themselves really feel what happened to them. In short, if you don’t process through your pain, and acknowledge what you feel, you can’t experience freedom. In addition to forgiving with your words, we invite you to forgive with all your heart. It might be the most painful thing you do, but the Word promises you will be comforted.
3. If you still feel a strong emotional connection with the individual or situation, you may need to break soul ties that may have been formed. “Soul ties” is a way of referring to the physical or emotional bonds we form with the people around us. They are not all bad. In fact, God created us with the ability to bond with one another so we would have tight-knit relationships and communities. You can read more about soul ties later in question 8.
4. Find compassion for your offender. Ask God how He sees them and/or the situation. For example, a young man had bitter unforgiveness toward his father. When he was a child, his dad would tie him and his brothers up and beat them. As an adult, he could not forgive his dad, who should have known better than to abuse his innocent, helpless children.
In a counselling session, he asked God to show him the truth about his dad, to show him how He saw him at that time. God showed him a picture of his father as a helpless baby. In that moment he understood that his dad, at that time, didn’t have the ability to parent him properly– that he himself, was still a child inside. With this understanding he was able to have compassion on his dad, in all of his mess, and truly forgive him for the first time.
Once you can connect with compassion, you’re more able to forgive and release your offender genuinely. How do you know you’ve truly released them? The fruit of forgiveness is peace. You are able to think about that person or situation with no ill will.
5. You still want justice.
The truth is, some of us are born with a bigger “justice button” than others. For some, the values of right and wrong weigh more heavily than heart and intuition. If you are one of these people, we invite you to ask God for His perspective on grace, mercy, and compassion. Ask Him to remind you of the person you were before you met Him. You need to connect in humility with your own humanity; you are just as in need of grace as your offender. We all need a Savior.
5. DO I HAVE TO STAY IN RELATIONSHIP WITH SOMEONE WHO HAS HURT OR OTHERWISE ABUSED ME?
No. Forgiving does not mean that a violator is welcome back into your life. You do not have to trust him/her. Trust and forgiveness are not the same thing. You can forgive someone and choose to no longer have relationship with him/her.
6. I FEEL LIKE I’M STUCK IN A CYCLE OF SHAME AND GUILT. HOW DID I GET HERE?
Guilt and shame are a part of our natural moral compass. These feelings let us know that we have done wrong, or have violated our standards. These feelings, in this context, can highlight when we’ve strayed off the moral path. (Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder, etc. These are things that would trigger any normal person’s moral compass.) They are the part of our conscience that says, “This is wrong!”
With that said, guilt and shame, can keep us out of danger when we are learning the difference between right and wrong. The danger in depending on guilt and shame to be our teacher, is that a person adapts to being motivated from the outside-in, instead of the inside-out. In short, they are externally motivated.
For example, their internal dialogue might sound like, “I won’t eat that entire pizza tonight, because I know I will feel guilty and ashamed afterward.” A healthy dialogue would sound like, “I am a healthy person, and a healthy person does not eat an entire pizza in one sitting.” Did you catch the difference? One is rooted in the internal identity of being a healthy person, versus the external consequence of not wanting to experience guilt and shame.
When it comes to our guilt and shame relating to our sexuality, our internal dialogue might sound something like: “I hate masturbating. As long as I feel guilty about it, I won’t do it again! As long as I feel ashamed of myself, I won’t feel tempted.” Or, “If I feel guilty, at least I know I still feel conviction. If I’m a child of God, I’ll feel guilty, and that’s a good thing.” In both of these cases, we embrace shame and guilt and use them as tools to tell us who we are and how to behave.
So, in short, you may have thought that guilt and shame were great teachers in the past, because they kept you safe. But now, you have the gift of the Holy Spirit to teach and lead you. You can now be led by love, instead of fear.
In a different vein, it is also worth mentioning that it is not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse to live with massive guilt and shame issues. Though they were victims, a part of them may have enjoyed a small part of their experience — the attention, the sexual experience, the secrecy — even though they hated what happened to them. These individuals live feeling greatly conflicted and/or overly responsible for what happened to them.
7. HOW CAN I GET FREE FROM GUILT AND SHAME?
Firstly, acknowledge that guilt and shame have been a friend and a teacher to you. Secondly, ask for God’s forgiveness, and don’t forget to forgive yourself. This simply could look like, “Lord, I acknowledge that I have let guilt and shame be a leader in my life and I repent. I ask for your forgiveness. I forgive myself. Today marks a brand new beginning. I will no longer partner with shame and guilt in my life.”
Remember, when you wake up tomorrow morning, you are starting anew. Don’t fall prey to the enemy’s lie that you are your old man. Forgiveness restores the standard. Jesus has forgiven you. You are moving on and God only holds you responsible for your actions today. Everything in your past is under the blood of Jesus. When you asked Him to forgive you, He took you seriously. It is finished. The enemy doesn’t get to bring it up anymore, and neither do you.
