Forgiveness can be gut-wrenching hard work. It’s also a process that can take time, especially if the wounds are deep. But forgiveness opens the way to emotional healing. Sometimes, it even restores a broken relationship.
If you know God wants you to forgive someone, but you also know that your heart is not yet ready to do so, you might find it helpful to follow these steps in order:
1. Name the offense as clearly as possible. It’s hard for us to forgive an offense if we do not have a clear idea of what it is.
2. Find someone trustworthy and non-judgmental who will listen to your story. Having someone listen and understand is a powerful step towards healing. Journaling prayers to God, crying with a trusted friend, or seeking help from a qualified counselor are all effective ways to open up about your story.
3. Let yourself feel the pain. We all want to skip this part. Even Jesus prayed to the Father, asking to skip the cross (Matthew 26:39). Yet the pain Jesus endured because of our sin was part of God’s plan. Often, we prefer to remain angry, thinking it will be less painful than facing the pain of the offense. However, forgiveness requires allowing ourselves to feel and express the pain caused by others’ actions.
4. Know that some of your feelings will be negative. It doesn’t help to tell yourself that you “shouldn’t feel that way.” The fact is you do feel that way. Facing the truth before God is the beginning of freedom (John 8:32).
5. Make an honest assessment of your reaction to the harm done to you. Sometimes our reactions to an offense are as sinful as the wrong done to us. Knowing this will help you keep a realistic perspective as you wade through your feelings and take responsibility for how you may have hurt others.
6. Decide whether you want to confront the offender or not. The rule of thumb I use is simple. If it’s an otherwise healthy relationship, I make the effort. If not, I let it go. We all have finite amounts of emotional energy. It isn’t wise to spend it in unprofitable places. Ask God to show you the wisest way forward given the specific situation. In the Bible, David, Paul, and others sometimes chose to flee rather than confront their enemies whenever those persons were not open to reconciliation.
7. Understand that forgiveness takes time. Sometimes it takes years to definitely leave the past behind. In the beginning, it might be a daily battle not to accuse the other person over and over in your mind, but as you persevere, trusting in God’s strength to do so, you will need to reiterate your decision to forgive less and less often, until all traces of anger and hurt eventually disappear.
We all need forgiveness, especially forgiveness from God. If you’re not sure whether or not you are totally forgiven by God, you can make sure today. Read How to Know I’m Really Saved.