Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave us the ultimate example of how to forgive when he willingly hung on a cross to offer us forgiveness for our own sins. He spoke the powerful words: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34, NLT)
When we are first betrayed, it can be hard to even begin to imagine a time when we would ever forgive the person who has hurt or betrayed us. However, forgiveness is important in order to move forward with your life. It allows you to shake off any anger and doubt you have, and focus on the future.
To fully receive God’s gift of the forgiveness of our sins, we also need to forgive the sins that others have committed against you. If we harbor a lack of forgiveness, this can be an obstacle to our being able to receive fully God’s grace and mercy. But remember that it may take a while for you to be able truly forgive someone who has wounded you.
Nevertheless, take heart and know that God understands that this is a process. He does not expect us to be able to forgive this person from our hearts all at once. But He does want us to at least begin the process of healing (for ourselves) and eventually enter into the freedom that can only be experienced after we learn to truly forgive.
Maybe you cannot yet honestly forgive from your heart because you have been hurt so badly. You may not even want to forgive the person who has hurt you. So we begin by asking God to soften our hearts and place within it the desire to forgive.
We can ask Him to give us the willingness to forgive the person or individuals who have wounded us. Such a prayer are the first steps towards forgiveness – steps which are also very pleasing to God, our Father, who sees, knows, and loves us all.
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
(Matthew 5:44, NLT)
What does it mean to forgive?
Often times we associate forgiveness with being “sorry” for the wrong that was done. We think that if the offender apologizes and really “means it” we can forgive them. But, Jesus says something quite different. He calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven.
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32, NLT)
What forgiveness is not:
- Forgiveness is not a feeling. If it were, we would rarely forgive others because we would not “feel” like it.”
- Forgiveness is not a weakness. A lot of strength is required to acknowledge pain, declare it, and forgive it.
- Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. The phrase “forgive and forget” is not reality. Forgiving does not mean pretending the hurt didn’t happen.
- Forgiveness does not excuse the wrong. It doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. We can forgive the person without excusing the act.
- Forgiveness is not the same as reconciling. Reconciling may sometimes follow forgiveness, but we can forgive another without keeping the relationship.
- Forgiveness is not based on the wrongdoer’s actions; because it is not a transaction. Even if the other person never apologizes and asks for forgiveness, we should forgive. This is because forgiveness is for the benefit of us, not the other person.
- Forgiveness is not conditional. It’s not: “I’ll forgive you if you do XYZ.” That sets us up for disappointment and taps into revenge, which is not healing.
- Forgiveness is not about justice. Justice usually involves an acknowledgment of wrongdoing, an apology, and some form of reward or punishment. Forgiveness should occur whether justice is withheld or not.
- Forgiveness is not about changing the other person, their actions or behaviors. This is where we have to trust God to be God and believe that God is already working in their heart as well.
- Forgiveness does not mean trust. Forgiveness should be freely given, while trust must be earned. Trust is built back over consistent truth-telling over a period of time.
- Forgiveness is not about changing the past, it’s about changing the future. Forgiveness accepts and addresses the past but focuses on the future. It looks toward a future of healing and hope.
What forgiveness is:
- Forgiveness is a decision – a conscious and intentional choice. When you really forgive someone, you are making a decision to release, embrace, pardon and grow.
- Forgiveness is releasing bitterness. Long-term anger and bitterness are poisonous to our wellbeing. It is easy to keep replaying the hurtful incident in our minds, but this will not make things better. Deciding to forgive helps us to release the bitterness so we don’t keep swallowing it.
- Forgiveness is a decision to grow and move forward. When you forgive, you are taking away the power the wrongdoer has over you and using that power toward your growth. If you are deciding to still have a relationship with this person, forgiveness is a way to say: I will not allow this matter to stand between us or hinder our personal relationship. This attitude will help channel energy to looking toward the future and rebuilding the connection. This also means that you do not bring the offense up as leverage in later arguments.
Steps to Forgiveness
1. Take your time.
Forgiveness does not require a stopwatch. The part of us that requires amends generally refuses to be rushed. Healing has its own timetable, which sometimes can require a lifetime.
2. Tell the truth.
Authenticity is everything when it comes to forgiveness. This usually requires a leap of faith and the willingness to lose the relationship if the truth is too much for your unforgiven party to hear. You can’t be dishonest and move forward emotionally at the same time.
3. Own your part.
Telling the truth means taking responsibility for your part in the bad way things went down. It’s all too tempting for the injured party to play the victim. But the truth cuts both ways and you need to get real about your behavior.
Ask yourself, are you guilty of miscommunication? Did you misrepresent your needs or desires? Are you wearing your offense like a crown of thorns, acting high or mighty?
4. Open your heart.
Only when we see our enemies as individuals deserving empathy can the war between Us and Them ever stop. We tend to demonize those who have hurt us.
But when we learn to see and understanding our perpetrators as imperfect people — just like us — capable of making mistakes, we create room for empathy to be able to move in our hearts.
5. Open your eyes.
Trust is created of very fragile energy. We’re smart to remain vigilant, savvy and history-smart in re-establishing trust with someone who has hurt us. Remembering always that forgiveness must contain a degree of Godly wisdom and Spirit filled discernment.
6. Turn it over.
Wisdom, by definition, means relinquishing control over final outcomes. Would-be forgivers are often blocked by the fine print of their own expectations – “I will forgive only if this happens…” Unfortunately, this is not how forgiveness works. We must be prepared to surrendering a measure of personal will in order to allow healthy renewal of the relationship.
7. Stay strong.
Just as we cannot move forward and be dishonest at the same time, we cannot remain petty and hope to expand beyond the level of personal grievance. Mired down by the letter of the law, we may lose the spirit of forgiveness. This spirit derives from a desire for justice but also from a pull toward personal happiness.
Remember to allow God to speak to you.
Never forget that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are bigger than our thoughts. He knows each of you perfectly. He knows both of your struggles, your insecurities and the root cause of what’s damaging the relationship. Allowing Him to guide your steps will ensure that you aren’t reacting to the hurt, but honestly seeking a peaceful solution.
Prayer of Forgiveness
Let us pray.
Being betrayed by a close friend, family member, or spouse is very painful. But when you feel like someone has turned against you, turn your attention to God. Use this prayer of forgiveness to help your ease the pain and allow God to pick up the broken pieces:
“Father God, bless me with the amazing power of forgiveness. Give me the grace to unconditionally forgive those who have wronged me. Give me the strength to let go of all the pain this wrong has caused me. Free me, Father God, of all the anger, the bitterness, and the unforgiveness in my heart. I bless and release this person onto You, Father God, so that they may be able to forgive themselves as well.
In Jesus’ name I pray,
God places people in our lives to speak to us during challenging times.
Getting outside perspective (after you’ve sought God) may be a good way to confirm what God’s speaking to you. Seeing a Christian Counselor can give you a safe outlet for confronting your feelings of unforgiveness. Together, we can find biblical truths to challenge and defeat these difficult emotions and intense feelings and help you open your heart and begin the process of forgiveness.
“Broken Heart”, Courtesy of Burak Kostak, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Injured Bear”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Welcoming the Dawn”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Breaking the Shackles”, Courtesy of Pixabay, Pexels.com, CC0 License