Thirdly, ask for a new teacher.
As we said, the Holy Spirit is with you to teach and lead you. You can now be led by love, instead of fear. So ask Him daily for help, guidance, and submit to His leadership.
Replace whatever lies you’re believing about your identity with the truth of who Jesus Christ is in you, and who He knows you to be. What you have done does not get to tell you who you are. Jesus does. If you believe you are bad, worthless, hopeless, or a failure, you need to begin renewing your mind to truth.
Let it out. There is power in getting it all out into the light. If you have gone through the above process, or are still working through your process, we encourage you to let others in. Whatever is in darkness, must come into the light if you want to be seen, known, and fully loved. Part of your healing process may be talking to a trusted friend, leader, parent or mentor about whatever it is you felt shameful or guilty about (James 5:16). There is power in confession.
And lastly, if your behavior is bringing on your guilt and shame, stop doing it! If you are doing something wrong, you can’t expect to get away with it without your spirit (your conscience) and God’s spirit in you reacting to it! In short, guilt and shame are a consequence of a behavior that violates who you are. If you’re tired of feeling guilty and ashamed, change your behavior!
8. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CONDEMNATION (GUILT AND SHAME) AND CONVICTION?
Condemnation and conviction are not the same things. We want conviction in our lives– it is the plumb line that shows us that we are in line with what is lovely, true, and faith-filled. It shows us the way to freedom. Condemnation, on the other hand, leads us into bondage and makes us feel like we deserve punishment. It is the cousin of guilt/shame, and keeps us stuck in the cycle of always trying to earn forgiveness or give recompense to God for our sin.
9. I WAS IN A RELATIONSHIP THAT I THOUGHT WAS LOVE AND LEADING TO MARRIAGE. I WENT TOO FAR WITH THAT PERSON, AND WE ARE NO LONGER TOGETHER. I REGRET MY CHOICE. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
First of all it’s important to know that your past decisions don’t have the power to tell you who you are today, or what your future relationships will look like. You made some poor choices and it hurts, but there is hope for you. You have an opportunity to choose a different path and start again… so let’s get started!
First and foremost, recognize that this is going to be a healing process, and probably not a healing moment. Second, be wise; know that the enemy is going to try to give you an identity based on your past mistakes…but you are not your past mistakes! This is why knowing the Word is so important (who God says you are, what God thinks about you, the reality of your forgiveness and redemption at the cross, the fullness of Christ’s power working within you, etc.).
With that said, here are a few simple things we’d recommend:
– You need to forgive yourself.
– You need to forgive, bless, and release (cut soul ties) your ex.
– You need to grieve the loss of the “dreams” you had of spending the rest of your life with your ex-boyfriend and let go of any fantasy that he’s going to come back. You need to cry it out, process through your pain, and then (bravely) get rid of everything that you’re hanging onto (letters, movie ticket stubs, pictures, memorabilia, etc) that ties you to him.
– You need to surround yourself with healthy friends to do life with – laugh, cry, make memories, go on adventures. You get the idea. Isolation will not be your friend in this season.
– You need to get spiritual mothers and fathers in your life (ie, older/wiser/loving people – doesn’t have to be your pastor).
– You need to begin renewing your mind (listen, read, watch) and feeding your spirit with life giving things. Not magazines, romance novels, movies, or music, etc.
– Figure out who you are, what you want, where you are going in life, and how you are going to make those dreams come true.
– Begin to dream about your future husband. Eventually (maybe not now) you will be able to do this and you’ll be able to do this with joy, hope, and expectation.
– Know that it’s okay to have a bad day. Give yourself grace. You are healing and being restored and that probably won’t happen in a week.
– Give yourself time to mend. You let your heart and body go places it’s never been before and so it’s going to take time for them to come back into alignment with your spirit … so be gentle on yourself.
– Ask for help and be okay with taking things one day at a time.
Finally, you’re going to need to figure out your WHY:
– Why did I cross those lines in the first place?
– Why did the value of my virginity become something that was up for negotiation?
– Why did I decide to let someone else violate the boundaries and standards I set for myself?
– Why did I let myself be violated?
– Why did my value decrease in my own eyes?
– Why do I think the words boyfriend and husband or girlfriend and wife mean the same thing? (They don’t, by the way.)
Take your time to work through the above questions. Healing is a process. Allow God to continually remind you who you are and what you are called to; He has an incredible future for you. Know that no matter what brought you to this place, you can decide how you want to live from now on.
10. I’VE STARTED SLEEPING WITH MY BOYFRIEND/GIRLFRIEND, BUT INSIDE, I KNOW IT’S NOT RIGHT. HOW CAN WE STOP? HOW CAN WE RESTORE OUR RELATIONSHIP?
