By Vicki Edwards
“Let it go.”
That was it: the sum total of my husband’s advice on dealing with the betrayal of a friend. I could hear his words. I knew he was right, but I did not have a clue about getting to that place.
Of course I know that forgiveness is at the core of Christianity. How dare I accept God’s grace yet be unwilling to forgive others. But no matter how I tried to downplay the offense, I was able to remember every tiny detail of it—and the anger and pain would spring up with fresh fervor every time I heard the offender’s name.
Then a new thought came to mind—perhaps the “seventy times seven” amount that we are supposed to forgive people doesn’t refer to the number of times they hurt us. Perhaps we can apply it to the number of times we feel hurt over the same offense.
It struck me that forgiving is like cleaning up broken glass. Sometimes you are blessed to have two or three large pieces to pick up and dispose of. At other times there are a myriad of shards that elude detection. Time and time again, a glint of light or the sting of contact bring it to your attention. Forgiveness is often an ongoing process to take each jagged hurt as it is discovered and toss it away.
Thinking of forgiveness as a process rather than a simple decision has helped me deal with hurts. Here are the steps I’ve discovered in letting it go:
1. Acknowledge the hurt.
As with most things, admitting we have a problem is the essential first step. Can’t seem to sit on the same side of the church building as a particular person? Find yourself rushing past a certain cubicle at work? It could be unfinished heart business. It is time to admit that someone hurt you.
2. Count the cost.
Often in our zeal to “get ’er done,” we try to move on before we have taken a moment to grieve. However, unless we allow our heart to feel the reality of what we’ve experienced, our moving on will be more an act of emotional stuffing than true forgiving. Ecclesiastes teaches there is a time for all things.
Take a piece of paper and write down what has been done to you. Then list the effects this offense had. Take time to enumerate what it cost you in the following categories:
• Spiritual: inability to pray; loss of church family; loss of ministry opportunity; loss of fellowship
• Financial: loss of employment, savings, property, or income
• Emotional: loss of peace, joy, or respect; embarrassment, shame, depression, nightmares, oversensitivity, obsessive thoughts; desire to isolate; fear of recurrent pain (with repeat offenses)
• Relational: loss of friendships; divorce, separation from children
• Physical: personal injury, loss of sleep and health
There may be other categories of loss that you have experienced. Write down everything this offense against you has cost. When you have made a comprehensive account, you are ready to set the list aside for a moment and move to the next step.
Now comes a 180-degree turn—we intentionally shift our thoughts from the ugly and hurtful to the lovely and refreshing. We shift gears to a time of worship. While it may seem out of place to move from pain to worship, nothing could be more beneficial. When we are wounded is when we can most appreciate medicine.
God is close to the brokenhearted. He welcomes us into his presence for comfort. As we magnify him, the painful things in our life will become smaller. When we get a glimpse of how powerful and available God is to us, it is time to move forward.
4. Wash in the Word.
Now that we’ve focused on God, we can visit the issue of forgiving from his viewpoint. We need to realize that grace is not a peripheral or extra-credit assignment for overachieving Christians. Grace is at the core of our relationship with God—and with each other.
Recognize the need to forgive. Consider what is forfeited without it: our prayers are hindered (Mark 11:25), the Holy Spirit is grieved (Ephesians 4:26-32), we allow the enemy access to our lives (2 Corinthians 2:10, 11; Ephesians 6:10-12).
This is the point where we face the truth—we cannot walk in God’s peace and favor without forgiving.
5. Align with God’s heart.
God wants us to forgive, but there’s something else he wants us to know. It is a far more daunting thing to wrap our minds around than forgiveness. It’s so vast, we will likely never grasp it completely in this life. Here is: he loves us. He hates seeing us hurt. Jesus came to bring abundant, joyful life to you, and he does not delight in seeing his children suffer.
Just as God is with you now in this moment, he was with you the very moment you were hurt. Although he does not jump in and prevent each hurt from happening, he never leaves us. He endures the pain with us.
The Greek word for salvation (sozo) also means healing. God’s love, kindness, and tender mercies toward us are a healing balm. Take a moment to ponder the wonder of this. When we begin to grasp the enormity of it, we realize that anything that happens to us here is temporary and tiny—and God’s love is massive and eternal. Let yourself sink into these truths: Romans 8:38, 39; Psalm 139:17, 18; 1 John 3:1.
Here is where we resolve to absorb the pain and loss and give up all rights to retaliate—even in small ways, such as talking about the people who hurt us or hoping for bad things to come their way.
This sounds like the hard part, but hold on. God doesn’t command us to do something but then leave us on our own (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). He steps in to help. I won’t say how he will do this on your behalf, because God is infinitely creative. But I’m happy to share how he helped me:
A dear friend betrayed my husband and me, treating us as enemies while we treated him as a friend. It hurt. A lot. I eventually admitted the offense, grieved, and then tried to give it to God. Still, for a time, I felt anger and pain when I thought of him. One night I had a dream. In the dream I was on a train, chatting away as with a friend. Then I noticed—it was him! I awoke, but something had changed. Now, whenever I think of this person, I am able to recall the warm feelings and memories from the good times, rather than the hurt that came later. God had taken my small offering (my willingness) and added in his power to change my heart.
Technically we will not forget unkind things that happen to us. But what we can do is to file the event in the “old news” section of our memory. We can decide that the sin against us does not define us. Rather, we are defined by the value and love God places on us.
By this stage, you will have experienced the greatest weight loss plan known to mankind. Carrying bitterness weighs us down. Now, return to your paper listing everything the offense cost you. Imagine yourself laying every item at the foot of the cross.
Once again, I cannot tell you exactly what means God will use to fill in the gaps of what was taken from you, but I know he will. Ever notice what happened after Job forgave and prayed for his not-so-kind friends? Blessings. Great, enormous blessings. Again, I make no promises of specifics, but God does promise to work all things to our benefit (Romans 8:28). Obedience, in this case obeying God’s call to forgive, is our step of faith. God is a rewarder of the faithful (Hebrews 11:6).
Although forgiveness can be as simple as a decision, it often is a process that involves time, emotional energy, and determination, as well as reliance on God for assistance. But it is this very lifestyle of grace that defines us as his children.
Vicki Edwards is a freelance writer who lives near Des Moines, Iowa.
Myths About Forgiveness
• Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing the offense. All sin is unacceptable. Forgiveness simply leaves God in charge of judging.
• Forgiveness is not denial. Hurts are painful, and dealing emotionally with the issue will bring the pain to light.
• Forgiveness is not forgetting. God does not ask us to forget. He asks us to trust him with justice and to trust him with our well being.
• Forgiveness does not preclude societal justice. You can forgive an offender and still cooperate with those who are authorized to bring about justice.
• Forgiveness does not require that you like or spend time with the offender. Not everyone is trustworthy.
• Forgiveness does not diminish the offender to sub-par humanity or elevate the victim to moral superiority. Forgiveness sees both the wrongdoer and the wronged as fallen people in need of grace.