change, devotional, encouragement, healing, moving on

How to Forgive

Forgiveness is good and necessary. But it is HARD!! And as an intangible idea, it’s difficult to navigate. It’s funny how hurtful words raged once can echo through the memory like a kid shouting in a tunnel, yet words of forgiveness whispered quietly on our knees need to be repeated to be remembered sometimes. 

As a practical girl, I like tangible steps. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Make time to get alone with God. You need to feel to heal, as contrary as it may seem! Feelings that are swept under the carpet do not heal. They multiply like the hair ties my cat hides under the rug. 
  2. Write a list of the offenses lurking in your heart – no matter how long ago they occurred – then out loud (and in writing) say, “Father, I choose to forgive (who) for (what) that happened on (when) at (where). Please help me to leave the offense here at the foot of the cross.”
  3. Writing about your feelings is a great way to process them and then to release them. The purpose here is to trace the redemption that comes through the process of forgiving someone. After you’ve forgiven a particular offense, either rip the paper to shreds or put it in your fire pit. Or, you can write in “FORGIVEN” across that journal page as a reminder to set aside the hurt when it comes to mind. 
  4. Spoken words have power. Hearing ourselves forgive someone aloud and release the desire for revenge is much more powerful than just thinking about it. 
  5. Sometimes the grievances are so significant or held for so long that you may need to see a Christian counselor to help you work through them.

What do those steps look like in reality? Here’s a glimpse:

Not long ago, a friend lovingly confronted me about the fact that I still sounded bitter about events that had happened years ago. Things I thought I’d forgiven. Yes, they were hard things—like betrayal, deliberate financial ruin, character assassination—but I thought I was past them. 

So, I spent some time alone with God. I made a list in my journal of all the grievances I could think of off the top of my head, all the people whose wounds still lingered in my mind. I allowed myself a short time to acknowledge the hurts.  

Then I reminded myself that I am not responsible for their words and actions. God has seen my every tear and heard my every cry. In holding on to my own desire for revenge, I was trying to act like God. That’s not my job!

God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. Ecclesiastes 3:17 ESV    

Ecclesiastes 3:17 ESV

I prayed and told God that I wanted to forgive these people and these offenses, but that I needed help. I told God that I was so weary of carrying what I wasn’t meant to carry:  the heavy burdens of unforgiveness, bitterness, and revenge. 

The longer we try to carry that emotional baggage, the heavier it becomes. Jesus invites us to exchange our burdens for His:

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

A few days later, I was blessed to witness more than 50 people get baptized in a river. To watch so many people publicly declare their faith and rejoice in Christ’s forgiveness was awesome and inspiring!

Afterwards, while I was standing on the riverbank watching kayakers and sticks float past me, and it occurred to me that this would be a perfect place to visibly watch my own bitterness float away.

I grabbed a handful of leaves and, one by one, audibly gave each leaf a name and an offense. Then I released each leaf to float down the river. Soon, I could not tell which leaf was which. After a few more minutes, none of the leaves I’d tossed into the river were visible. 

While I was doing this, I prayed yet again for the Lord to help me release the burden of bitterness in my heart. After all my leaves and tears were gone, I felt a lightness and a joyfulness that I have not felt in many years. 

Yes, I may still need reminders to myself that I have released that resentment, but that’s all they are: reminders that God can turn resentment into redemption. I tell myself that was then; this is now. I tamp down my desire to mete out a cold shoulder or a snide dig, and I take it to the Lord in prayer again.

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Ephesians 4:31-32

Your process of forgiveness may look different and may take more or less time. That’s okay. How can I pray for you on your journey toward forgiveness today, friend?

anxiety, change, devotional, healing, moving on

The What and the Why of Forgiveness

For many years, I operated on a faulty definition of forgiveness. My definition ran something like this: “Forgiving someone means they win the argument. Forgiving someone means I have to let them fully back into my life. Forgiving someone means I have to let them continue to run roughshod over my feelings. Forgiving someone means what they said or did doesn’t matter.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. No wonder my bruised feelings and resentment built up a nearly impenetrable wall of bitterness around my heart that spilled over onto friends and family alike.

If it’s not that faulty definition, then what is it? Forgiveness is not a feeling. It’s an action you choose to do. It’s giving up your right to resentment, retribution, and revenge. Forgiveness is refusing to revisit the offense in your mind and with your words or actions; it’s unlimited and unconditional.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you weren’t hurt, but rather that you are choosing to move forward. It doesn’t mean you forget what happened, but you don’t hold it against the offender. Forgiveness is not excusing the behavior of another person, nor is it allowing damaging behaviors to continue.

When you forgive, you choose to let go of the debt of sin. It’s basically ripping up the bill. Forgiveness releases you, sweet friend! Let God do his job—he will bring justice to the offender at his appointed time.

But why do we even need to forgive? Because it’s commanded in Scripture:

And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Mark 11:25-26 NKJV

The strength of our relationships depends on our ability to forgive. Want to preserve your relationships with people? Learn to forgive.

The Lord’s prayer “shows us that we need daily forgiveness as much as we need daily bread.”

R.T. Kendall, Total Forgiveness

Our emotional and physical health depend on our ability to forgive, according to science. Unforgiveness opens the gateway to depression, anxiety, heart problems, headaches, lowered self-esteem, high blood pressure, weight gain/loss, a weakened immune system, and a whole bunch of other issues. Yikes! Who wants to hang on to all that?

Unforgiveness leads to bitterness, which can escalate to hostility, hatred, and eventually a hardened heart. A hardened heart full of bitterness cannot engage in a loving relationship with anyone. The bitterness will seep over into your everyday life and people around you will notice your bitter attitude. Yikes again! No one wants to be around that much poison.

I’m not saying forgiving someone is easy, because it’s not, but can you appreciate just how very necessary it is, friend? Next time we’ll talk about the nitty gritty of how to forgive—even those who don’t ask for it, don’t deserve it, or aren’t around to receive it. 

Can I pray for you on your journey toward forgiveness? Drop me a line and let me know!