I came home one night and found that someone had slid a letter under my apartment door. I immediately recognized the handwriting—and only one person wrote out my full name like that. I picked up the letter, and I smelled his cologne.
It was a letter from my ex-boyfriend.
Phillip and I had dated for about two years, both looking for marriage. That was our goal from the beginning, and we had talked about it many times. It was a big step, and Phillip was struggling to make it. But I was confident God was calling me to marry this man. Then one night, I watched him walk out my door after breaking up with me. And I thought to myself, “I’ll never see him again.”
Six months later, I was not expecting that letter, a letter that asked for my forgiveness and the possibility of a future together.
I remember sitting with a trusted mentor one day before receiving the letter, and he asked me, “Are you mad at Phillip? Because you’re allowed to be.”
I did not want to lash out at Phillip. Instead, I sought refuge in the familiar pages of my worn Bible. It is filled with highlighted passages, underlined words and phrases, and notes scribbled in the margins. It holds my pain, my joy, and ultimately my trust in the God who has carried me through it all. My parents gave it to me when I was young, and I have treasured it ever since.
Here is what the Bible has taught me about forgiveness.
Resentment, anger, and dwelling on how someone hurt you will eat away at you. It is a huge barrier to finding healing and peace. God promises that if we seek his face instead of retribution, he will bring healing.
“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”
Forgiveness is part of being human.
God made us, and he has incredible dreams for us. He knows the things that will make us whole and help us thrive. The Bible repeatedly speaks of the mercy of God. He forgives his people, and he forgives us, over and over again. Only if we imitate God in his mercy and forgiveness can we truly be everything he made us to be.
“Who is a God like you, who removes guilt
and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;
Who does not persist in anger forever,
but instead delights in mercy . . . ”
Forgiveness is essential to love.
The most important word in any relationship isn't love, it's forgiveness. While we may strive to become a-better-version-of-ourselves, we also fail sometimes. We can hurt the people that we love, and they sometimes hurt us. If we truly value our closest relationships, we will practice forgiveness. We will ask for forgiveness, and we will grant forgiveness to others.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.”
1 Corinthians 13:4–6
Forgiveness is hard.
Forgiveness is essential for healing, for being who God made us to be, and for loving. But it is not easy. It will hurt. The demands are high—but it’s worth it. Just look at what it cost Jesus to forgive us for our sins. He went to the cross to forgive us.
“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’”
The New Testament Revised Standard Version
Forgiveness isn’t magic.
The words “I forgive you” are not magic words. You have to continue to forgive, again and again, because healing takes time. You likely will have to face the same hurt repeatedly. In fact, the deepest hurts simply do not heal in a moment; forgiveness will require time. And that’s okay.
“Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”
Forgiveness holds you accountable.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is when Jesus saves a woman from being stoned for adultery. He tells the woman to go and sin no more. That is an essential element in forgiveness for a relationship to be healed. When Phillip came back, he didn’t just say he was sorry. He took full responsibility for what he did, with no excuses, and had the firm intention not to do it again. That opens the door for a relationship to blossom.
“She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.’”
Forgiveness can’t be done alone.
Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” We can do nothing without God’s grace, let alone forgive. When we let God in, when we trust and rely on him, we will find peace, healing, and the ability to forgive.
“Find your delight in the Lord
who will give you your heart’s desire.”
When Phillip walked out of my life, I chose to forgive. In fact, I was never angry in the first place. Besides, anger would only hurt me. Holding on to resentment would not let me heal, and it would not let God work in my life the way that he wanted to.
“In order to forgive, we must open our hearts to a love that does not originate in us. We must open our pain to the very love of God.”
Did it hurt? Yes. I had days where I collapsed on the floor and cried because of the hurt. But I was determined that resentment would not eat away at my soul. Instead, I forgave and handed my heart to God. Whenever I took it to prayer, I felt compelled to simply wait and to be with God. And so I waited, and I spent time simply being with God, letting him hold and heal my heart.
Phillip and I are now married and expecting our first child. God is so incredibly good. We have our struggles, but forgiveness is at the forefront—and it brings such joy, peace, and love to our lives.
I am currently facing a situation that is demanding forgiveness from me again. I refuse to let resentment take hold. I want to be whole, and I pray that I will let God work in me once again.