Escape from Your Prison

During the Scott Peterson sentencing, reporters did an expose on San Quentin, the infamous prison in California where the convicted murderer may reside until his death. The prison, thought to be one of the worst in America , contains five stories of steel cages, fenced cement courtyards and cells the size of small bathrooms. Certainly, this is not a place anyone would choose to live.


But some people make a choice to live in a self-constructed prison, one that stays with them wherever they go. They may have external freedom to head for the beach, go out with friends, or even live in their own home, but inside they're angry and bitter. I'm speaking of the endless incarceration of unforgiveness.


Often we believe that forgiveness has to do with letting the offender go free, when in fact, people who refuse to forgive are the ones who end up bound to bitterness and chained to the past.


What is forgiveness?


Forgiveness is choosing to love the person who hurt you, no matter what they did, and releasing them to God's justice. This doesn't mean you're letting them off the hook, it simply means that you're entrusting them to "him who judges justly" and then moving on with your life.


"But I can't forgive ______, you don' t know what he did to me!"


It's true - some people have committed horrible atrocities, unspeakable acts that deserve no mercy. Some actions need to be punished by law and rightly they should.


But if you're not careful, you'll be the one who ends up in "prison" far longer than the offender.


Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.


You may not feel compassion, love or mercy for the person. He or she may have never even asked for your forgiveness. But still you must make the choice: "I will no longer harbor bitterness toward this person; I will trust God to see that justice is done, and in the meantime, I will choose to love that individual and hope for the best in his or her life."


How do I forgive the person who hurt me?


1. Tell God about your pain, and ask him to release you from the prison of bitterness. Ask him to forgive you for your own sins, particularly the sin of unforgiveness. Remember, if anyone truly understands your situation, it's God.


2. Choose to love the person who hurt you. You may not trust them, you may not befriend them, but you can choose to care about them. Ask God to give you the strength to say: "I want the best for __________."


3. Pray for the person who hurt you. Pray for that person's family, future and spiritual condition. Pray that God would change that person's heart.


4. Share your struggle and your choice to forgive with a Christian friend who can pray for and encourage you. Don't try to complete the process on your own. Ask a confidential friend to walk the road to restoration alongside you.


It may not be instant or easy, but if you develop a forgiving heart, the locks on your cage will break open, and you can again experience joy, freedom and love of life.


Consider God's Word, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." (Eph. 4:32, NIV)


Forgiveness is the greatest gift you could give someone, and yourself.


Who do you need to forgive?


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This was originally written by Dan as a column for the Marco Island Sun Times.

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