Scott Stephens is the counseling pastor at West End Baptist Church’s West End Counseling Center, a board member of Redeemer Biblical Counseling Training Institute, and a PhD student in the Biblical Counseling Program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To find out more about our counseling center (WECC), please call the church at 864-232-7312.

Unforgiveness can have a profoundly negative impact on a Christian’s spiritual life. The following story might help to explain this.

Rebecca was a sad person unable to experience true joy in her life because of her resentment toward her mother and father. Her mother was a hard and critical person, and her father was never around. Because the home was such a hostile place, her father found refuge in work and hobbies. Rebecca felt she could never please her mother, so she stopped trying. This only made her mother’s criticism and anger worse. Rebecca expected her father to protect her, but he never did.

Rebecca married and left home, hoping for a new and better life. She occasionally spoke with her parents, but bitterness swelled each time she did. She told herself that she had forgiven them, but during those visits, old memories of her mother’s harshness and her father’s indifference toward her circumstances angered her.

Despite her good marriage and active church involvement, Rebecca felt something lacking. She professed a personal relationship with Jesus, but there was a lingering sense of something missing, something that she believed her parents had taken away.

Rebecca decided to speak with her pastor about the void she felt, hoping to understand what was causing it. After the pastor heard her story, he asked her several probing questions that helped reveal her thoughts and actions regarding her parents. Although Rebecca believed she had forgiven her parents, her responses showed bitterness and anger toward them. She was consumed by the belief that her parents and their actions negatively affected her. These thoughts were only exacerbated when she called or visited them.

Rebecca’s pastor empathized with her, ensuring her that he understood the pain of her experiences. He explained that the emptiness she felt, the anger and bitterness, was because she was consumed with past hurt and could not forgive the people she believed had wronged her. At first, she argued with him, explaining that she had forgiven her parents. After he explained that true forgiveness emulates Jesus’ forgiveness of us, she wondered if she had truly forgiven them.

He explained that forgiveness, emulated after Jesus’ forgiveness, means that:

  1. I will not dwell on what happened.
  2. I will not bring up this incident again and use it against the other person, and
  3. I will not talk to others about what happened.


Rebecca exclaimed, “I have forgiven them, but you’re asking me to forget what they did!” The pastor smiled and said, “I understand that this is hard. I’m asking you to follow God’s guidance to forgive and not be angry.” He explained that Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us to “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” He then read Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

He then explained, “Anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness give a foothold for the devil to work sorrow and misery into your life. I believe you have experienced this. Unforgiveness handcuffs or imprisons you to your past. Unforgiveness never allows you to heal because you’re constantly reminded of the pain you experienced. It robs you of the joys of life. As you know, it also produces that anger and bitterness you have felt for a long time, and Scripture clearly tells us that these are sins. Hebrews 12:15 states, ‘See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.’”[1]

The pastor encouraged Rebecca to read Matthew 18:15-16, which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established.” Then he said, “Rebecca, go and speak with your parents about the hurt you have experienced. Talk with them about it. But before you do, ask God to forgive your anger, bitterness, and unforgiveness. Ask Him to prepare your heart, as well as your parent’s hearts, for the conversation. Furthermore, ask Him to heal the old wounds so that even if the conversation does not go well, you can move forward, glorifying God in your forgiveness of them. By doing so, the Spirit who lives within will fill the void and comfort you from the hurt you have experienced.

Rebecca listened intently but was skeptical of what the pastor told her. She knew in her heart that she had not forgiven her parents as Jesus had forgiven her. Years of suffering and then the bitterness and anger that followed were going to be hard for her to overcome. The pastor reminded her that she was not alone in her struggle.  Jesus sent a “Helper” in the Holy Spirit to give her the ability to understand God’s Word, His ways, and Him. The Spirit would also help her understand her sin, and with His help, she could change. The Holy Spirit would help her forgive.

The following month, Rebecca visited her pastor for a follow-up conversation. The pastor noticed that she was happier and seemed more hopeful. Rebecca had talked with her parents. They listened to her, and even though they didn’t respond as she hoped, God gave her the ability to keep her anger at bay. He had prepared her heart for the conversation. Slowly, her perspective of the situation had changed. It was not a quick or complete change, but she noticed a change, and so did others around her.

The Holy Spirit had worked in a way that helped Rebecca to forgive and, ultimately, forget. Forgetting did not mean she would not remember the hurtful circumstances in which she was raised. It meant that with the help of the Holy Spirit, she could be at peace. Once she started the process of forgiveness, peace and comfort filled that void in her life. In time, the Spirit helped her to not dwell on the past.

Hopefully, this story assures you that with God’s help, past hurts can and should be forgiven. Unforgiveness, as well as the bitterness, anger, and discouragement accompanying it, inhibits our peace, joy, and, most importantly, our relationship with the Lord. Only by seeking to glorify God by obeying God and His Word can we overcome the problems caused by unforgiveness.



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