by Jack M. Lane
How many times have you been walking along, and you bump into someone, and you say, “Oh, pardon me”? That’s the polite thing to do.
One of the biggest impediments to the Christian life is the inability we often have to forgive one another and get on with life. The art of forgiveness is sadly lacking in all too many church-going people. If we don't manage to overcome this major stumblingblock in our own life, to forgive and to be forgiven, how Christlike are we? In this article, we examine the need for forgiveness and offer some helpful suggestions in putting it into practice in our daily lives.
When I was a young smart-aleck, I used to say, “I can’t pardon you. I’m not the governor!” Well, I got over saying that.
Or if you belch, you might say, “Well, excuse me!” Or you’re weaving your way through a crowd, and as you squeeze past people you’re mumbling, “Pardon me, ‘scuse me, pardon me, ‘scuse me.”
In all of these situations, you’re apologizing, and asking people to forgive you.
Of course, if you hope the governor will come through at the last minute with a pardon, that means you want to be forgiven of whatever crime you committed that brought you to the electric chair, or whatever.
We usually ask for forgiveness for one thing or another fairly often in our lives, especially if we’re being polite. Sometimes we don’t ask often enough, or quickly enough. But we can’t really get through this life without asking someone to forgive us of something. It’s a relational thing. It’s how we get along with each other.
We teach our children to apologize if they run through the area and slam into an adult, or take something that’s not theirs. A criminal may stand before a judge and claim to be truly sorry for what he did, although the truth may be that he is truly sorry that he got caught.
It’s one of the facts of life. We often need to ask for forgiveness. We often need to be forgiven.
There came a time for many of us when we realized that God exists, that He is the judge of all mankind, that He set into motion his rules for living and we have violated them. And we come to a point of repentance. What do we do? We ask God to forgive us. That’s one of the definitions of repentance. Then what do we do? We try to walk in newness of life, letting God lead us into the righteous Way of life He wants us to live.
And of course, we need to forgive others, as well. Let’s not forget that side of the story.
So as we discuss the topic of forgiveness, we can already see that we can divide it into different sub-topics. I’ll give you a list of these sub-topics, somewhat in the order of importance, or the amount of time we tend to dwell on each of these.
Six Categories of Forgiveness
The first three categories are:
1. The need to be forgiven by God. Folks who go to church tend to dwell on this one the most.
2. The need to be forgiven by others. This is the area of relationships with other people.
3. The need to be forgiven by yourself. We don’t want to forget to let go of feelings of guilt or inadequacy that we don’t need any more.
These first three are about incoming forgiveness; you are being forgiven by someone. Outgoing forgiveness can also be broken down into pretty much the same three categories:
4. The need to forgive others. Letting go of grudges. Letting little indiscretions be forgotten.
5. The need to forgive yourself. If you don’t forgive yourself, you’re still carrying around a lot of guilt, like an anchor around your neck.
6. The need to forgive God. There are a great many tragedies in life that have no good explanation. Guess who often gets blamed. People often point the finger at God for things that go wrong in their lives, or things that happen to them.
Of these six categories, this last one is the one we might tend to dwell on the least. Of course we need to ask God to forgive us. But when do we ever need to forgive God for something? We’ll look at that a little while later.
But first, let’s look at forgiving ourselves. Why did I count it as two categories, “The need to be forgiven by yourself” and “The need to forgive yourself”? The reason I counted them as separate categories is that the first three of these categories are passive, while the last three are active. You can tell by the verb tenses: “to be forgiven” as opposed to the other, “to forgive.”
If you actively forgive yourself for something, then one side of you can receive that forgiveness from the other side of you, and you can actually feel as if you have forgiven yourself, from both the giving and receiving side.
It’s a complex aspect of human nature, and not everyone will understand it right away. But if you’re the kind of person who carries on discussions, or even arguments, with yourself in your head, debating the pros and cons in the quiet of your own mind, then you might understand.
If the logical side of you and the emotional side of you are both feeding advice into your main decision-making computer, then you might understand.
Here’s an illustration: In the original Star Trek series, the writers knew what they were doing when they had Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy giving Captain Kirk advice from both the coldly logical side and the emotional, relational side. Captain Kirk could then make an informed decision after hearing from his two advisors, the logical one and the emotional one. It was a dramatic device they used so we could be privy to the thinking processes that made Captain Kirk such as great leader.
