This is the final installment in our series on forgiveness. I hope that you will find these thoughts and ideas helpful in your own quest towards forgiveness. May God bless, encourage, and strengthen you in your journey.
I suspect that regardless of the feelings and pictures that come to mind when we hear the word "forgiveness", one thing is the same for all of us: when we receive it, forgiveness is a relief; when we have to give it, forgiveness is incredibly difficult. I would venture to say that it can be one of the most difficult things on earth to do. So how do we forgive? Everybody is different, but perhaps some of the techniques that I use will be helpful for you.
As Christians, we should all want to become more like Jesus. The question is: are we willing to be changed? Sometimes, when we have been hurt, it's it's very difficult to let go of that hurt. It's very difficult to consider the perspective of the person or people who have hurt us. It can be difficult to step into the other person's shoes when those shoes have been used to kick us.
Are we willing to be changed? *
I think the answer can be yes to this question only if we have such a craving for healing, if we have such a craving for Jesus, that we are willing to do anything. When we get that point, we will become willing to pray for those who have hurt us. And this is the vehicle that God uses to soften our hearts, and radically redefine our situations.
There is a reason that Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Matthew 5:44) It's not only for the good of our enemies that He said this. It's also for us. It's hard to genuinely pray for someone else's good, and still carry bitterness in our own hearts.
Try to find commonalities
The Bible says that "none is righteous, no, not one". (Romans 3:10) and "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9c). This means that the sins that have been committed against us have been committed before—against others. We also know that every sin committed against people is also a sin committed against God, the Creator of those people and of justice.
Now, we can choose to allow our current hurt to teach us something about God. The Bible tells us that "God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27).
Since we are created in God's image, our emotions when we personally experience betrayal and sin may provide us some insight into how God feels when we sin against Him. Chances are that we can even think of sins that we've personally committed—sins that are analogous to what we've experienced.
Forgiveness becomes much easier when we are able to we identify with those who have hurt us, and realize that we commit the same sins against God that others have committed against us. We recognize our own brokenness in theirs.
I would challenge each of us to come to God with the sins that have been committed against us, and ask Him to show us how we have committed those same sins against Him.
The beautiful thing about this is that when we take this approach, it feeds:
Our own repentance, and growth towards holiness, and
Our ability to be grateful for Jesus' forgiveness of us.
How precious it is that the act of forgiveness can enable us to better understand Jesus!
Write it out
As a technique for forgiveness, sometimes it's helpful to write a letter to the person who’s caused us hurt, and never send it. This can be particularly effective when that person is unable or unwilling to admit any wrongdoing. It allows us to recognize our feelings as legitimate and express them without fear of reprisal or rejection. It also helps us to understand many of the things we're feeling because the words that flow from our pens often are from some deeper, unknown part of us. After expressing ourselves, we can recognize the other person’s brokenness as well as our own, and come to a place where we turn this over to the Gentle Healer, who enables us to forgive others as He’s forgiven us.
After the writing is finished, set up an empty chair. Imagine the person who has hurt you, sitting in the chair in front of you. Read the letter out loud, to the imaginary person. Take your time. Your pain is legitimate. Don't gloss over it.
When you are finished, burn or otherwise destroy the letter. You will no longer hold that person's wrongs against him or her. The journey of forgiveness is not over, but you have taken the first step.
Repeat, as necessary
Forgiveness, particularly when it is for wrongs that have inflicted deep wounds, is not a one-time event. It is not linear. It is a cycle.
Our feelings of anger and hurt do not simply evaporate when we decide to forgive. They come back. As we process through the things that have happened to us, often new feelings will surface. This is not wrong or evil. It is simply the nature of the healing process.
When we want to forgive someone—to truly forgive them with all our hearts—we must adopt an attitude of persistent, stubborn forgiveness. As stubborn as our bitterness and anger is, it is necessary for our forgiveness to become twice as stubborn. Otherwise, it will fail.
Forgiveness is not a sprint. It is a marathon.
Do you have a question or a request for us to dig deeper into something that we've touched on in this series? If so, please email or message us. Chances are that if you have a question then someone else does too, and I'd be happy to do another post or two on this topic.
* And if we're not willing? Well, we can ask God to change us to be willing. This isn't just circular logic. It's a simple recognition that we depend on Him for everything—including our own repentance.