By Andrea Johnson
“I know I am supposed to forgive, but how do I go about it?” That’s the question I had as a young mom. Someone had betrayed my trust and made disastrous choices that affected me, my kids, and a whole slew of other people I cared deeply about. I could say I had forgiven the offender, but what did that really mean? Wasn’t that the same as saying that person’s transgressions didn’t matter? That didn’t seem just.
I knew deep down that I hadn’t forgiven the person because whenever their name came up, I could feel my stomach tighten and my mood sour. I also relished way too much anything bad that happened to them.
Merriam-Webster’s definition of forgiveness is “to cease to feel resentment against an offender,” “to pardon one’s enemies.” A pastor said it another way. He said, “Forgiveness is giving up one’s right to be angry.” That caught my attention. Yes, I did have every right to be angry with the transgressor, but I could also choose to give up that right.
Although that statement helped me immensely, I still wasn’t sure how to “give up anger” toward my offender.
For me, forgiveness became a process rather than a one-time event.
These were some of the steps that helped me:
- Pray like you mean it, asking God to help you forgive. Only God can change your heart. Ask Him, and then allow Him.
- Don’t keep rehashing (verbally or mentally) the wrong that was done to you. All that does is stir up all the anger and the ugly; it does nothing to rectify your situation (Hebrews 12:1).
- Think on good things! Choose to concentrate on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (Philippians 4:8). Incorporate this attitude into your speech as well. This may mean making changes in your circle of friends or the media you view. If you find yourself becoming more angry or bitter when you are around those things, limit your time with them.
- Immerse yourself in Scripture. Think of the Word of God as a warm bath for your mind – cleansing it of old thought patterns, bitterness, and anger and replacing them with peace, joy, and love (Romans 12:2). Scriptures such as Colossians 3:12-17; Hebrews 12:1-3; Philippians 4:6-7; Isaiah 40:31; 1 Corinthians 13; and Matthew 6:25-34 are great places to start.
- Develop an attitude of gratefulness. It’s hard to hold grudges when we stop to appreciate all that we have to be grateful for. This may take some time if you have developed a “victim mentality,” but it works.
- Lower your expectations. We expect two-year-olds to act like two-year-olds, not as mature adults. Some people are just carnal; they do not plan on changing. You can’t “help” someone change that doesn’t want to. You are the only person over which you have control.
- Realize that forgiveness does not mean allowing a person to keep harming you. If a person stole fifty bucks from me, I would forgive them. But I would not leave money laying around the house the next time they visited. If someone is harming you, do not enable them to keep doing so. That doesn’t help them or you. Establish boundaries. Ask for help from a trusted friend or pastor if you need to.
- Be willing to forgive again. Although we try to put up boundaries, in reality there are people in our lives who will keep causing us pain of some sort. Maybe it’s someone you work with or someone you are related to. Jesus told us to keep on forgiving (Matthew 18:21-22). Don’t beat yourself up for initial feelings of anger when you see injustice, but don’t hang on to bitterness.
After several years (I wish I could say it had been weeks), I one day realized I had forgiven my tormentor when their name came up and I didn’t seethe with anger. And guess what? Believe it or not, I’ve had other opportunities to practice these steps, just as I hope people will be kind enough to do for me when I need to be forgiven! No one said forgiveness is easy, but it’s worth it!