Christian Counselor Spokane
Such phrases as “I forgive you,” “I release you from retribution for your deeds,” are very powerful. They are words of your power. A tremendously powerful image is that you are anointed as a peacemaker. You have the power to bring peace into your world. That is enormous power. No longer the victim, you have reclaimed your agency (and sometimes the life of the offender). –
AnonymousHuman relationships are marked by the need for forgiveness. Whether we intend to or not, we often hurt one another, both by what we do and what we leave undone, and we often find that we need to either ask for forgiveness or offer it to someone else.
Between parents and their children, siblings, colleagues, neighbors, spouses, and friends, forgiveness is a social lubricant that allows us to continue relationships after we’ve been hurt or hurt someone. Without forgiveness, relationships either crumble, become strained, or get mired in resentment.
But as necessary as forgiveness may be, it’s hard to forgive someone who has hurt or disappointed us. In part, it’s because we misunderstand what forgiveness is and isn’t, and in part, it’s because our souls wrestle with the difficulty of extending grace toward others. Below are a few pointers to help you forgive someone who has hurt you.
How to Forgive
Forgiveness is a radical act of choosing to relinquish your desires for vengeance or a comeuppance. Forgiveness has little to do with accountability and consequences. Just because you forgive someone, that doesn’t mean that the natural consequences of their actions get wiped away. If a friend betrays you, what they did was wrong, and it has consequences, such as making it difficult to trust them in the future.
Merely saying to someone “I forgive you” doesn’t whitewash their actions. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, we only forgive that which is wrong and without excuse – otherwise, if there’s a legitimate excuse or reason for why your friend hurt you, what you’re doing is excusing them, not forgiving them.
Forgiveness is a free act that can’t be coerced from you, nor is it something “deserved” by the other person. As someone once said:
‘“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love… He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:8, 10) Can you think of one person in your life who “deserves” whatever you could dish out? On the other hand, can you imagine if we got what we deserved? But instead, God sent His Son to save us. Thank heaven we got what we never could deserve.’ –
Just as we received God’s forgiveness without deserving it, the person you forgive doesn’t have to deserve it before you offer it.
We need to understand that forgiveness isn’t about the other person as much as it is about you and your inner disposition toward them. When you forgive someone, you are choosing to forgo revenge and refusing to harbor ill-feeling toward them.Evelyn Whitehead once said that when we forgive someone, “We can no longer harbor it [unforgiveness and hurt] for later use against the other person. We must surrender the wound or injustice that may have become a cherished, if bitter, possession. Letting go of this vengeful possession, we lose a painful advantage we have been savoring, but we regain the personal energy that has been dissipated as we nourished this hurt.”
As we’ll see later, withholding unforgiveness harms you, spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
You don’t necessarily have to say “I forgive you” to the person, but there is power in doing so if we truly mean it. Our forgiveness shouldn’t come with strings attached – when you offer it, spoken or not, it’s not meant to be a bargaining tool in your relationship with the person.
Lewis B. Smedes gives this warning and encouragement concerning spoken forgiveness – “Spoken forgiveness, no matter how heartfelt, works best when we do not demand the response we want. I mean that when we tell people we forgive them, we must leave them free to respond to our good news however they are inclined. If the response is not what we hoped for, we can go home and enjoy our own healing in private.”
It’s not a one-off event
So, forgiveness isn’t something that can be coerced from you, nor is it a tool to wield in a relationship. Another piece to add to the puzzle is that forgiveness isn’t necessarily a one-off thing. We can get frustrated with ourselves when we feel like “Haven’t I forgiven them? Why do these feelings keep bubbling up inside of me?”
The fact of the matter is that forgiveness often isn’t a one-off event that you go through and then forget. After all, the reason you were hurt is that something that you value was violated in one way or another. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have cared.
That deep reservoir of feeling means that on some days the ill feeling will rear its head again. Or if the person is someone you see regularly, on random days seeing them may trigger a negative reaction. Forgiveness is thus something that we commit to not just once, but on an ongoing basis.
Rick Cruz Torres offers these encouraging and challenging words: “Gather up the stones flung at you with malice and build from them an altar of love to your Father in Heaven; fit them together with forgiveness and intercession for those who seek to hurt you.”
When you feel anger or resentment gather steam, turn that antipathy into prayer for the person who hurt you. Lehman Strauss also reminds us that, “We ought not to keep score of the number of times others have hurt us. God keeps records, and vengeance belongs to him.”
