We don’t forgive other people because they need it. We forgive them because we need it. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door to freedom from the effect of past hurts in our lives.
When we hold onto unforgiveness toward other people, we aren’t hurting them. We are only hurting ourselves. Comedian Buddy Hackett once said, “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.”
We forgive people, not for their sake, but for ours. Your unforgiveness may not even affect them, but it will certainly affect you. Until you forgive a person who has wronged you, you allow them to continue to control you.
But what if they aren’t sorry? They don’t have to be sorry in order for you to forgive them. Forgiveness is the deliberate choice to release a person from all obligation they have toward us as a result of any offense they have committed against us. There is nothing in that definition that requires action on the part of the guilty party.
Forgiveness is a conscious choice you make. It is an act of the will, not the emotions. Forgiveness is the way out that God gives you to be freed from the past, to be freed from those who have hurt you. To refuse to forgive is to stay in a prison that will keep you from ever enjoying the full abundance of life Jesus wants you to know.
How are we to move forward in forgiving those who have wronged us? Several simple steps taken in faith can set us free.
1. Pray and ask the Lord to show you those who have hurt you. Write their names on a piece of paper. This may take a few days or even weeks. Don’t rush it. The Holy Spirit will show you those you need to forgive. If a name comes to mind, write it down even if you don’t think you need to forgive the person. After all, you did pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you the names. Don’t screen the list based on your own understanding.
2. Write a description of exactly what these people did to you. Be specific in your description. Don’t use vague generalities, but use detailed examples of how you have been offended by others. Unless you are specific, the act of forgiveness will be vague and not have the impact that you need in your life.
3. Describe exactly how you felt when the offense took place. The importance in identifying how you felt is to reattach the emotion to the incident. The reason for this is that it isn’t possible to fully forgive if we don’t recognize the extent of damage done to us. That’s why it is important to recognize how you felt at the time of the offense.
4. By faith, forgive those who have hurt you. Many have found it helpful to speak out loud, as if the person were in the room. Express your forgiveness to those who have hurt you, confessing that you are releasing them from any obligation for what they have done.
Perhaps the following can be helpful in facilitating the forgiveness you want to extend. Take your list of names and fill in the following:
“(Insert the name of the person who wronged you), I want to resolve a matter of unforgiveness toward you. You have wronged me, but I don’t want to be handicapped by this hurt for the rest of my life. What you did to me was (describe the exact incident). When you did that, it made me feel (describe how you felt, not what you thought at the time).
You were wrong and I was hurt by your actions. But, (insert the offender’s name), right now I forgive you. I release you from any obligation you have toward me because of what you have done. Just as Christ has forgiven me, I now forgive you.”
Now, pray and thank the Lord for the grace He gives you to forgive others. Ask Him to bring healing to your emotions and to fill you with a greater sense of His love for you. Complete this time by affirming that you have forgiven others at this very moment.
Will your feelings instantly change? Maybe not. But that’s okay. As you remind yourself of the truth that you have forgiven those who wronged you, your feelings will gradually change. You may still find that feelings of anger or resentment arise within you at times. That’s normal. When they do, remind yourself of the truth that you have forgiven. It doesn’t mean you didn’t forgive just because you may still have negative feelings at times. Simply acknowledge your feelings and then walk in the truth.
Forgiveness is a choice and you made that choice. Don’t allow the enemy to bring you back into the slavery of unforgiveness again. Through forgiveness you have been set free. So enjoy your freedom!
“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” John 8:36