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Unburden Your Heart

Choosing forgiveness means choosing freedom.

In Luke 5:18-26, we read of a full house of people who had come from all around the region to hear Jesus teach. A paralyzed man's friends carried him on a mat to that location. They had heard that Jesus was a healer, and they trekked across Galilee to find him. The crowd was so huge that the men carrying the paralyzed man couldn't push through. So they climbed onto the roof and took off some tiles. Ingenious, right? They lowered their friend through the roof, right in front of Jesus.

The man's physical need was apparent, but Jesus said something surprising: "Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, 'Young man, your sins are forgiven'" (Luke 5:20).

Were the friends confused by Jesus' words? Maybe. The Pharisees sitting there certainly were. They could only see the obvious physical impairment. But Jesus saw the whole man. He started from the inside out.

On hearing that his sins were forgiven, the paralyzed man could have called it a day—"Take me home. This guy hasn't got a clue!" But instead he surrendered to Jesus. Even though he could have argued that the real problem was his legs, he followed Jesus' instructions. In faith, he jumped to his feet, picked up his mat, and danced all the way home as he praised God.

What Is Forgiveness?

How many times do we bring the obvious to God?

Lord, she hurt me.

God, I can't sleep.

I'm angry and I yell at my kids. Make it stop.

I don't feel like a Christian.

And yet how many times does God look beyond what is in plain sight to the heart issue? He does it every time.

People don't do this. In most cases, they define you as broken, point out your anger issue, or tell you to get on with it. But seeing the whole person is a compassionate act of a Savior who knows us best. When he reveals the root of our problem, we have a choice. We can continue to plead with him about the obvious problems, or we can surrender.

Forgiveness is an intentional choice to let go of the burden and restrictions of bitterness, anger, rage or unresolved emotions connected to a person or event. In other words, forgiveness is surrender. It's offering up resentment. It's giving up the desire to punish. It's letting go of anger. It's getting out of the "debt collection" business.

In a sense, forgiveness means we pick up our mats. Instead of letting unforgiveness keep us tethered and sick, we allow God to begin the process of making us whole.

How Do You Forgive?

To surrender is to offer God a willing heart. You don't offer the issue, the other person, or the obvious symptoms.

You offer yourself.

You offer up your thoughts, your feelings and your woundedness to God and acknowledge that you can't do it on your own. This is an ultimate act of surrender. In James 4:7-8, we are instructed, "submit yourselves, then, to God" (4:7, NIV). That is a vulnerable act as you give God access to every area of your heart. You hold up the past; you trust him with today; and you have hope for tomorrow.

Surrender to God is an active form of spiritual warfare because you are no longer battling alone. With God's help, you are resisting the Enemy who desires nothing more than to rob you of purpose and joy. The Enemy has no choice but to step back when you follow this precept: "Come close to God, and God will come close to you" (James 4:8).

Are you willing to surrender? How can you forgive? Consider what Jesus said next to the paralyzed man: "Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!" (Luke 5:24).

Stand. Put down all your beliefs that you can do it on your own. Put down your excuses and your failed attempts. Stop waiting for someone else to change first. When you stand, suddenly things are different. You are no longer mired in a crowd of sick people. You see a new horizon and recognize the possibilities beyond the limited view of just a few moments before.

Pick up your mat. Mentally hold up your heart to God. Hold nothing back. Invite him into every chamber, every thought, every hurt. He's not afraid of your true feelings; he's seen them all along. When you pick up your mat, you pick up those things that seemed like protection. Yes, the mat kept you off the cold, hard ground, but you can only go as far as the mat will take you. Resentment, anger, perfectionism, fear, addiction, control—these are only a few things that can comprise your mat. When you pick up your mat, you are saying to God that you desire to go where he wants to take you rather than stay limited. You're declaring that you trust he'll be your protector rather than relying on a defense mechanism.

Walk. It's not about how strong you are—it's about God's love for you and his power to offer his "glorious, unlimited resources … [to] empower you with inner strength through his Spirit" (Ephesians 3:16). We walk as we follow Jesus. Step by step. Hour by hour. Day by day.

When you first stand after being crippled by unforgiveness or anger or hurt, it won't feel natural at first. It may even feel painful. You may want to reach for your mat. You might even plop down on that mat for a moment. Instead of giving in to those feelings, just walk.

Like my granddaughter, Elle, your first steps might be tentative. She took forever to learn to walk. She walked with confidence when she held on to objects like the coffee table, the wall, or even just the fingertip of an adult. But the moment her safety net was out of reach, she swayed. Suddenly, everything was different. Scary. She plopped to her diapered bottom and wailed.

Like my grandbaby, it's not how well you walk from day one, but that you took the first step. God sees those painful first steps. He also knows with certainty that one day you will walk with skill and even run.

Praise. When the man did as Jesus said—and experienced the miracle of healing—he "went home praising God" (Luke 5:25). This response of praise can be paralleled in each our own lives.

When you are willing to forgive, you are not only allowing God to see the junk inside, but you are also in the process of being "made complete" (Ephesians 3:19). You may be surprised when you turn a corner and realize that a part of your heart has been unburdened. The obvious healing may not yet be apparent to the world, but on the inside you know that God is at work.

Praise is a choice when you feel wobbly or fall down. It's the words that come out of your mouth even on those days when the mat beckons and calls you to return to familiar territory. You praise God because healing isn't a single act. It's a series of miracles as you choose to stand, to pick up your mat, to walk, and to worship him as Christ delves below the obvious impairment to lead you in a new direction.

Why Do We Forgive?

Sometimes I want to wave a flag with the word freedom emblazed upon it to share with those who are in a rut of anger or hurt, or who continue in damaging patterns that keep wounds fresh and open. There's another way!

Forgiveness is liberty. It cuts all the ties that prevent you from discovering who you were intended to be from the very beginning. It lightens the baggage you've been carrying. It opens your eyes to the opportunities around you.

Living a forgiving lifestyle doesn't change the past; that's impossible. But it absolutely transforms you and alters the story of your future.

Suzanne Eller is a speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries, a radio host, and the author of several books. This article is adapted from The Unburdened Heart (Gospel Light/Regal Books, 2013). Used by permission.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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