I heard a song lyric the other day: “Forgiveness frees the prisoner that is you.”

This is so true. I know people who hold on to grudges and hurts of the past like it was yesterday. They become bitter, angry, and negative about themselves and the world. They do not see that the one they are hurting the most is themselves – they are locked, shackled, burdened, and anchored by their own furious emotions.

The term “unforgiveness” has been coined to describe the set of emotions of resentment, bitterness, hatred, hostility, anger and sometimes fear that comes from holding on to emotional wounds. The replay of these emotions, over and over in one's mind can consume the heart. When the heart is cloaked in the darkness of unforgiveness, the world also is dark and fearful.

John 20:23 gives us this teaching: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Retaining the sins of others imprisons your own heart.

So what is forgiveness? Author Everett Worthington, Jr. describes forgiveness as occurring when those dark emotions of unforgiveness are changed to “warm, loving, compassionate, caring, altruistic emotions resulting from a heartfelt transformation.” Forgiveness is not only an act, but a process. Transforming yourself to allow the freedom to feel loving and giving.

How can the heart of unforgiveness turn to a heart of light, love and acceptance?

Accept you can not demand someone repent or ask for your forgiveness. Having forgiveness in your heart is for freeing you, not them. God knows everyone's heart, and God will be the final judge.

The Pyramid Model of forgiveness uses the acronym REACH, to guide us to healing a heart of unforgiveness. R=Recall the hurt. To heal, you must not deny that you have been hurt. Recall calmly, and objectively, with attempt of seeing the other person's perspective. E=Empathize. Understand they, too, have burdens they carry and their own unforgiveness affects their actions. A=Altruistic; forgiveness is a giving; a gift, that will free you from your own burden. C=Commit; make a commitment to work on empathy. Write out your statements of forgiveness, tell a trusted friend, or write a letter to the offender. H=Hold, yes hold on to the forgiveness and the freedom of your own heart. Do not allow the cloak to consume you.

Forgiveness takes time, prayer, and having known the experience of God's love and forgiveness of our own sins. YOU are the one forgiveness sets free.

Linda Yearout is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist at Hope's Place.