Have you ever really wanted forgive someone but just couldn’t seem to make it happen? No matter how hard you try to forgive them you just keep feeling hurt and angry when you think about what they did to you. Forgiving someone is hard work. It is more than just making a decision to forgive, telling yourself you have forgiven them, and then never mentioning the offense again. Forgiving is a process with many layers, and while some of those things are parts of the forgiveness process, they certainly are not the whole process. While you may or may not be ready to forgive the person who hurt you at this moment, it may still be beneficial to understand what would be involved if you did decide to forgive that person.
The Process of Forgiveness
Step 1: Identify each individual offense. Be specific about exactly what they did to you. It is important that you recall exactly what happened as you remember it. What were the words that were said and the actions that they did?
This may come easy, give fuel to your anger, and seem counter productive initially. However, the point in identifying and remembering each offense is to remind you of the offenses against you. Forgiveness is needed because you were wronged. What the other person did was wrong, hurtful, or painful from your perspective, and you are acknowledging that in this part of the process.
Step 2: Identify your feelings about the offense. How did it make you feel? Try to use one word descriptions for your feelings. For example: lonely, rejected, angry, hurt, ashamed, abandoned, scared etc. Try to identify and label as many feeling as you can that you experienced relating to each specific offense.
This part of the process is often very emotionally painful as you remember and focus specifically on how the actions of another person affected you. Even though it may be very difficult, it is important for you to acknowledge these emotions in order to begin the healing process.
Step 3: Identify what consequences you may have had to pay as a result of the offense. For example if your partner has an addiction you may have had to help pay for legal fines, drive to court dates, or pick them up in the middle of the night.
This is where you are acknowledging what life is like as a result of their actions. This is also where you are beginning the process of taking responsibility for your own choices and responses. In time you may choose different responses then you have in the past, but at this moment you are simply acknowledging how things are in the present.
Step 4: Remember your personal need for forgiveness. It’s no secret that you are not perfect, none of us are. There have been many times when you have also needed to receive forgiveness. Remember the times when you have been the person who did wrong or hurt someone. Remember how it felt to feel ashamed for something you had done or said. Finally, remember the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus who died for all your sins, past, present and future, so that he could forever have a relationship with you.
Step 5: Try to empathize with the offender. Maybe they were tired, scared, or reacting out of a place of emotional insecurity. The potential reasons don’t excuse their behavior or make it right, and it certainly doesn’t make it any less painful. However, sometimes remembering that they have weaknesses just like you have weakness’ may make it a little easier to extend forgiveness.
Step 6: Make the choice to forgive. This choice is made with the full knowledge that what the other person did was wrong and is deserving of punishment. The choice is made with the full knowledge that what the other person did hurt you and has affected you in many ways.
Step 7: Personally act on your forgiveness. This is where you may want to write out your declaration to forgive the other person. You may also choose to pray through your declaration to forgive. The following is an example of a written declaration:
I, (insert your name), choose to forgive (insert the offenders name) for: (list the specific offenses) which caused me to feel (list feelings) and experience (list consequences you faced). I will no longer seek revenge or retaliation for these offenses. I choose to no longer ruminate on the offenses and I will not bring them up against (insert offenders name). I choose to release (insert offenders name) from any obligation to make things right between us or to make me feel better. I will take responsibility for my responses and my actions and I release (insert the offenders name) into the hands of Jesus. Just as Jesus forgave me, so I forgive (insert offenders name).
Step 8: Publicly act on your forgiveness: If the person has sought out your forgiveness you would go to them and let them know that you have forgiven them. You may choose to share your personal declaration with them. After you have forgiven them the two of you may choose to discuss your individual needs and what things you could each work on to improve the relationship.
If the person has not sought out your forgiveness, does not acknowledge their wrong doing, or has passed away, you may want to demonstrate your forgiveness in an alternate manner. One way this can be done is to have a picture of the person or visualize the person and read through your personal declaration of forgiveness to them. Another way is to symbolically write out their offenses on sheets of paper and then burn the paper in a fire.
Step 9: Make any necessary changes in your responses to their behavior. One of the things that tends to hinder forgiveness is when we continue to be victims of another persons actions. This is why is it is important to evaluate your own behaviors and responses to their actions and make necessary adjustments. You may find that you need distance from the person to heal or that you need to put some boundaries in place so that you are not continually being hurt. This is different than retaliation because in retaliation you are out to hurt the other individual, with boundaries you are trying to protect yourself from being hurt. You may find it helpful to talk to a counselor or a mature trusted friend about personal changes that you might need to make.
Step 10: Pray for yourself and the offender. Pray for good and blessing in their life, or simply pray reminding yourself that you have placed the other person in the hands of Jesus. This is an important step because it will help you desire to see good in them, in their life, and in your relationship. Also, it is important because it connects you with divine power to strengthen, encourage, and empower you in the forgiveness process.
Step 11: Continue to remind yourself of your decision to forgive and repeat the forgiveness processes as memories of past offenses resurface or as new offenses occur. Relationships are messy, therefore forgiveness is often a process that needs to occur many times to cover the offenses. Sometimes, after you have forgiven you will remember a new aspect or a new offense, and you will need to forgive again. Having to go through the process many times does not mean you haven’t forgiven, it simply means your forgiveness is a work in progress.