It’s Week 3 of our “excavation series” and we’re stepping onto hard ground.
Grab your coffee, close your door and get focused. This is the hardest (literally and figuratively) week yet because hard ground is hard work.
Hardening happens when really difficult life experiences are left unaddressed.
It’s a natural response to things like rejection, abandonment, abuse or trauma. In fact, we all experience it to varying degrees at one point or another.
But hard ground in your heart and life hides good ground and keeps good things from taking root.
While some issues may be too hard to work through without professional help, we believe there are things within your power that can help to crack the surface. And cracks mark the beginning of breakthroughs.
Let’s get this process started.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t begin by saying, hard things are hard for a reason.
Maybe you know the deep pain of professional or personal betrayal. Maybe you were abandoned by someone in your family or someone in your friend circle. Perhaps you trusted someone who repeatedly lied to you or abused you. It could be that you were misunderstood, misrepresented or misjudged by people who once promised their support and loyalty.
We understand why you may struggle to get past the past.
These kinds of experiences leave you reeling.
So… you do what it takes to stop the pain.
You isolate, compartmentalize, or even radically change things about your life to escape the reality of the past. This means soldiering through to a place where you’re “doing okay”—at least that’s what you tell yourself and others.
But then you try to experience more from your relationships and you can’t. You just can’t go there.
While the pain of the past seems distant, so does empathy. Even compassion feels contrived. And right when you think you want more from your relationships, you stop yourself. It’s easier to focus on “more important” things. Whether it's work related or your own personal agenda, you convince yourself that you don’t have the time, patience or energy to go deeper, anyway.
Fortifying your heart may have made you impervious to the pain, but you know the pain is still there. You’ve just adapted well. You hide it—locked up so you never have to deal with it again.
But in the process of keeping things locked up, you’ve also kept things locked out.
And you’ve kept good ground from getting the nourishment it needs to cultivate the good things that were always meant for you.
We know this to be true of every traumatic experience in life: It doesn’t matter what caused the pain. Hardness works the same way, every time. It shuts down and shuts out emotional responses to the way you experience everything in life, especially your relationships.
You can’t keep moving like the past doesn’t bother you… doesn’t exist... or doesn’t matter anymore.
The unaddressed words and actions of others are still having an impact on how you’re living life, right now.
Time alone doesn’t heal the pain. Neither does a good book, relatable movie or new (and improved) relationship.
You have to return to release.
That’s right. You have to go “there”—back to that hard place or person or experience that put your heart and life on lock down. It’s the only way to really let it go. (Now might be a good time to sing “Let It Go” and maybe even twirl around a bit. We won’t tell anyone!)
It doesn’t matter how hardness came into your heart and life. The residual impact is the same. Hardness always keeps you from experiencing full and fulfilling relationships.
You may want more from the people in your life, but if you don’t deal with the hardness in your heart, it will never happen.
Jesus talked about this more than you may realize. He knew that hard things would make life even harder if there wasn’t a way out, so He let us in on the secret to breaking through hard things when they happen.
He taught breakthrough for hard moments and hardness in your heart and life through the power of forgiveness.
One of the most memorable conversations about this started when Peter came to Jesus and asked how many times we should forgive someone. This was the exchange.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. (Matthew 8:21-22, ESV)
You don’t have to know math to know that’s a lot of forgiveness! That’s a lot of forgiving late arrivals to special events, a lot of picking up strewn clothes about the house and not fussing about it, and a lot of grace when the meal that took you hours to cook isn't appreciated. It’s also a lot of forgiving when it comes to the really hard stuff in life.
Jesus followed His bold statement about forgiveness with a story to illustrate the importance of this point.
The story was about a king who forgave a large monetary debt of one of his servants. This same servant left the king’s presence and ran into one of his servants—a man who owed him a small sum of money. Instead of forgiving the debt, the man put the servant in jail until he could pay it off. When the king heard what happened, he got angry, had the man arrested and imprisoned.
The point? Forgiveness isn’t about what was done to you. Big or small, the corresponding action supposed to be the same. You’re meant to let it go.
This story was told before Jesus walked through a series of deeply traumatic events. This was shared before He was betrayed by one of His crew. Before He was publicly scorned and rejected. Before one of His closest friends, Peter, denied their friendship THREE different times (yes, the same Peter who asked the question about forgiveness). Before He was rejected by His own people and died the death of a criminal for crimes He didn’t commit.
Jesus taught about forgiveness before any of this happened.
Jesus told this story knowing His path would take Him to a place where He would prove the very words He spoke with His own actions. And He did.
And when He rose from the dead, the angels at the tomb said to tell all the disciples and Peter that Jesus was alive and would meet them in Galilee (Mark 16). Did you catch that? And Peter. The message was to everyone, with a special emphasis on Peter. It was as though Jesus was letting Peter know, “We’re good, bro (you’re forgiven)! I can’t wait to see you too!”
There’s no need to hide under that hardened soil any more. It’s time to go back to that hard place… back to that person… back to that exchange… back to the place where hard things made you hard inside and let it go.
It’s time to be courageous—time to do something guaranteed to put a crack in the hardness you’ve held onto for far too long.
You have to forgive.
Breathe in deeply and let’s practice.
Say, out loud, “I forgive you,” right now.
It may not sound right or feel good or make sense to your mind, but Jesus taught and lived this way for a reason. He knew it’s the one thing that works, every time. Guaranteed.
Give yourself a minute to think about the hard place(s) in your heart and life. Did someone come to mind? Maybe a past experience?
If so, we have your next step.
Are you ready?
It’s time to let it go.
And you can start the process by saying a simple three-step prayer.
I forgive [INSERT NAME], for [INSERT ACTION].
What you did no longer has a hold on my heart and my life.
Jesus, please fill and heal my heart with Your love.
C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S! That was BIG. Really BIG.
When you prayed, something amazing happened: a crack formed in the hard places. This is why Jesus made a big deal about forgiveness. He knew the power of a single crack. That’s all it takes for breakthrough to happen!
You may not feel anything right now. In fact, remembering a past hurt may have caused you to feel angry or hurt all over again. Don’t be scared and don’t retreat; hurt is part of healing!
Keep saying this prayer. Say it every day if it helps. It can take time to persuade your heart that the release is real. But before long, you’ll see a change.
And if you need a sounding board or step-by-step guidance, step confidently into professional counseling. But don’t stop there. Go after real friendships, and stay with them long enough for more cracks to happen. Dig into small groups at your church. If you don’t find the right one the first time, try again with a different group. Give new people—people different from you—a chance to get to know you. Get to know them too, and give them a chance to create more cracks in the hard places of your life. As you do, expect them to mess up (‘cause they will… and so will you!). Ask for forgiveness. And remember, you’re a wonderful work in progress. They are too.
Embrace the process. Practice forgiving others and forgiving yourself. Your heart and your relationships will never be the same.
Until next week…