Are you easily angered?
Are you easily angered? Do you get bitter or have resentments? Have you been told you “have a short fuse” or you are“judgmental or critical”? If you answered yes to any of these questions…you are being held hostage. Your emotions are bound up, your heart is in bondage, and you are a walking wounded. But…you are not alone.
I was held hostage until about ten years ago and grew up in an abusive alcoholic home, was beaten, mistreated, molested, and rejected. I also fought, manipulated, lied, and cheated to get what I wanted or keep from being hurt. When I graduated high school, I joined the US Army and left all that behind hoping for a better life…or so I thought. But, I carried my past with me, along with my hurts and anger, and it affected all my relationships. I married at 20 and had my first child at 21. I loved being a parent and rejoiced at the amazing love I felt for her and it did heal my heart in many ways. But I continued to struggle with managing my emotions. I thought that being married and having a child would heal my heart…make me happy. But I was wrong. I was still angry.
Due in part to my inability to manage my own emotions in my marriage, I was rejected, cheated on, and criticized by my spouse. This hurt, but I also cheated, offended, and hurt him too. After our divorce, I tried to heal my heart, improve myself and be a better person. I searched for answers through knowledge, schooling and counseling. It helped some too, but I still felt like something was still missing.
Turning my life around
I turned my life to Christ when I was 29 years old. So, I brought my bruised and battered heart to Jesus and felt loved and accepted for the first time in my life. I remarried two years later, began reading my Bible, had two more children, was learning about my faith and very active in my church so I should have been happy. From an outside perspective my life was perfect. It was going great. But, behind closed doors I continued to struggle with my anger, sarcasm, and negativity.
I was critical and resentful…even though I shouldn’t have been. I was doing all the right things but was still a walking wounded. I knew I shouldn’t be that way, but it was like my feelings would bubble up inside me and spew out on the people that I loved the most. And I knew it was wrong and I would pray…but it just didn’t seem to be working. Sometimes I didn’t even know why I was angry. There was still something missing. Something deep inside. Trying to be a “good Christian” didn’t fix my heart or heal my emotions. I was wrong…again.
Around the age of 39, I read Phillip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? It is a collection of short stories about the different aspects of God’s grace. One aspect was about forgiveness. It lead me to scriptures about what God says regarding forgiveness.
In Mark chapter 11 verses 25-26 it reads: “and whenever you stand praying if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” When I read that passage I panicked.
I knew that my life before Christ was filled with fighting, alcohol, sex and drugs. I had wounded, cheated, criticized, and
hurt others. God’s forgiveness of my sins was very important to me. But…it said, “if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” I knew I was still holding on to the hurts, mistreatment, and abuses that I had endured from family, friends and others. I felt like I had a right to. I had been through so much. Most of them had never apologized, and some continued to mistreat. But…if I didn’t forgive what did that mean for me?
When I came to Christ my heart was battered and bruised and I thought Jesus would fix it. I accepted Jesus into my heart, but what I failed to realize was that I was being held hostage by years of unforgiveness. I believed that I had a right to hold onto my anger for the injustices done to me. God forgave me for all the hurts and offenses I had committed. But, I held on to my unforgiveness because the offenses seemed too great to let go. I didn’t want to forgive, I wanted them to suffer like I had. I wanted justice and didn’t realize that my unforgiveness was hurting me and stealing my joy. And it was damaging the relationships with the people I loved.
I had never considered forgiving others. Just thought I could forget about my wounds and just move on. I tried to ignore my past, but I never felt peace. I tried finding my peace through relationships, parenting, schooling, and even in Jesus. My relationship with Jesus was hindered by my unwillingness to let go of past hurts. I experienced periods of peacefulness but never experienced true freedom. I was still a hostage, a walking wounded…even as a Christian.
We live in a harsh world and relationships can be painful. Sometimes we are hurt accidentally and at times-it is intentional. But unfortunately, sometimes we do the same thing. We are all human and our journeys are filled with unmet expectations, hurts, offenses and even evil. We all act hurtful or mean sometimes.
In Mark it says: “if you have anything against anyone”. You are the one responsible for the forgiveness. It did not say that you forgive only if someone repents. It is not dependent on the other person’s behaviors-but on the condition of our own hearts. When we stand before God with a request-He wants us to check our hearts. He forgave us first. Now it is our turn. (John 20:23)
We cannot control how other people treat us or the injustices that sometimes happen to us. But, despite external circumstances, we have control over the condition of our own hearts. We have the power to forgive…even if they don’t deserve it…or ask for it.
It comes down to this: do you want to be forgiven? I know I did. Even though I didn’t feel like it…or even want to, I began to forgive out of obedience to God’s word. As I stepped out in obedience and spoke out forgiveness I started to feel less of a hostage to my emotions and more in control of my feelings. My walking wounded identity eventually changed to someone who lives in peace and rarely spews feelings of negativity and anger on other people.
We all have daily opportunities to become offended and angry. These are our rights. But with giving our lives to Jesus we give up that right so we can live in righteous peace. (Matthew 18:21-35) But the Bible tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2 that we are to imitate God and walk in love. It is hard to do that if we are bound in unforgiveness. Ultimately, we cannot control other people’s behaviors. But we can determine the condition of our own hearts. Our hearts are like our homes-they require cleaning and repairs to keep them habitable. We can clean and maintain them daily. Even if the damage has been there for years.
Everyone’s hearts could use a little spring cleaning and some maintenance. It all starts with a prayer. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind anyone you may need to forgive. Then immediately speak out forgiveness-regardless of who it is or how they hurt you. Be specific and try to name how they hurt you. For example, when I prayed, Holy Spirit brought my step-father to my mind and I forgave him for molesting me. Then later, I forgave him for hitting me. And then again, I forgave him for ridiculing me. It was hard at first, but each time I spoke it out it became easier and easier. It is that simple.
I want to encourage you to not only examine your heart for past hurts and offenses but to develop a daily heart habit. Forgive daily. Speak out forgiveness-even if you don’t remember the specific hurts. Sometimes there are little drops or leaks that don’t really bother us at the time but still can stain the floor of our hearts. Spills and accidents are so much easier to clean up right after they happen. They aren’t allowed to stick around to damage our home. In Galatians 4:6 it says that God’s Spirit comes to live in our hearts. I don’t know about you, but I want to have a clean heart, so God can have a clean home.
Every time you start feeling angry/frustrated-speak out forgiveness again in obedience. If you are feeling angry or depressed and don’t know why? In your mind-go back to where you lost your peace. Ask Holy Spirit to show you where you lost it and speak out forgiveness!
Please do not forget to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes and God forgives us and He keeps on forgiving us. It is not a one-time thing. Be kind to yourself, take responsibility, ask for forgiveness and move on. You deserve to be free. Free from bondage, free from unforgiveness, free from pain and free from past wounds.
You are worthy of freedom from being a hostage and it starts with two words, “I forgive.”
Tina Genaro is a Licensed Professional Counselor and author. If you want to learn more about how forgiveness radically changed her life-please check out her book.