Written by Margaret Brown.
You can download the PDF of this resource here.
Forgiving is never easy. When we, or those near to us, have been hurt, then it can be very hard.
And this is just as true of forgiving ourselves as it is of forgiving others.
So why do it? Here are four reasons:
1. Refusing to forgive acts like an untreated cancer. The anger and hurt can grow, often unnoticed, until they affect our other relationships, our work, our health. When we choose to start to forgive, and to stop the past controlling us, the first person to be set free is ourselves.
2. We are made and designed for good relationships. Every time we refuse to forgive, we fail to live up to our full human potential.
3. As humans we all do wrong, and we all need forgiveness. None of us is perfect.
4. Above all, this is the model Christ shows us: `Forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave you... For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you` (Eph 4:32, Matt 6:14).
What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is releasing the person who has injured you from the debt they owe you, and choosing to accept the pain, and to no longer be angry.
It is not saying ‘It’s OK. It doesn’t matter’
When there is hurt and injury in a relationship, this does matter! To say ‘It doesn’t matter’ is both untrue and belittles the relationship. This is not forgiveness. The sins Jesus forgave through the cross mattered enormously. And the fact that he forgave them didn’t mean that the pain or consequences they caused had ended; because of those sins, our world is still wrecked. Christ’s forgiveness is forgiveness of people who don’t deserve it (Rom 5:8).
It is not saying ‘You couldn’t help it. It wasn’t your fault’.
However, where genuinely it was not the other person’s fault, then acknowledging this is helpful. There is then nothing to actually forgive, although any hurt and injury still needs to be dealt with.
But surely some people should never be forgiven?
To forgive is not to excuse or condone. In fact forgiveness recognizes right and wrong, blame and responsibility. The more pain and injury you have suffered, the harder it will be to forgive; but the suggestions set out in ‘Why forgive’ still stand true.
Seven Steps of Forgiveness
1. Recognise what you are feeling.
The first step is to own up to how you really feel about what has happened. You may feel angry, sad, rejected, or a whole mixture. Don’t bury and ignore those feelings. Face them and accept them. Perhaps write them, paint them or draw them. They are a part of you, however much you may wish that they were not. It’s OK to have feelings. “Forgiveness does not come by forgetting, but by remembering.”
2. Find out why you feel as you do.
Who really did and said what? Are some of your feelings of anger and pain really due to your own insecurities and deeper hurts? Try writing down some statements such as: “I felt ………………… (angry/sad etc.), when you said/did ………………, because it …….. (made me feel insignificant etc).”
3. Take time to grieve
- for what you have lost, for what has been stolen from you by the wrong; things like family life, self-respect, things that can often never be recovered.
4. Try to understand the other person’s viewpoint.
Why did the other person act the way they did? Where were they coming from? What drove them? Were there things that you did or said that didn’t help?
5. Decide what can be excused.
Be careful not to excuse the person when they were in fact responsible, because that is not treating them like human beings. But when they were genuinely not to blame, excuse them and continue to recognize and work through your feelings without blaming them.
6. Choose to forgive what was their fault.
Recognise that holding on to blame will never lead to wholeness and growth. Forgiving and letting go may first require expressing your feelings of blame and anger, even if they’re directed at God or fate. But it then means choosing to accept the hurt and pain, the loss that you can never regain, to work it through and to release the person from the debt they owe you for what you have lost.
7. Take steps towards reconciliation.
This step requires action on both sides, and so it may be impossible. But where it is possible, it means re-establishing trust and respect for each other. It cannot happen quickly, and it does not necessarily mean going back to how things were before. But get communication going again, assess what new relationship is appropriate, and work towards that.
Things That Help Us Forgive
1. Realise that forgiveness is a process that takes time and hard work.
2. Talking with someone else who understands forgiveness can help us work things through.
3. Realising our own self-worth can help us forgive. “Some people are loved because they are worthy, but all of us are worthy because we are loved.” God loves and accepts each one of us as we are, whether or not we feel worthy.
4. Realise that we too have done wrong and need forgiveness.
5. When Jesus lived and died on earth he experienced rejection, hurt and injustice. He knows what it is to feel pain, anger and hurt. Yet he was able to forgive. He not only forgives us, but, if we ask him, he will help us forgive others. And he ensures that those who risk walking this way of the Cross with him will end up with resurrection.
6. Recognise that complete reconciliation requires action on both sides, both in apology and in forgiveness. To be complete, forgiveness must be both offered and received. Sometimes we will only be able to work through our own side of it.
When You Did or Said Things That Didn’t Help
When there are tensions in a relationship, it is rarely all on one side. You may have done and said things that you know hurt the other person. Putting that right will involve:
For Further Help
www.theforgivenessproject.org.uk has a lot of helpful material, including other people’s stories.
Relate is a charity offering help and counselling to those going through difficulties in marriage relationships:www.relate.org.uk.
© Margaret Brown.