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 even hearing the 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 Sam’s name. That night she simply told God that she no longer wanted the burden and asked him to take it away. She told God that she forgave Sam, and asked him to help her.

It was a simple prayer, shared quietly and privately. 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 10 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 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, The thing about unforgiveness is that . . .
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.

As much as I’d love for my children to never feel the sting of hurtful words or the tears of humiliation, I know that is not possible. Instead, I want my children to learn to mourn and then release hurts and grudges and anger, if only privately and only to God. I want them to be quick to apologize and quicker to forgive (whether or not the offender ever even realizes they’ve caused an offense).

They need not be doormats, they need not stick around for round two or three or four. But they do need to understand that holding onto and privately nursing hurts causes problems long after the act. They must realize that mentally fanning the flames of anger will begin spilling over into other areas of their lives and into other relationships — and that, if they do not forgive, they will be damaged, usually far more gravely than the original offense may have caused.

I want my kids to know that forgiveness is not earned. In reality, it has nothing to do with the offender. It is between each of us and God. We alone chose to hold onto hurt or release it. Sometimes, it is HARD. But Scripture is clear: we must forgive. Forgiveness brings freedom and healing and peace — things 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.