This is a sticky topic, isn't it? Forgiveness is difficult for everyone, I am convinced... Forgiveness is difficult regardless of the offense. Forgiveness takes hard work by the forgiver, regardless of the offender's sense of or lack of remorse. Forgiveness is something we've all had to embrace at some point in our lives, some more than others. Forgiveness is something we are fortunate to receive each and every time we hurt someone else. Forgiveness is giving up resentment and anger, giving up the claim to requital, or the pardoning of repayment (in every sense of the word) according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary.
So why am I talking about forgiveness today when it is a heavy topic for everyone? I am touching on forgiveness specifically BECAUSE of that. It is a challenge. Not forgiving someone plants a rotten seed in your friendships, relationships, and marriages. It can burn bridges and break bonds between the best of friends, family members, or business partners. Yet, the bible says we are required to forgive. Colossians 3:13 says, "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (NIV)
Jesus gave up His life to forgive us of our sins How amazing is that? When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we receive His forgiveness each and every time we ask for it. (We do have to ask for it though, and repent!) 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature (reborn, renewed by the Holy Spirit); the old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come." (AMP) We are instructed to walk in love and show others Christlike behavior because our time here on Earth is intended to glorify God and His kingdom by being an example of Christ's love to other people. To love is to forgive. To love is to accept imperfection. To love is to help another person grow through their faults into better (imperfectly perfect) human beings.
There are a ton of resources and ideas out there that can help you learn how to forgive. Of course I would say the first and best resource is always the Bible. You may have some ideas to share that have helped you forgive as well! I've summarized below seven tips to help you find forgiveness based on my perspective, my experiences, and from all of the readings I have done throughout my journey.
7 Tips to Help You Forgive
1. Pray for the person in entirety. Pray that they recognize what they did that hurt you. Pray for God to forgive them and for God to help YOU to forgive them as well. Pray for God to perfect their hearts so that they do not do the same thing again to you, or anyone else. When we pray for another person, we are opening our hearts in acknowledging that they’re sinful human beings, just.like.us.
2. Pray for YOURSELF to be forgiven for your sins, and the transgressions you may not even realize you have done to others. Humble yourself to realize that YOU ARE NOT PERFECT either. Pray for the Holy Spirit to come into your heart to lead your heart, thoughts, mind, emotions, and actions to extend grace to others just as our Lord Jesus Christ has extended his grace to us. He died on the cross so that WE are forgiven of our sins. I can't repeat that enough!
3. Try to think about the person as a broken human being. We’re all broken in different ways, but we are all still broken nonetheless. This means the pasts we carry with us individually come out through us and can be hurtful to others, whether intentional or not. Hurting people hurt people. But, it doesn’t mean they hurt people intentionally. Sometimes we hurt others by doing or expressing things in the only way we know how, by what we were taught within our family environments growing up. These patterns are hard to break and can be carried forward in countless generations as a “norm”. We can break that cycle though, and it starts with forgiveness. Remembering that the person is broken just like you will help you feel empathy for why they behaved the way they did.
4. Try to think about the person’s character. Did they hurt you on purpose? It’s safe to say that a lot of day to day hurt is inflicted unintentionally by miscommunication and unmet expectations. If you believe the person would not intentionally hurt you, you will find a softness in your heart and a break in the heavy emotions you are feeling that will help you to begin letting go of what they did to you. However, there will always be people (hopefully none and hopefully rare) who may try to intentionally hurt you. If you believe the person would intentionally hurt you, then remind yourself that they are struggling with something that is bigger than the issue they have with you. Hurting people hurt people. Revenge, spite, bitterness, resentfulness, vindication only feel good momentarily. The person who would intentionally hurt another is likely the person who needs love the most. Do not let someone’s haughty attitude fool you into thinking that they truly have a large ego. They have a damaged ego and their pride is masking it with hurt and anger.
5. Try to think about what could be going on in the person’s life that you have no idea about. Did someone pass away? Were they abused recently or as a child? Did you trigger something within them that took them back to that damaged memory that they fear the most? This will help you empathize that they are struggling internally.
6. Try to imagine the person as an innocent child. We all get warped a little along the way by life’s sometimes harsh lessons. Some experience lessons we could never wrap our heads and hearts around. Regardless of our individual journey – we were all sweet and innocent once while learning how to love others and make friends. If you can imagine the person in their childlike state and reflect that inside they may have a hurting soul, you will most likely be able to soften your emotions to try to understand them better.
7. Reflect that forgiving someone is a great benefit to you. It does not mean that what the other person did is OK. It does not mean that you accept what the other person did to you. It does not mean that you were not hurt by what the other person did. It’s quite the opposite actually. Forgiveness is acknowledging all of these things, but letting go of holding it against the other person. You can acknowledge the person has a lot to learn but it is not your lesson to teach them. It may not immediately (or ever) free you from the hurt the person caused you, but it will free you from the bitterness and resentment you hold for that person while allowing you to move forward regardless of whether or not you proceed to allow that person to be in your life.
One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my life was to forgive. When I learned to forgive those who have hurt me with what felt like an unforgivable offense at that time, I felt liberated. I felt the heaviness disappear. I felt like a more loving person and more loved by Jesus Christ than ever. One of the hardest things to do is forgive someone who is not sorry or apologetic, especially if they know what they did was wrong and they have ZERO remorse. Let me tell you...I KNOW this can be HARD! However, by forgiving a person like that you are extending Christ’s love that He gives to you. You are essentially saying to the person that you accept their brokenness. You are hurt by them, but you will not be tied down and controlled by the pain they inflicted upon you. You confirm that you WILL move forward in life with FAITH that God will work in the lives of those who hurt you. He is our greatest vindicator. 2 Thessalonians 1:6 says, "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you." NIV
You have a choice to keep the person in your life or not, of course. Regardless though, you are saying to them, “I love you with the love of the Lord. I love you as a human being. I love you for the role you once played in my life (or will still play). And while you can no longer be a part of it, I forgive you and I want the best for you, and I have faith that God will use this situation to grow you into a better person some day.” Doesn't that feel better than shunning a person in an attempt to punish them?
Some resources that have helped me understand and process forgiveness have been Joyce Meyer's podcasts about forgiveness. She has a TON of great podcasts/videos. You can search for them on iTunes or on her site under the broadcast section. I listen to her almost every morning mixed in with my church's podcasts, Marriage Today, and Love & Respect podcasts. Yes. I am that person. It starts my day off better! She also wrote a book called Do Yourself a Favor...Forgive. I haven't read this book yet, but considering the umpteen other books I have read of hers I have no doubt it is amazing.
Another resource that I found incredibly helpful was the 21 Day Healing Journey by Pastor Jimmy Evans from Marriage Today. The journey is not specific to marriage though, it is for everyone. I was shocked to discover what I was holding on to in my heart that I needed to forgive. It was NOT who or what experience I expected it to be. I would encourage anyone to utilize this resource even if you **think** you do not currently hold any grudges. I assure you, you will uncover some things from your past that are currently affecting your life.
My prayer for anyone reading this (especially if you made it this far into the post) is that your heart has been opened to working harder to love others and to forgive others. Imagine how much easier and less tense your life can be if you let go of the negativity from the hurt, bitterness, and resentment you feel. If you live your life ON purpose and WITH intention FOR the purpose of exemplifying Christ's love to others, you will ultimately live a happier, freer, and more love filled life as well.