Forgiving others is unnatural. It requires humility and vulnerability two things that are almost physically painful for most of us. It is something we have to do intentionally to maintain our emotional, mental, and physical well-being. This post will include analysis of forgiveness as well as how to forgive using notes from The Steps to Freedom in Christ by Neil T. Anderson.
What is forgiveness?
God requires us as his children to give forgiveness unconditionally. It is not dependent upon repayment or even an apology. Regardless of how the offender responds after the offense, our response must be forgiveness.
Anderson bullet points six statements about forgiveness that help the reader grasp what it means to forgive.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is a long-term by-product of forgiveness, but it is never a means toward it. Don’t put off forgiving those who have hurt you, hoping the pain will go away. Once you choose to forgive someone, then Christ will heal your wounds. We don’t heal in order to forgive; we forgive in order to heal.
- Forgiveness is a choice, a decision of the will. Some people hold on to their anger as a means of protecting themselves against further abuse, but all they are doing is hurting themselves. You are still chained to your past, bound up in your bitterness. You must trust that God will deal with the person justly and fairly, something you cannot do. Until you et go of your bitterness and hatred, the person is still hurting you. Nobody can fix your past, but you can be free from it. What you gain by forgiving is freedom from your past and those who have abused you. To forgive is to set a captive free and then realize you were the captive.
- Forgiveness is agreeing to live with the consequences of another person’s sin. We are all living with the consequences of someone else’s sin. The only choice is whether to do so in the bondage of bitterness or in the freedom of forgiveness.
- Forgive from your heart. Allow God to bring to the surface the painful memories and acknowledge how you feel toward those who’ve hurt you. If your forgiveness doesn’ t touch the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete. Too often we’re afraid of the pain, so we bury our emotions deep down inside us. Let God bring them to the surface, so He can begin to heal those damaged emotions.
- Forgiveness is choosing not to hold someone’s sin against him or her anymore. It is common for bitter people to bring up past offenses with those who have hurt them. But we must let go of the past and choose to reject any thought of revenge. This doesn’t mean you continue to put up with the abuse. God does not tolerate sin and neither should you. You will need to set up scriptural boundaries that put a stop to further abuse.
- Don’t wait until you feel like forgiving. You will never get there. Make the hard choice to forgive, even if you don’t feel like it.
When do we need to forgive?
I have discovered that you can’t forgive what you don’t acknowledge. If you are like me you bury offenses immediately because you don’t want to react harshly and you don’t want to face the painful emotions. Most of the time I don’t even know I have unforgiveness toward someone. But I have learned to pick up on the symptoms of unforgiveness, and then search my heart for unresolved anger. Depression is a sign of unforgiveness. Angry outbursts and overreacting to irritations are signs of unforgiveness. Wanting to stay away for a particular person is a sign of unforgiveness.
How do we forgive?
Forgiveness is similar to the bereavement process. Loss of a loved one is initially met with denial then progresses on to anger and eventually acceptance. We respond to emotional pain much the same way. We have to grieve our losses through honesty about our feelings, and acceptance of circumstances the way they are rather than the way we wish them to be. We do not only experience loss as a result of death, but through every unmet need and expectation.
Through various classes I have led I have come up with a method I use for forgiving. First I pray that God will show me if I have any unforgiveness. Then I grab a pen and paper and begin writing every offense that is on my mind in a column on the left. Even the most trivial things I write down. I go back through the list and forgive each offense asking God to help me see the situation through his eyes.
For more serious issues I write down my feelings first. Then I write my thoughts about the person (holding nothing back). One time I had a major offense to forgive. I wrote a letter with everything I wanted to tell the person. Then I prayed that God would change my heart and restore love and peace where resentment had taken root. I burned the letter so no one would ever know but God.
Really he already knows. He knows better than we do what is in our heart. Forgiveness is about getting real with ourselves, and lifting the broken pieces up to God. He can make a masterpiece of our mess if we will trust him enough to let him in.
Anderson, Neil T. The Steps to Freedom in Christ. Gospel Light: USA. pp. 11-12.