The topic of forgiveness often surfaces in counseling and coaching sessions.  Recently, I sat across from a man who shared this explanation of unforgiveness with me.  Perhaps you have heard it before.  I had not.  He said that clinging to unforgiveness is like taking—ingesting—the rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.

Forgiveness is wonderful to receive, but is often difficult to give.  I am not a Greek scholar, but I have read articles by those who are and I understand that the word translated forgive in our New Testament scriptures speaks to the action or attitude of “letting go.”  The Amplified Bible renders Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors (letting go of both the wrong and the resentment).”

Letting go is hard to do.  Nurturing our hurt and anger seems to be a more natural reaction; however, doing this comes with a price tag.  Clinging to our emotional hurt, anger, and pain not only affects our spiritual and emotional health, but also affects our physical health. 

So how do you know if you are unforgiving?  If you are unforgiving you might:

  1. Bring bitterness and anger into every new experience or relationship;
  2. Be so consumed by the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present;
  3. Be depressed and anxious;
  4. Feel that your life lacks meaning and purpose, feel at odds with your spiritual beliefs, and feel unconnected to others (Mayo Clinic).

Many have a wrong concept of forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm.  Furthermore, it does not mean that you need to continue to allow that person to hurt you.  It does mean releasing—letting go of—the anger, bitterness, resentment and the desire for vengeance while still setting limits.  Forgiveness allows us to sever a connection with those who have harmed us and to move forward, depending on the situation, with or without them. 

Forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the one who is forgiven.  Forgiving is something that you do for yourself.  It is like taking your hand away from a hot burner on the stove.  The burner stays hot, but you move away for your own safety (

Forgiveness is a process.  Here are a few steps to start the process:

  1. Recognize the value of forgiveness and how it can improve your life;
  2. Identify what needs healing and who needs to be forgiven and for what;
  3. Acknowledge your emotions about the harm done to you and how they affect your behavior, and work to release them;
  4. Choose to forgive the person(s) who has offended/harmed you; and
  5. Move away from your role as victim and release the control and power the offending person and situation have had on your life (Mayo Clinic).

Helpful actions that you can take as you engage in this process include journaling, praying, talking to a close trusted friend, loved one, or minister and keeping in mind that extending forgiveness is a process.  By the grace of God and willingness to act, you can be free from the grip of unforgiveness.  Remember, it is never too early to stop taking the rat poison.