Is forgiveness really possible?
When you have been really hurt—either by a family member, your church, a boyfriend or girlfriend—is it possible to really forgive and forget?
Forgiveness, as it is often taught, seems so nebulous and fleeting. Contrary to the quick “I’m sorry”/”I forgive you” trope, forgiveness can’t be conjured up or ginned up with your willpower. And attempting to forgive and move on without wrestling with your pain and hurt is a recipe for disaster and bitterness.
So if you can’t just paint a smile on, how do you practically work through forgiving? What does it look like, step by step?
True forgiveness from the heart involves acknowledging the wrong done against you and clinging to God’s justice. These few steps have radically changed my approach to forgiveness.
Accuse the Guilty. In order to start the forgiveness process, you have to start where it hurts—and that takes time, quiet and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. You have to identify the wrongs that a person or group has done to you, and as odd and unchristian as it seems, you need to tell God what they did to you. Explain to God that when they did that, it made you feel _____________ (fill in the blank).
True forgiveness from the heart is impossible without first coming to fully understand the ways you’ve been hurt. Depending on how deep the pain is, you might have to take an hour or a day or days to reach in and find all the ways you’ve been hurt. It may bring up old wounds, but to forgive, you have to start with the truth of the pain.
Cling to Justice. After you have “accused the guilty,” it’s time to praise God that He is the God of justice, recognizing what that means on a practical level. God promises that He will act on your behalf to bring about justice. He cares about the pain you’ve been through. He knows the best way to deal with the other party too. But be ready for His hand of mercy upon them as it’s been upon you in the past.
Forgive, Mindfully. With all of this in your heart and mind, you can release the debt that the wrongdoer owes you. Release them from all responsibility. They owe you nothing. Not because it doesn’t matter or doesn’t hurt, or because you have to absorb the cost of the debt—but because God the Father in His wrath has paid it in full. You are free to forgive because your God-given sense of justice is satisfied. You are free to grant mercy and forgiveness because you can trust that God is righteous and just.
Weigh Your Sin. Basking in the glow of God’s justice is freeing. It allows the Holy Spirit to creep in and shine a light on your own sin. Maybe that person or group did hurt you, but you hurt them in return. You’re free to let the Holy Spirit bring your sin before you with no posturing. Spend time in quiet, reflecting on anything and everything the Spirit brings to mind. You don’t have to be defensive because justice has been served. You don’t have to feel shame because Christ has met your shame with His righteousness. Confess your sin openly before God and trust in His promise of mercy.
Cling to Mercy. Instead of holding yourself accountable for confessed sin, trust that God’s justice is satisfied in Christ. You can forgive yourself and trust the perfect love that casts out all fear. Your debt has been paid, and you’re free. Pray through the Bible’s promises of redemption, and mediate on them as you go through your day.
These steps have been a powerful tool in my own life. They have helped me walk out of bitterness and live forgiveness in a different way. I’ve seen freedom from deep personal hurt. If you’re struggling with forgiveness, I encourage you to walk through these steps in prayer before your heavenly Father, having faith that He will give you what you need to obey.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil … And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4).