Bring it into the light. Start telling people. Schedule a meeting with your pastor. Confess your sins, one to another, so that you may be healed (James 5:19).
“Light is silent, brings warmth, and is a necessity for life. But darkness is cold and drives us to hide behind walls of self-protection, where we are unreal, or to pretend to be more spiritually mature than we really are. One general proof of heartfelt sincerity before God and man is our openness and transparency.” – Jack Frost
When Adam and Eve sinned, their first response was to hide their sin from God. They were afraid. If you feel like Adam or Eve, know this: God isn’t mad at you. He’s actually longing to help you put things back together again. And it’s going to start when you bring it out into the light. You (probably) started this relationship trusting God, so you need to trust Him with this confession. We would implore you, as leaders, to be courageous, and will gently remind you that it’s going to come into the light eventually.
Understand this: once you bond with someone in this manner, the pull to continue is very strong. This is absolutely natural, a part of how God made you! Some couples have found that the healthiest way to go about restoring their relationship is to break up and take some time apart; in doing so they are able to work through their individual processes. Breaking up now doesn’t mean that you’re breaking up forever; you’re making a short term investment into a long-term payback.
11. MY EX AND I ARE NO LONGER TOGETHER, BUT I THINK ABOUT HIM/HER ALL THE TIME. HOW CAN I GET MY EX OUT OF MY HEAD?
Let’s start here: you may need to take a good, long reality check. If your relationship has been over for a while, and your ex is still a constant center of your thoughts, ask yourself, “Am I doing anything to feed this attachment?” Do you ask mutual friends how he/she is doing? Do you check in on them on Facebook or Instagram? Do you secretly hope to run into him/her at social gatherings? Do you soothe yourself with thoughts that he or she is going to come back? All of these are red flags of a soul tie, and good indicators that you are not connected with reality that it is over.
After asking yourself these questions, we’d encourage you to work through forgiveness and break soul ties, as necessary.
If you feel waves of anger, bitterness, resentment, or other negative feelings toward this person, we would encourage you to work through forgiveness. This is essential to you moving forward.
The first step is to forgive the ex that hurt you and release him/her from the offenses that he/she inflicted on you. Get quiet before the Lord and ask Him to reveal any damaged area of your life that resulted from this relationship. Write a list of any incidences that come to mind. This could start like, “Lord, I release ________ from taking advantage of me. I forgive the ways she used me, dishonored me, put me in situations that devalued me. I release her from every offensive action that she has had in my life.”
The next thing to do is to ask the Lord for His forgiveness for your reactions to him/her. An example might be, “Jesus, please forgive me for my participation in anger, hatred, bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness in my heart. I ask you to release me for speaking and thinking malicious thoughts about her when she made me feel powerless and worthless.” Again, write down any feelings that you experienced while you were dating.
In addition, you may need to forgive yourself. Again, your conversation may sound like, “Lord, I forgive myself for getting involved with someone whom I had reservations about, but continued to pursue. I forgive myself for not having clear boundaries in place and responding with my emotions instead of my core values.”
BLESS AND RELEASE
Finally, verbally bless and release your ex. This shows that you have a repentant heart and a desire for his/her well being. “Lord I bless ______ with healthy, fulfilling relationships in the future.”
BREAK (UNHEALTHY) SOUL TIES
This next step may be the place to start if you have constant thoughts about or a strong emotional attachment to your ex. You can say something like this: “God, forgive me for connecting with someone who wasn’t my spouse. Forgive me for making a connection I wasn’t supposed to make. I want to be free from these soul ties, so I’m giving them to you.”
Next, you may want to address that person in your imagination (in spirit). Apologize to them and ask them for forgiveness. If necessary, specifically forgive them for anything they’ve done to hurt you. You’ll want to release anything you’ve taken from them or anything you’ve been given. Be sure that in your heart you’re ready to let go of them. At this time, you’ll say something like this:
“I break any ungodly, unhealthy soul ties between myself and __________ in Jesus’ name. I send back everything that was given to me and any piece of him/her that remains with me. I release you from any bond or connection that was made. I release you from all promises, obligations, expectations, and desires.”
If you feel prompted to be specific about anything, feel free to speak that as well. Whatever helps you to find resolve is good. Explore that with Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Finally, call back the pieces of you that were given or taken by that person. Follow the same pattern as before:
“I call back every part of me from ____________, every part of my heart, my soul, my mind, washed in the blood of Jesus. I thank you, God, for returning all aspects that were lost. I thank you for making me whole again.”
After you’ve broken each soul tie, thank God for making your soul whole again. Invite His Spirit to fill you in all areas. You may feel lighter, and some even experience a physical sensation. Be sure to take time with God so that His presence can heal you. You should feel freer than you did when you started.
