During a recent discussion with a family member, things started to get heated. What began as an innocent conversation morphed into an argument. Feelings were hurt and tempers were high.

I attempted to make Julia* see my side of things and, being frustrated with her lack of ability to agree with me, my thoughts fled to the past. My mind went back to long-ago hurts and grievances I had experienced at her hand. In an instant, a perfect example of a wrong, clearly Julia's fault, came to mind. I wanted to shout it out, remind her of how I still suffered from that nearly-forgotten action.

In the next instant I paused as a new thought entered my mind. Had my heart ever softened enough to forgive her? What would resurrecting her mistake do to my soul?

Forgiveness is essential to keeping strong family relationships. Erich Kopischke, leader of a European religious education system, says, an honest broken heart and a contrite spirit are keys to feeling peace. How can you make room in your heart for forgiveness?

A broken heart

A broken heart is a receptive one. In order to know if our hearts are soft and open to God's voice, sincere personal reflection is needed. This reflection regarding our motives and desires needs to be honest because deceiving ourselves is never helpful.

During our argument, I realized I had never truly forgiven Julia for her mistake. Instead, I had held on to it, wanting possible ammunition for the future. Doing so had hardened my heart. In that brief moment, I realized I needed to truly forgive this loved one, let go of what had occurred and not bring it up again. Rehashing the past will never help a relationship in the future.

I sincerely and honestly looked into my heart and saw what was required: I needed to forgive Julia. When this realization hit I felt remorse over how my grudge had affected our relationship.

A contrite spirit

Kopischke explained that having a contrite spirit means we are "willing to humble ourselves before God, willing to repent, willing to learn and willing to change." When we have contrite spirits, we are willing to act on God's promptings, even if what we are told to do is difficult.

I wanted my treasured relationship with Julia to continue, but I realized that would mean completely letting go of how she had hurt me and honestly accepting her former apology. No longer would I be able to hold on to her past mistake, keeping it in my mental files as a future weapon.

The possession of my grievance had given me a false sense of security. I worried that by disavowing it I would put myself in an ammunition-less position - and that made me nervous. But, I knew I still needed to do so. Honestly viewing my heart had brought the realization of how cancerous my grudge had been toward our relationship. And our close family ties were far more important to me than feeling vulnerable.

The healing

Once our hearts have been softened and broken our spirits are able to feel contrition. These steps can be difficult but ultimately lead to the peaceful outcome toward the healing of our souls.

Letting go was difficult. It required more than just me. I humbled myself and asked God for help. I told him what I had learned from this lesson and that I wanted to repent for holding such a damaging grudge. Then I asked for his power in guiding my change. I claimed his assistance (Psalms 34:18) to help me completely let go of my resentment and forgive Julia. I pleaded with him to help my newly broken heart become truly contrite.

And he did. Within moments my heart felt lighter, happier than it had in a long time. Our argument suddenly waned in importance and my relationship with Julia solidified. I did not bring up my old grudge and, fortunately, Julia was never aware of how close I had been to corrupting our love for one another. I, however, learned a valuable lesson that day regarding how the cultivation of a broken heart and a contrite spirit held the power to free my soul.

*Name changed.

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