Forgiveness. It’s a word that can somehow strike fear in us. Forgive them? Are you serious? If you only knew what they did to me. How they hurt me. And yet, God asks us to forgive. All of us struggle with forgiveness because either we have a misconception about it, or we are still harboring hurts we can’t seem to release.
What Does it Mean to Forgive?
Google dictionary defines ‘forgive’ in this way: to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake.
In this article on Christianity.com, Dr. Michael A. Milton describes forgiveness as “an incomparably powerful solvent that cuts through even generations of hatred, years of guilt, and deep-rooted spirits of bitterness.”
In his book, Making Peace With Your Past, Tim Sledge says, “Forgiveness means that you no longer regard the offending person as indebted to you.”
That strikes a chord with me. Perhaps because I grew up in a home where you hold onto offenses. You keep the hurts in little plastic bags so they stay fresh and time after time, you take them out, and relive the pain you felt as if it just happened.
What is the Difference Between Forgiving and Forgetting?
Often what hinders you from forgiving someone is that you think it means you have to forget the offense. And you’re not sure that is even possible. God says in Hebrews 8:12, that he will not remember our sins and iniquities. But he’s God. How can any of us possibly be expected to forget the hurts that wounded us deeply?
True forgiveness is not possible apart from God. You may believe it is impossible for you to forgive the person who hurt you. In Luke 18:27, God says even the impossible is possible with God. Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:13 that we can do all things through Christ. God knows how difficult forgiveness is.
So, here’s how to approach forgiveness in six steps:
Step 1: Give God Your Hurts
When you’re hurting and you can’t seem to forgive someone because they are the one who caused your pain, what can you do with your hurts? You can stop storing them and reliving the pain. Instead, picture yourself handing them over to God. His hands are large. He can handle anything you give him. When you can give God the hurts and face the pain they’ve caused you, you are one step closer to forgiveness. Unwillingness to forgive can block what God wants to do in your life.
Step 2: Ask God to Help You
Enlist God’s help to forgive others. In your flesh, you want to pay them back. You’re afraid if you’re too eager to forgive, you’re saying the offense was no big deal.
And when you get hurt, it is a big deal. God tells us in Jeremiah 33:3, however, that we can call to God when we need to, and he will tell us great and unsearchable things.
Step 3: Read Scripture about Others Who Have Forgiven
There are three very powerful instances in scripture that paint a poignant portrait of forgiveness in action. As part of your own step-by-step journey to forgiveness, give yourself time to read and explore these three biblical stories:
-The story of Joseph: Genesis 50:15-21
-Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane: Matthew 26:36-45
-Jesus on the cross: Luke 23:34
Step 4: Write Down What You’ve Been Forgiven For
To be in a place where you can forgive, it’s helpful to remember why you forgive others. In Ephesians 4:32, God explains you forgive because you’ve been forgiven. Does the other person deserve forgiveness? No.
But as you scan back through memories of your own life, and certain choices or actions, and begin to write them down, it may become apparent that there have also been times when you didn’t deserve forgiveness either. And yet, God forgives you completely.
Step 5: Pray for Whoever Hurt You
In her book, His Thoughts Said…His Father Said: Real-World Answers to the Hard Questions of Life, Amy Carmichael wrote of The Stung and The Stinger:
His thoughts said, My word to thee is, “Pray for them which despitefully use thee.” The word is not, “Wait till the stinger be sorry for stinging.” Art thou stung? Thou wilt find as thou pray that the sting will lost its power. Thy thinking will be kindly. Thou wilt remember Him who, when He was reviled, reviled not again: when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously. Thy Savior hath left thee an example that thou shouldest follow His steps.”
Be gentle with yourself, and bear this in mind: If you cannot pray for the person who hurt you, then you are not ready yet to forgive. You need to keep praying for God to prepare your heart.
