This is the sixth story in our “Freedom From…” Series, an 8-week series featuring women who have faced adversity and found freedom in the process.

It was a childhood hurt that Sarah carried with her into young adulthood, but the lesson it taught her about forgiveness was powerful.

She had a relative, Samantha (“Sam”), who, when they were both children, caused her no end of grief. Sam had a way of making Sarah feel ugly and inferior — and Sarah spilled endless tears into her pillows after family events because of Sam.

It got to the point that the very name “Sam” caused her stomach to churn and her anxiety level to rise, even as a young adult in college — years after they had both grown up and gone their separate ways.

Until one night, when Sarah got tired of carrying around the hurt and anger and anxiety she felt whenever she randomly heard the name “Sam” around campus.That night she simply told God that she no longer wanted the burden and asked him to take it. She told God that she forgave Sam, and asked him to help her.

It was a simple prayer, done quietly and privately. It didn’t feel like anything had changed. It wasn’t until weeks later, when she heard that familiar name spoken randomly, that she realized her physical reaction, her immediate stomach-clenching anxiety… didn’t happen.

“Sam” had become a neutral word, for the first time in ten years. Sarah began testing it — and found that the anxiety, the stomach-aches, the dread, all of it was gone, never to return.

And, if that was the end of the story, if that was all God did for her, it is a beautiful story of the power of forgiveness, of an answered prayer, and of a changed life. But, God went one step further.

Two years later, Sarah fell in love with an incredible man. His name? Sam.

The name that once caused her to weep tears into her pillow became the name more precious to her than anything else on earth. Sarah and Sam are happily married, and as Sarah told me this story, she wondered aloud if she’d ever have given her “Sam” a chance if she had not first forgiven the “Sam” of her childhood.

The thing about unforgiveness is that you unwittingly give the other person power over you, long after they’ve moved on. Nursing that hurt, holding that grudge`allows him, her, or them to continue to “win,” even if the battle is now only in your head.

Please understand that there is a difference between forgiveness and being a doormat. You need not stick around for for round two or three or four. Forgiveness does not mean staying in a situation that endangers us, our children, or others.

But, if we hold onto and privately nurse hurts, if we internally fan the flames of anger, it will begin spilling over into other areas of our lives and into other relationships — and if not forgiven, we will be damaged, usually far more gravely than the original offense.

Forgiveness is not earned. In reality, it has nothing to do with the offender. It is between us and God. No one else. We alone chose to hold onto hurt or release it. Sometimes, many times, it is HARD. But, scripture is clear: we must forgive. Because forgiveness brings freedom and healing and peace — something that revenge and anger and hate can never, ever accomplish.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Ephesians 4:21-22 NIV

Is there a hurt you’ve been holding onto for far too long? The next time you start thinking about that hurt, try taking it to God, just as Sarah did.  In fact, everytime take it to God repeatedly for a month — and see what happens.