Don't Let 'Justifiable Resentment' Terrorize You
- Steve Arterburn Author and Chairman of New Life Clinics
- 2006 15 Feb
We live in a world with danger and terror all around us. Since 9/11 most of us have a little more fear that one day the terror in the world might intersect with our personal world.
But there’s something far worse, far more dangerous than that. It’s worse because it can exist within us and affect everything we do and the very person we become. This internal terrorist is called a “justifiable resentment.”
A justifiable resentment isn’t about anything petty. It’s about real and horrible mistreatment or abuse. It’s about a real-life event that anyone would say was terribly wrong, and most anyone would think you’re totally justified in feeling the way you do. It’s your Auschwitz, and those who know of your terrible ordeal support your feelings. That’s the problem—no one questions your feelings. Everyone feels horrible for you, so it’s easy for you to hang on to the resentment.
Although it might be very difficult to imagine, you really can be free from that justifiable resentment. You can let it go and experience the healing power of forgiveness. You can choose to heal a very troubled area of your soul by choosing the path of forgiveness.
The Physiology Of Forgiveness
The psalmist confessed that while he remained silent, and attempted to cover up the guilt of his sin, his “body wasted away” (Ps. 32:3). Guilt, resentment, sin, and silence have a physiological impact on a person. They combine to create an emotionally and physically sick person who misses the best of life because they’re stuck in a past that can’t be changed.
The psalmist knew then what science is just now coming to accept. There was a time when the medical profession steered clear of the study of forgiveness. Even the field of psychiatry was uncomfortable looking too closely at forgiveness because it was considered an issue of faith.
But due to the medical evidence that unforgiveness seems to produce detrimental effects upon both our physical and spiritual well being, the topic of forgiveness is becoming a widely studied topic in the clinical field. In 1997 there were only fifty-eight published studies on forgiveness. Today there are more than twelve hundred. There’s even a foundation called the Campaign for Forgiveness Research.
The Choice To Be Free
The choice to forgive is a powerful force for developing a life that’s free from the past. It’s the stepping-stone out of your old ways and into a future full of possibilities and potentials. But often people never experience those possibilities and potentials because they get hung up on certain aspects of the forgiveness process.
One such aspect involves the why of forgiveness. You must remember that the reason for forgiveness isn’t to let the other person off the hook; it’s to get you unhooked. When you choose to forgive you’re not freeing the other person, you’re freeing yourself. You must also not get hung up on whether or not the person wants to be forgiven or deserves it. If you wait for them to want it, you may waste your life waiting for something that’ll never happen. The hardness of another’s heart isn’t an excuse to harden yours.
Forgive freely even though the person’s unaware they hurt you, and even if the person denies that it’s their problem. Finally, don’t think you need to confront the person to be able to forgive. Sometimes it causes more problems than it solves. I think it’s better to just forgive the person. Let it go, and get on with your life.
The Big Lie
Don’t listen to the big lie that forgiveness is only for those who earn it or deserve it. None of us deserve it. It’s a gracious gift from God. Jesus Christ did the unfathomable by taking our sin and obtaining our punishment for it. God has forgiven us, and now we can do it for others. The other party’s emotional state or attitude should have nothing to do with our plans to forgive.
And when you’re the offending party, never underestimate what a simple request for forgiveness might do for another person. People’s lives have been changed because someone took a risk and asked for forgiveness. The risk becomes the seed of healing in another person’s life. Asking someone to forgive you may be just the humble act of service needed to initiate healing in another’s life. You may be the most unlikely candidate to help in the process, but God has a history of using very unlikely people to accomplish His goals.
Whether you need forgiveness or you need to forgive, taking a risk will make you a peacemaker, and therefore, blessed in the eyes of God. Don’t wait until someone deserves forgiveness. Forgive anyway, and begin the process right now.
Healing is a choice. It’s God’s choice. Sometimes we choose to only ask God to help us heal, but God has provided us with some choices that may usher in healing for others as well. The choice to forgive is as big a choice as we can make, but it’s often the last choice of those who’ve been hurt badly. No matter what you’ve done or what was done to you, I hope you’ll make the healing choice to forgive and seek forgiveness.
The above piece is an adaptation from Healing Is A Choice: Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life & Ten Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them, by Steve Arterburn. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2005.
Stephen Arterburn is the founder of New Life Clinics, the largest provider of Christian counseling and treatment in North America. As host of the daily New Life Live! radio program, he is heard nationally on over one hundred and eighty stations and at www.newlife.com. Steve is the creator of the Women of Faith® Conferences and is the author/coauthor of over thirty books, including Healing is a Choice, Lose it For Life, The God of Second Chances, Every Man’s Battle, and Avoiding Mr. Wrong.