Several months ago I watched an interview with Mary J. Blige. I was not familiar with her life or her music, but I was immediately drawn in as I listened to her. She grew up in New York City and had been abandoned by her father.  A caretaker had abused and molested her.  The abuse she experienced set her on a self-destructive path of drugs, alcohol and bad relationships.   

As I watched her speak, it seemed that she had experienced some genuine transformation.  As a counselor, I naturally listen for turning points in people’s lives.  I’m always intrigued by what produces change. Let me share a few quotes from her interview:

“At the end of the day, it’s about what God wants for me. I’m tired of being sick. I want to get well.”

“My dream is to learn how to love myself more. To know what God wants me to do. To love my husband better. To be confident enough to give myself a break.”

“I’m proud of the progress I’ve made. I’m proud of finally being able to recognize what I need to change about myself. I’m proud that I’ve been redeemed. Right now I’m focused. I want to get better.” 

“I forgive everyone that has damaged me, because at the end of the day the damage is done and I have to do something about it.”

“When you hold on to anger and unforgiveness, you can’t move forward”

How true.  Unforgiveness keeps us from moving forward. We get stuck in pain and toxic feelings like anger, bitterness, resentment and depression. It’s an emotional prison. I read a quote somewhere that said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

At one point God spoke to me about my own “stuckness”.  Some difficult things had happened in my past that led me on my own self-destructive path.  God intervened in my life and literally rescued me.  However, I continued to replay over and over in my mind things from my past. I blamed. I played the victim.  God lovingly but directly told me that I was now my own biggest problem.  Because I wouldn’t forgive, I couldn’t move forward.  I listened to God that day and began to forgive and let go.  That was a huge turning point in my emotional healing and growth.    

What exactly is forgiveness? In a nutshell, its when you finally stop holding a person’s actions over them.  You release the debt they owe you for all the damage and pain you feel they caused you.  Does that mean their behavior was ok?  No.  Does it mean there shouldn’t be consequences in some cases? No.  It just means you release all the toxic feelings inside of you toward them.  You stop replaying what they did and move on.  

If you have been in an abusive relationship, forgiving does NOT mean you have to put yourself in the place of being harmed or abused by them again.  You can forgive and still create healthy boundaries in relationships.  Forgiving gives you the freedom to move on emotionally and heal from the pain.    

Practical Steps Toward Forgiveness

1. Forgiveness is an act of the will, a choice, not an emotion.  Choose to let go

2. Stop “nursing and rehearsing” the painful thoughts.  When your mind wants to “go there”, take charge of your thoughts & think about something else. This will be a lot of work, but stay diligent.  

3. Remember the grace & mercy of God.  If you were ever forgiven for something and you received grace & mercy you didn’t deserve, give that same mercy to the other person.