Step 6: Decide to Forgive
Just as love is a choice, so is forgiveness. You need to decide to go past how you feel and to obey what God tells in scripture. It may seem like one of the hardest decisions you will ever make. Obedience is hard. And once God points out to you that you need to forgive someone, delaying is a form of disobedience.
In Corrie Ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, she describes how she and her sister suffered at the prison camp. Betsie eventually died there. Once when Corrie was speaking, she was surprised to see the actual guard who had taken her sister’s life, approaching her after her talk. He asked her if she believed what she had just shared aboutforgiveness. She nodded her head, and then he extended his hand asking her to forgive him. Would she live out her very words?
Corrie froze. And then, she did the only thing she knew to do. She prayed. She did not have the ability to even reach out her hand, so she asked Jesus to help her extend her hand. It was in that moment she felt God’s forgiveness flow through her, down her arm and into her extended hand. Yes, she forgave the one who killed her sister, God helped her do the impossible.
You will know if you have truly forgiven the person. It’s not a matter of forgetting what the offense was. That memory may be with you a while. But God can heal those thoughts you have, if you let him. It’s when you refuse to forgive that you are opening yourself up to bitterness and resentment. And those difficult to uproot.
Do I Have to Forgive Face-to-Face?
Each situation is unique. As you pray, God will make it clear if you are to talk with the person face-to-face, or if you’re to write a letter or email. God knows each situation and he knows each person’s heart.
Just know that even if a person refuses to accept your forgiveness, it is still what God is asking you to do. Each one of us is responsible to obey God’s instructions; the results are up to God.
How Do I Forgive Someone Who Is Gone?
Sometimes the person you need to forgive is dead. What then? Is it possible to forgive someone you cannot talk to? You can still go through these steps of forgiveness, whether the person is here or gone.
I forgave my father on his deathbed. And while I thought it was a done deal, months and even years later other offenses surfaced. I needed to go through the steps again. And I’m happy to say I do not hold anything against my father now. If anything, I feel bad that he struggled with the things he struggled with in his life.
Only God could change my angry heart.
What If I Refuse to Forgive?
I remember the day clearly. I was thinking of someone and how they had hurt me and I remember saying: They need to pay for this. Someone needs to pay. And God answered me in the most gentle voice. “Someone did pay, my Son did on the cross.”
When we refuse to forgive someone, we are saying that maybe Jesus did pay for the sins of the world but not this one. And that’s saying, what Jesus did was NOT enough. And yet, Jesus himself said, in John 19:30, “It is finished.” The payment was complete.
A Wonderful Bonus to Forgiving
Once you have forgiven someone, you will find you have more energy. Holding onto hurts stunts your growth. It’s dead weight. And yet, if you trust God in this area and obey what he says, you will experience God’s power in a new way. He will renew you and your desire to obey him will grow.
Do you ever feel like something is in the way of your relationship with God? Maybe there’s someone you need to forgive. Just ask him. He’ll show you.
A Prayer for Those Who Need to Forgive:
Father, I lift all of us up to you, right now. Help me to be open to your Spirit’s leading. God, if there is someone in my life I need to forgive, give me your strength to follow through. Help me to hand you my hurts so I no longer use them as reasons to not forgive someone. Thank you, Lord, for your forgiveness of my sins. I pray this in Your Son, Jesus’ precious and Holy name. Amen.
Anne Peterson is a regular contributor to Crosswalk. Anne is a poet, speaker and published author of 15 books, one of which is: Broken: A story of abuse, survival, and hope. Sign up for Anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.com and click on free Ebooks to choose one.Connect with Anne on Facebook. Anne’s latest book, Always There: Finding God’s Comfort Through Loss is now available.
Photo Credit: ©Pexels/Luis-Quintero
Anne Peterson is a regular contributor to Crosswalk. Anne is a poet, speaker, published author of 16 books, including her latest book, Always There: Finding God's Comfort Through Loss. Anne has also written and published another memoir, Broken: A story of abuse, survival, and hope. Sign up for Anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.com and receive a free eBook by clicking the tab. Or connect with her on Facebook.