There is a destructive power in unforgiveness that impacts every area of one’s life. I was reading about WWII many years ago and read a quote that still sticks in my mind. It is from a Polish Jew named Yitzhak Zuckerman. He said:
“If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.”
Yitzhak was part of the Zionist movement inside Poland and was taken captive by the Germans and brought to a camp to dig canals and clear swamps. He speaks of the conditions in camp:
“I think up to ten people died daily, together with those who were shot because they were suspected of being about to escape… I encountered death from starvation there for the first time. People were talking amongst themselves and suddenly one of them, without any warning, would die. And I was thinking all the time how I was going to die. But I was younger, possibly also stronger, and I did not die of starvation.”
He was able to escape the camp through offering a bribe. Once free he began to organize Jewish resistance to the Germans. Soon the Germans started shipping 5,000 Jews a day from Warsaw to Treblinka to be gassed to death. Yitzhak was one of the few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
He helped Jews escape the ghetto through sewer systems and saw so much death and destruction. In giving us his haunting quote he was trying to show how deep the bitterness ran in his heart. Unforgiveness was poisoning him and he said if you could lick his heart it would poison you.
The picture above is of Yitzhak testifying at the trial of Adolph Eichmann, who was instrumental in the transportation of Jews to the death camps.
There are many negative side effects of unforgiveness that affect every aspect of a person’s life: physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational. I would like you to consider the following twelve effects of unforgiveness. You may not relate to everyone of the twelve, but note the ones you do.
Unforgiveness Binds You to the Past
When you refuse to forgive you are bound to the past. The things that happened to you are always there. They are sometimes in the forefront of your mind. Sometimes they are stuffed in the deep recesses of your heart. One way or another they are always there waiting to be brought to the surface.
Many people live their lives and gain their identity from things that took place in the past. They see themselves differently because of what happened.
- A rape victim sees herself as damaged goods, dirty, and undesirable.
- A man’s wife leaves him for another man and he vows never let anyone hurt him again or to trust another woman.
- A parent says you will never amount to anything and you continue to strive to prove them wrong even when they died years ago.
- You grew up in poverty and no matter how much money you make you never feel secure or that you have enough.
There is a sense that things won’t change. The damage has been done and it’s irreparable.
The only way to be free from the past is through forgiveness.
Unforgiveness Ties You to the Person Who Hurt You
The strange things about unforgiveness is that it keeps the person who hurt you with you at all times. It is like an invisible chain that connect the two of you. You become a prisoner with a ball and chain around your heart instead of your leg.
It doesn’t take much for the the thoughts to start running in your head. You hear a song, catch a scent, or someone says a certain word and you are instantly in the situation again.
Over and over, like a dvd set to repeat, the situation comes to mind. The person who hurt you is front and center. No matter what you try to do the memory will not stop. It is everpresent.
Sometimes you may think about things you’d wish you had said or done. But there they are still present in your life even though the event took place years ago.
You wish you the memory of this person would stop haunting your thoughts, but they can’t leave. They’re chained to you. Your unwillingness to forgive chains them to you.
There is only one key that will open the lock on the chain that connects you: forgiveness.
Unforgiveness Keeps Your Pain Fresh and Active
When the dvd player in your head starts running you not only see the pictures in your mind , you feel the pain in your emotions. The pain is as real as the day it happened. You wonder if you can ever get free from it. Why can't I just get over this?
One day I was sitting with Barb (not real name). She began telling me a story of what happened to her. She was weeping and trying to tell the story in between sobs.
I wondered when this took place. I asked her after she finished telling the story. She told me over twenty years ago.
I was shocked for a moment. This event took place over twenty years ago and she was acting like it was a week or two ago. I asked her if she’d forgiven the people for what took place. She said no.
When I asked if she was willing to forgive she said no. “Everyone is telling me to just get over it. I can’t just get over it. It takes time to heal.”
Barb’s unwillingness to forgive kept the wounds in heart alive and fresh. Twenty years hadn’t eased the pain. She said that healing takes time. I wonder how many more years it will take to heal?
Healing can begin immediately with forgiveness. Forgiveness allows God to touch your heart and restore it. Unforgiveness blocks His hand from bringing the relief you long for.
Unforgiveness Hinders Your Growth
How many people are you dragging along with you like a ball and chain in your life through unforgiveness? How many people do you need to release and forgive? One, five, ten, twenty, one hundred?
It may surprise you how many people you need to forgive. Some for little things and some for massive hurts. Unforgiveness hinders your emotional, relational, and spiritual growth. These invisible chains hinder you from being all you can be in God.
Unforgiveness weighs you down and uses up energy you could be using for other things. It keeps you protecting yourself from further hurt. It places invisible barriers in your relationships. It stops your emotional growth.
Try This Exercise
I encourage you to set aside some time to do this exercise. Get a piece of paper and ask the Lord everyone you need to forgive.
- Write every name the Lord brings to your mind. Don’t stop writing until the names stop coming to your mind.
- Wait a moment and then ask the Lord if there is anyone else. It does not matter how small or big the offense against you.
- Choose to forgive each person for what they have done to you, one by one. Ask the Lord to help you be a forgiving person.
- Do the following for each person on your list.
- Choose to forgive them by name.
- Say the specific things for which you are forgiving them. Don’t say a generic prayer. They did specific things to hurt you, forgive them specifically. For example, “I forgive my mom for knowing about but not stopping the sexual abuse of my father.”
- Release them to the Lord
- Thank the Lord for for forgiving you and helping you to be a forgiving person
Here is a sample prayer to help guide you if you need help:
I choose to forgive __(name)__ for ____(specific thing)_____ (as many times as necessary). I no longer hold anything against ___(name)___ I choose to release ___(him/her)___ into Your hands as righteous judge.
Going through this list may bring up some painful memories. Invite the Lord into the situation. Give Him each and every painful emotion you are experiencing. Don’t ask Him to take them away, give them to Him. Once you have given Him every hurt ask Him to heal your heart.
Next week, we’ll look at four more destructive aspects of unforgiveness.
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