DO YOU HAVE ANY UNREALIZED FEAR?
Oftentimes people fall prey to the lie that their future relationship will never measure up to their past relationship. They idealize their ex, remembering every good memory, and forgetting every bad memory; they romanticize their ex and forget why the relationship ended in the first place.
If you think this might be you, simply ask yourself, “What am I afraid of? What do I have to lose by letting go of my ex? Am I afraid to let go? Am I ready to let go?” If you’ve never thought about these questions, and you find yourself being triggered, we invite you to courageously answer them. You owe it to yourself and your future spouse to be honest. It’s time to start living.
12. HOW CAN I PROCESS REJECTION IN A HEALTHY WAY?
Facing fear and risking rejection is something everyone experiences in their life. Well, let us clarify: If you want to live a life of exciting adventures and exploits then you are going to have to take some risks and cross some chicken lines — probably more than once. We also understand the outcome isn’t always what we hope for!
If your latest risk ended in the sting of rejection this time around, we are sorry. Getting a no-thank you from a person of the opposite sex is never any fun. Here a few things we can suggest as you work the sting out and move on.
Forgive. Forgive whoever you need to. Forgive her/him. Forgive yourself, and don’t beat yourself up or go into introspection mode. Just because this didn’t work out the way you thought, it doesn’t mean anything about you– your value, your intelligence, your beauty. That is why you have healthy friends and family around you. Pull on their strength and encouragement right now.
Forgive God, if you need to. Sometimes we find ourselves in places of pain because we were just trying to be obedient and follow His leading. Remember, He has your best interest at heart and He wouldn’t have led you to take the risk if there wasn’t gold in there for you somewhere. Don’t blame God. You may never know until you get to heaven why He wanted you to take that risk. The bottom line is He spoke, you obeyed, and you will reap a great reward for your obedience. Period. Obedience is always rewarded with a great blessing, so don’t let the enemy lie to you and try to get you to believe otherwise.
Process through your pain. One of the worst things we see people do when they’re hurting is stuff down their pain and never address it because they are told, “time heals all wounds.” Wrong. Time doesn’t. Time makes you forget why you were hurting in the first place, but time doesn’t heal, and you want to be a healed and whole person. Do whatever you need to do to get to a place of victory.
Don’t stop risking. That’s it. Plain and simple. Don’t stop taking risks. Determine in your heart that you will be a man or woman who continues to take risks and heads the voice of the Lord, no matter what.
13. HOW CAN A RELATIONSHIP BE RESTORED AFTER TRUST HAS BEEN BROKEN?
There are many things that can cause trust to be broken in a relationship — disappointments (unmet expectations), misunderstandings (miscommunication), abuse (emotional, verbal, physical, sexual), unfaithfulness (flirting, porn), adultery (emotional, sexual) — just to name a few.
Very basically, trust has been broken when you feel unprotected, unsafe, or hurt and connection has been lost. In some instances, trust can be restored by a simple apology, or the clearing up of a miscommunication. In other instances, trust has been so severely broken that both parties must go through a healing process in order to restore trust and connection in their relationship.
Here are a few general guidelines to get your relationship started if you feel stuck:
If you were the one who broke trust:
Own it. Repent before the Lord. Ask for forgiveness. Begin moving forward to start rebuilding what was broken. Recognize that this season may take time and remember that your feelings are your feelings, and their feelings are their feelings. One party might be experiencing grief, loss, and deep sadness one day, and the other party might be experiencing anger and frustration. It is very important for each party not to take responsibility for how the other person feels, not to try to rush the rebuilding process, and not bring up past offenses. If both parties have truly forgiven one another and have agreed to move forward, then the offense needs to be left in the past. By this we mean, don’t keep re-opening the wound in order to punish or otherwise manipulate the other in the heat of the moment. As you do this, consistency will be built, and trust will be re-established.
If you were the one whose trust was broken:
Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel (anger, pain, sadness, disappointment, shock, embarrassment, etc.). Secondly, forgive (whether the other party apologizes or not). Third, seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, godly counsel within your community, and your own heart as to how to move forward… or if you even should move forward in the relationship. Be courageous; don’t let the voice of pain speak louder than love. Remember, love is patient, kind, and willing to go the extra mile.
Clearly, there are some types of offenses (abuse) that are illegal. There are other types of offenses (adultery) that carry lifelong consequences (pregnancy, STDs, job loss, etc.). Both of these should be handled Biblically, legally, wisely, and within a safe, godly community.
14. WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN RAPED OR EXPERIENCED OTHER ABUSE (PHYSICAL, SEXUAL, OR EMOTIONAL) AND NEEDS TO BEGIN THE HEALING PROCESS?
Our team would highly recommend that any victim of abuse seek an educated, licensed, Christian counselor. In some cases, a sex therapist may be able to help as well.