Forgiving Step by Step
We all long for deep and loving relationships, but unfortunately all of us have experienced hurt and possibly even abuse by others. It is painful and we suffer from it. Just as physical wounds can become infected and fester, wounds in our heart can grow into bitterness if we don't act. Time alone won't heal!
In response we often withdraw ourselves and build up walls as protection. As a result we don't allow anyone to get close to us and we become isolated. Alternatively, we react with anger, hold the mistakes against the other person, and seek revenge. This leaves our thoughts to be consumed with the hurt the other person caused us.
By using these strategies, we try to protect ourselves from further misuse, but in the end we hurt ourselves even more. Furthermore, if we're hurt we won't treat others with love – Hurt people hurt people.
The only escape from this vicious cycle is forgiveness, which can be very hard if we have experienced significant pain. However, as long as we don't forgive we stay bound to the person who hurt us and to the past. This is because we can't just forget painful experiences and can only try to repress the memories. But God wants us to be free – free from bitterness, free from the desire for revenge, and free from the pain of the past.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is choosing to let go of all reproaches and accusations against the other person. I hand him/her into God's hands. Rather than passing judgment myself, I trust God, who is the just judge, and let Him decide what will happen with the other person. It also means that I no longer count the other person's sins against him or hold them over him. In other words, as I'm already living with the consequences of his sins and can't change the past, I now make peace with this and release the other person from all his debts against me.
This is my decision alone. It is completely independent from the other person, whether he/she says sorry or not or whether he/she is present or not. We're not dependent on the person who hurt us.
Though forgiving is good for the other person, first and foremost I do it for my own good. When we forgive, we become free from negative feelings like fear, anger, or bitterness and can then become healed and whole again.
Steps of forgiving
Sometimes we take shortcuts when we hastily speak out forgiveness but later realize that there are still remnants of the pain in our hearts. So how can we fully forgive others? The following steps help us by leading us through the process of forgiving.
The first three steps we go through carefully, preferably together with a helper.
1. What happened?
- Describe specifically what happened.
- Common mistake: We stay general and vague.
2. What hurt me? How did I feel?
- Feelings are important and a vital part of who we are.
- Common mistake: We skip this step and just stick to the facts.
3. Name the sin
- Don't soften wrongs and don't justify. Identify how the other person sinned against me through the things he did or did not do.
- Common mistake: We justify the other person (but if we don't call it sin there can't be forgiveness).
Now we go into prayer and bring everything to God.
4. Bring charges of injustice to God
- We go to God the judge and bring charges against the person who hurt us. We pour out our heart to God and tell Him all the main points from the first three steps.
- Common mistakes: We skip this step, or we hide our emotions from God.
5. Speak out forgiveness
- We now speak out forgiveness (“I forgive ___ for ___”) and make the decision to hand the whole case over into God's hands.
- Common mistakes: We tell God what to do with that person (we curse the other person). Or we say we want to forgive (“Lord, help me to forgive”) but don’t actually make the decision.
Bringing charges of injustice to God
God is the judge and we have the right to bring every injustice to Him. We can be certain he will bring justice and will judge everyone – that's not our job. We have no right to pay back others or to take revenge on them.
In the same way as we bring charges to a judge in this world, we can bring charges to God. We don’t have to be afraid to offend Him, but we can be totally honest and show all our feelings. After we're finished, we let go of the accusations and put everything into God's hands. We don't continue to judge the other person ourselves, but we leave the judgment to God alone.
- Using the support of a helper
- It is hard to go through this whole process of forgiveness alone without overlooking some aspects. Look for someone who can go through these steps together with you and pray with you!
- Our own sin
- When we are hurt, we often unintentionally treat others badly and sin against them. It's important not to ignore these things but to repent and ask forgiveness. Clarify anything that comes to your mind here as soon as possible!
- Forgiving myself
- Sometimes we're angry at ourselves or blame ourselves for something. God offers a way to forgive us and cleanse us through Jesus Christ. Forgiving myself means taking His offer and applying it to myself.
- Forgiving God
- Sometimes we have negative thoughts about God or are even mad at Him. God doesn't make mistakes, so in that sense we can't forgive Him. But it is important that we let go of our frustrations and negative feelings towards Him.
- Sticking to forgiveness
- In case the old feelings come up again, remind yourself that you have already chosen to forgive and those feelings will pass. However, it is possible that there are other aspects or deeper layers of hurt that you did not address the first time. We can then go through the process of forgiving once again so that these areas get healed as well.
Take 2 minutes to ask God the following question and make notes:
God, who do I need to forgive?
Listen to God and go through your relationships (parents, family, relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, classmates, teachers, leaders, yourself, God, ...)
How was I hurt and by whom?
Which hurts do I want to address first?
Who should support me in this? Clarify specifically how you will continue!