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“I want to forgive, but my heart hurts so much. How am I supposed to have a spirit of forgiveness when all I can do is think about what was done to me?”

I wrestled with this question after experiencing deep hurt and betrayal. I knew God wanted me to forgive. I had offered verbal forgiveness to my offenders and released the situation to God many times in prayer.

But still I struggled. From the moment my eyes opened in the morning until I slept again at night, unwelcome thoughts washed over me. Memories I couldn’t shake, images I tried to resist, things I wish never happened.

It was a continual torment–the thoughts, the feelings, the memories.

Out of this heart-wrenching time, God taught me some very practical steps to take in my journey of forgiveness, a journey which has led to my healing and wholeness.

These steps began with two verses which helped me immensely as I traveled this difficult road.

“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the knowledge of God.” (II Corinthians 10:5)

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

You see, my problem wasn’t that I didn’t want to forgive. I had already made that choice.

But I just couldn’t push past the painful thoughts.

The battle was in my mind. 

I learned that I couldn’t just not think about the pain.

Let me illustrate for a moment. I don’t want you to think about pink elephants. Whatever you do, don’t let the thought of pink elephants enter your mind. Chase those stomping pink elephants right out of your brain. 🙂

Sorry for the pink elephants parading around in your mind right now, but it proves the point. The more we try not to think about something, the more we think about it.

If you are struggling with thoughts of bitterness, they must be replaced.

Here are four practical things God taught me in my journey of forgiveness:

One: Immerse yourself in the promises of God. Hang on to God’s Living Word with all the strength that lies within you. 

In the most difficult times of my journey, I learned it wasn’t enough just to have my quiet time in the morning. I desperately needed God’s words of comfort with me always. I carried a notebook of verses and pulled it out whenever the unwelcome memories washed over me. And in the darkest, blackest times–at night when the memories threatened to overwhelm me, I slept with my Bible beside me so I could reach out and literally place my hand on the promises of God.

Do whatever you must do to completely surround yourself with God’s Word–write verses on notecards and post them around your house, put sticky-notes on the dash of your car, leave your open Bible on your dining room table. Scripture is living and powerful, but you must use it for it to be effective.

Two: Prayer is a powerful weapon. Use it. 

God never ignores the pleas of His children. If you are struggling, tell Him. Earnestly ask Him for the strength to forgive. Turn the situation over to Him–every day if you need to. I found it very helpful to pray the psalms to God. David’s pleas of sorrow give voice to the anguish of our hearts, and his declarations of trust in God encourage us to do the same.

Take comfort that God hears you. I know there are times when you feel as if your prayers are in vain, but don’t let your emotions rule you. Stand on what you know to be true–that God is listening and will deliver you.

Three: Identify the times you struggle the most and have a battle plan. 

There will be certain times of the day, sights, sounds, even smells, that will bring your hurt to the surface. Pay attention to these things and be proactive. I used to struggle while driving. I zoned out, and before I knew it, the memories came to the surface and the pain overwhelmed me once again. I found that listening to Christian music helped combat this problem.

Be ruthless in shoring up your weak areas. If pictures on social media break your heart, delete and block. If there are objects in your home which bring up painful memories, get rid of them. If you struggle in the less-busy parts of your day, then get busy. Occupy your hands and your mind with good things. Refuse to let Satan drag you back down into the pain through the portal of an unoccupied mind. 

Four: Realize that God gives the “lovely” things to help you. (Philippians 4:8)

Please know that it’s okay to take a break from your pain. It’s okay to enjoy the good things God gives you.

There was a time when I faced an overseas flight during my season of turmoil. My mom took one look at my planned reading for the flight–a stack of study material relating to my situation.

And she handed me a novel. She told me to take a break from the heavy stuff for awhile.

She was exactly right. God doesn’t expect you to fight this battle every second of every day. I don’t know what you love to do–perhaps reading, painting, writing music, or restoring antiques. Whatever it is, see it as a gift from God. If you allow yourself to partake in things you enjoy, you will be in a much healthier place emotionally.

In closing, I want to leave you with a verse that I clung to throughout my whole journey:

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)

I know the road of forgiveness is long and painful.

But if you refuse to quit, if you keep seeking God and holding on to Him.

You will wake up one day to find your tears are gone.

I’ve been there, my friend. Joy really does come in the morning.