If you are breathing, you have been hurt or offended. Someone has wronged you in some capacity because we live with flawed people in an imperfect world.
Yet we are instructed in wisdom literature to “… refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” (Psalm 37:8, NIV) Even more astounding are the challenging admonitions from Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”
You cannot have a healthy rewarding relationship if you are unwilling to forgive. Holding on to resentment and rehearsing the offense not only erodes the relationship, but also destroys the unforgiving individual.
However, forgiving someone is difficult. It may be the hardest task we face with interpersonal relationships. Every bone in our body cries out for justice and demands that the offender should be punished. Even if we don’t want revenge, we at least believe that the offender should feel some pain.
Forgiving is a process. It is not a single simple step. To forgive involves conscious, calculated choices to change your feelings, thoughts and actions toward the offender.
The first two steps are letting go of the offense:
- Refrain or cease feeling angry.
Get rid of all bitterness and anger. Visualize the following words:
- “Put on the brakes.”
- “Stop moving in a particular direction.”
- “Banish the thoughts.”
These words conjure images of completely eliminating some action. You choose to let go of your anger.
- Turn away from wrath. Trash your wrath.
Visualize garbage or unwanted spoiled food. You trash it, remove it from sight. You don’t rehearse your anger or keep reviewing the painful events or continue to talk about it with others, keeping the memories afresh. View your bitterness and resentment a something onerous and hazardous—so trash it for good.
NOTE that these two steps do not mean we deny the wrong actions or our feelings, but rather we accept the pain and choose to let go of the demand for retaliation.
The last two steps of forgiveness involve acting compassionately toward the offender.
- Offer the gift of mercy.
You choose to forgive even if the person does not acknowledge wrong or ask for forgiveness. This requires a cognitive shift from focusing on your emotional pain to recognizing that the offender is a person who needs grace. Now it’s not about your wound, but about extending mercy and love, as Christ demonstrated toward us.
- Continue to show compassion.
This step requires empathy for the offender. It goes beyond letting go of negative affect, and moves toward active efforts to be kind and positive toward the offender. This involves praying for the offender’s well-being and seeking ways to up build that person.
I believe that the first two steps can be taught and accomplished through psychological education. However, the last two steps require a spiritual transformation, a living faith in the love of God and grace through Christ. Thus, it may be impossible to accomplish these steps without surrendered prayer.