Forgiveness? What the heck? Why am I even talking about this? Most of you reading this today have been abused, either in childhood or by an intimate partner. The things that have happened to you should never happen to any person. Ever. I totally get that. So, I am not saying that what has happened to you is easy to forgive. What I am saying is that when you forgive another’s offense(s) it sets YOU free.
Recently, I received a lot of emotional healing during a healing prayer class at the seminary where I am getting a master’s degree in counseling. In this class, they discussed generational sins. These are sins that repeat in your family line from generation to generation. They asked us to write on a family tree the issues with which our family members have struggled. In my family tree, divorce is rampant, adultery shows up several times, and alcoholism was present three generations in a row. Domestic violence also showed up several times. I knew these things before doing this exercise, but seeing it written on paper was eye-opening for me. I invite you to try this.
One way to free ourselves from these generational sins is to forgive our family members. Forgiveness, though it is difficult and painful, sets us free from the bondage of the pain others have caused us. When we forgive, we are not:
- Called to forget what has happened to us
- Saying what has happened to us is OK.
- Forced to automatically reconcile with the person who hurt us. Often this is not safe, or even wise.
- Automatically releasing the person from the consequences of their actions (like being prosecuted by the law).
Years ago, syndicated columnist Ann Landers printed this truth:
“Anger is like acid. It does more harm to the object in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured.” Tweet This
If you can acknowledge the harm holding bitterness toward others has caused you, would you now be willing to take the difficult steps needed to forgive that/those person(s)?
Steps Toward Forgiveness
I have shared steps toward forgiving the unforgivable before. The following list includes a few steps that I’ve never heard before. This list was taken from pages 5-11 to 5-14 in Michael Evans’ book called Learning to Do What Jesus Did: How to Pray for Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Healing. Here goes:
- Make the decision you want to forgive and be set free.
- Pray and ask God to bring to mind the people and events that are the root of anger in your heart. Everything you need to forgive may not come to mind at once – deal with the issues that come up. If remembering an issue causes pain, allow the pain. If you need to mourn and cry – that is OK.
- List specifically what you need to forgive a person for. We may need to forgive someone for many things.
- Be honest with yourself and God about how you feel about this person or event. Don’t sugar coat it – God can take it.
- Forgive the offense. This is an act of your will, not your emotions. Speak out loud to the person as if they were in the room with you – praying out loud will help you remember you have forgiven this person. Tell them you forgive them, and what exactly you are forgiving them for.
- Pray and ask God to forgive you for holding unforgiveness in your heart.
- Forgive yourself. (This can be one of the hardest steps.) Do you feel guilty about how you reacted to the person or event? Perhaps you made choices that you’ve regretted since then. Maybe in reacting to the initial hurt, you have in turn hurt others.
- Deal with your anger toward God. What things are you holding against God? Why didn’t he prevent what happened to you? Ask God to forgive you for your bitterness toward him – he will forgive you.
- Pray for inner healing. Once you have forgiven someone, the poison inside of you has been released, but you will still need to heal from it. Ask God to fill the void in your life, to bring you comfort, allow you to feel his forgiveness.
- Begin to pray blessings on the person you have forgiven. To me, this is the hardest step of all. I can do steps 1 – 9, but when it comes to praying God will bless the person that hurt me, I falter. If you can truly do this, you have truly forgiven.
Should You Try to Reconcile?
Once you have forgiven someone, you may wish to reconcile with them. Please use wisdom in this.
Sometimes, the person who has hurt you is an unsafe person, and reconciling with them would increase your danger. Tweet This
After praying about it for quite a while, if you decide you do want to reconcile with the person, be careful how you approach them. Going to a person and telling them you’ve forgiven them for being an insensitive jerk would not be wise.
Rather than telling them you’ve forgiven them, Michael Evans suggests you confess to them that you’ve been angry and have asked God’s forgiveness and would like to ask theirs. Let them know they mean a lot to you and that you would like to reconcile with them. They may or may not forgive you or apologize to you. Be prepared for that and let it go. Be prepared also for them to not want to reconcile with you. This is indeed a possibility.
What If You Cannot Forgive?
Perhaps you go through these steps and find you cannot truly forgive someone at this time. Does this mean you are destined to live in bondage forever? No. You can wait for a while and try this again. You may find it easier to forgive the second (or even third) time you try this. Having someone you trust do this with you can help, as can seeing a counselor and talking about your anger. Finding freedom for yourself is worth the time and effort this might take.
Question: What are you willing to do to be free of anger and bitterness?
As you go through these steps, know that God is right there with you. Hebrews 4:14-16 says:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I pray you will be able to forgive, will be set free from anger and bitterness, and will feel God’s peace.