You too need forgiveness
Sometimes, our struggle to forgive others is because we sinfully forget that we too need forgiveness. None of us are perfect, even if we are under the illusion that we are. We need forgiveness, from God and other people for all the ways we have sinned against them.God freely forgives us in Jesus Christ, and that is something that ought to sink deeply into our hearts and minds. You’re not meant to be a cul-de-sac or reservoir of God’s gifts and blessings, but a conduit. Just as God has forgiven you and me, we are called to forgive others.
In Colossians 3:13, the apostle Paul writes “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Forgiveness is one of the many virtues that believers ought to display and embody.
What Paul wrote echoes what Jesus also says – we are to forgive as we have been forgiven, and if we don’t, it might point to our shallow understanding and experience of our forgiveness from God.
Writer Philip Yancey reflecting on the words of Jesus on this matter wrote:
“Charles Williams has said of the Lord’s Prayer, “No word in English carries a greater possibility of terror than the little word ‘as’ in that clause.” What makes the ‘as’ so terrifying? The fact that Jesus plainly links our forgiven-ness by the Father with our forgiving-ness of fellow human beings. Jesus’ next remark could not be more explicit: ‘If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
This is challenging, to be sure, but it can help spur us on when we don’t want to forgive someone.
Forgiveness is good for you
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.”
Apart from this, we’ve already mentioned briefly that our lack of forgiveness not only strains our relationships with people but also with God. Holding onto hurt lays an additional burden upon our hearts that we don’t need to be carrying.
Emmet Fox’s 15 Points
The Depression Era minister, Emmet Fox, outlines 15 points we can follow on a daily basis to help us stay on track spiritually.
I Am Really In Truth:
If – I always look for the best in each person, situation, and thing.
If – I resolutely turn my back on the past, good or bad and live only in the present and future.
If – I forgive everybody without exception, no matter what he may have done; and if I then forgive MYSELF whole-heartedly.
If – I regard my job as sacred and do my day’s work to the best of my ability (whether I like it or not).If – I take every means to demonstrate a healthy body and harmonious surroundings for myself.
If – I endeavor to make my life of as much service to others as possible, without interfering or fussing.
If – I take every opportunity wisely to spread the knowledge of Truth to others.
If – I rigidly refrain from personal criticism, and neither speak nor listen to gossip.
If – I devote at least a quarter of an hour a day to prayer and meditation.
If – I read at least seven verses of the Bible everyday.
If – I specifically claim spiritual understanding of myself every day.
If – I train myself to give the first thought on waking to God.
If – I speak the Word for the whole world every day, say at noon.
If – I PRACTICE, the Golden Rule of Jesus instead of merely admiring it. He said, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” The important point about the Golden Rule is that I am to practice it whether the other fellow does so or not.
If – above all, I understand that whatever I see is but a picture which can be changed for the better by . . . Prayer. (Essentials of Recovery, 2002)
A prayer to forgive someone
Forgiving someone who has hurt you is not something that happens automatically or easily. We can turn to God for help to forgive the people that have hurt us. Here is a prayer you can use:
Father, thank you for your gift of forgiveness and thank you for forgiving me and bringing me into a relationship with you. Thank you that your only Son loved me and came to earth; he was willing to experience the worst pain imaginable and die so I could be forgiven. Thank you for showing me the true meaning of forgiveness.
Help me to show that same forgiveness to others, so that they can see you living in me by your Spirit. Thank you that your mercy flows to me despite my faults and failures. Help me to demonstrate unconditional love today, even to those who have hurt me.
Even though I feel wounded and scarred, Father, my emotions don’t have to control my actions. Father may your sweet words flood my mind and direct my thoughts. Help me release the hurt and begin to love others as Jesus loves. I want to see my offender through your eyes. If I can be forgiven, so can they.
And when I see the person who has hurt me, help me Lord, so I can take any ungodly thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. I pray for strength through the Holy Spirit, that he would guide me into the freedom of forgiveness. I praise you for the work you are doing in my life, teaching me, and perfecting my faith. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.
Emmet F. (2002). Fifteen points. Available: https://www.essentialsofrecovery.com/2016/02/fifteen-points-by-emmet-fox.html?m=1
“Touching the Water”, Courtesy of Yoann Boyer, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Love”, Courtesy of Anthony Tran, Unsplash.com; CC0 License; “Crocheted Heart”, Courtesy of Ante Gudelj, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Believe in Yourself”, Courtesy of Katrina Wright, Unsplash.com, CC0 License