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I’ve heard it all.

I’ve heard all the Christian messages on unforgiveness.

It’s a poison intended for our enemy that we actually drink ourselves; we should forgive seventy times seven times because of how Christ forgave us; it produces the bitter, ugly fruit of resentment in our hearts.

Been there, done that.

But nothing helped. I prayed and cried and begged to be free of my unforgiveness, yet freedom eluded me.  I could not even envision the day I would be completely free of it. I had tried many times in private prayer before God to release it, but nothing worked. All the feelings came back, time and time again.

Finally, I began to meet with a Christian counselor. 2014 is for me a year of doing hard things for the glory of God and counseling was one thing on my list. It’s like having a personal trainer for your emotions; they push you farther than you’d take yourself alone, but you’re better for it in the end.  While I was there, I wanted to deal with the unforgiveness in my heart.

Her solution surprised me. All this time I thought I felt too much, and she didn’t think I’d felt enough.  She made me express the original anger and hurt that resulted in unforgiveness. I’d been so focused on the unpleasant feelings, my own failure to get past it, and my eagerness to move on, that I’d repressed the source emotions.

Remember Elsa, Let it Go, and the terrible advice to “conceal, don’t feel”?

Yeah, don’t do that.  Feel to heal.

Feel the hurt, the anger, the sadness, the frustration. Feel it, write an angry letter, tell that person exactly what you think about them and what they did to hurt you. Take your time, get it all out of you, and pour out the last drop of anger until there is nothing left inside.  Remember that the Bible tells us to, “Be angry, but do not sin.”

God gets angry, Jesus got hopping mad in the temple, and Paul was furious with Galatians.  Anger is not a sin.  We sin with our actions when we act in anger, but it is possible to just be angry and not sin. God’s not mad at us for our anger; He remembers that we are but dust.

I’m pretty dusty myself.

We need to express our anger somewhere. That doesn’t necessarily mean we express it to the person who hurt us, although there may be a time for that, too.  But always, we bring it into the presence of God. He’s big enough to handle all our big emotions, whether it’s anger, grief, hurt, envy, loneliness, bitterness, resentment, or just sorrow.

Only after the anger is out, the hurt is released, the complaint before God is made, do we truly let it go. We burn the angry letter, we release the offender to God and His perfect ways, and we let the past be in the past.

I discovered that forgiveness looks and smells like the acrid scent of burning paper on my backyard grill where I light the flame that burns my written words into a gray flower of ash.

Now, we move on.

Lighter. Freer.

The space in our hearts that was cluttered with unforgiveness is now freed up to fill with joy and love.  Who knows?  Maybe love for the very person who hurt us in the first place will find its way into that space.  Or at the very least, pity.

Originally, I didn’t think I would see the day when I could be free.

By the grace of God, I’ve seen that day, now.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you…” Ephesians 4:32

For more information on unforgiveness, read this article from Desiring God.