And so it is with us. There can be a battle between the two hemispheres of our brains. If either our logical side or our emotional side tells us that we’re no good, that we’re sinners, that we’re losers, that we can’t possibly be good enough for God, then we’re setting ourselves up for failure.
What if our logical thinking tells us that we have repented and we try to live by every word of God, but our emotional side is still nagging at us, maybe in the voice of a parent who said we would never amount to anything? We have a dissonance set up in our minds that can sabotage our effectiveness as a child of God, as a human being, as a husband or wife, as an employee, as a friend.
If we can come to the place where we can forgive ourselves, and unite both sides of our thinking into one big success pattern, then we can move forward as a unified whole, rather than stumble ahead with these mental and emotional contradictions holding us back.
Back to Star Trek. When Captain Kirk burst into the room, ready for action, he was usually flanked by Spock and McCoy. It was the three of them together who entered the room, fought the bad guys, had each other’s backs, and presented a unified front to defeat the bad guys. Of course, Spock and McCoy had their little spats and disagreements. Don’t you have little arguments inside your head? But the two of them were solidly behind Captain Kirk and supported him in what he was doing. They came in together, like the Three Horsemen of the Federation.
And that’s what I’m getting at when I say that we must first forgive ourselves, actively. Then we can relax into that feeling of being forgiven by ourselves. Then we can try to bring the various parts of our thinking, our minds, our emotions – our souls, if you will – into a unified whole that moves forward.
Let’s look at Philippians chapter 3. I’m not getting “new age” when I say these things. Paul gives us some helpful advice on getting past our unforgiveness toward ourselves.
Philippians 3:10-16 (NIV):
10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect …
No, we haven’t yet been made perfect. Remember, we’re not perfect; we’re just forgiven.
12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,
14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
I’m hoping that forgiveness is something we have already attained – especially forgiving ourselves for the dumb things we’ve done in our lives.
We have looked at forgiving ourselves. We also need to forgive other people.
Who do we need to forgive? Our spouses. Our children. Our parents. Other family members. Anyone who has wronged us. Anyone who has hurt us. Anyone who has hurt someone we care about. Anyone who has stolen from us, shot us, raped us, raped a family member, killed a family member. Anyone who has started us or a family member on addictive substances or addictive behavior. Anyone in government who sent our family members overseas to a battle zone and they came back in a body bag or a wheelchair.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines the word “forgive,” in part, as: “to grant pardon without harboring resentment.” 
In other words, let it go! Sometimes it’s hard to do that.
During WWII in France, a young French nun was returning to her convent from the market. A German soldier on a motorcycle saw her and pulled over. Although she thought he stopped to help her with her heavy basket of food, she soon found out otherwise. As he forced her into the woods, she screamed, but no one heard her. The trauma that occurred that day haunted her with nightmares for years, but gradually she began to heal.
Years later, she was chosen to host a meeting of German teachers as a gesture of post-war reconciliation. Among them was her aggressor. It all came back! The bitterness and the thoughts of revenge were unbearable, until she spent the night in prayer. Crying out to God, she eventually found the grace to serve them – all of them. She was finally free!
What is the moral to this story? Until we forgive, we are the prisoner of the person who has offended us. 
I mentioned earlier that, when we forgive ourselves, there is an inner peace and harmony that allows us to move forward as a complete person. We can have the same reward from forgiving others.
Forgiveness of others does not come easily for most of us. Our natural instinct is to recoil in self-protection when we've been injured. We don't naturally overflow with mercy, grace and forgiveness when we've been wronged.
Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian woman who survived a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust, said, "Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you." We will know the work of forgiveness is complete when we experience the freedom that comes as a result.
We are the ones who suffer most when we choose not to forgive. When we do forgive, the Lord sets our hearts free from the anger, bitterness, resentment, and hurt that previously imprisoned us.” 
The best reason to forgive is simply because Jesus commanded us to forgive. In Matthew chapter 6, in the Lord’s Prayer, we learn that if we don't forgive, then we won’t be forgiven:
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'
I used to think that verse 12, where it says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors,” meant that we were asking God to forgive us to the extent that we forgive others. If we forgive others 50%, God should forgive us 50%. And that provides the motivation to forgive people 100%, so God would forgive us 100%, and He would be forgiving us “as” we have forgiven others. But that doesn’t seem to be what it’s saying. Nowadays I take verse 12 to mean, “Since we have forgiven our debtors, please forgive us of our debts, too.” The next verses really say it plainly:
14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
In Mark 11:25, it looks rather absolute: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
It looks as if our forgiving someone else has a direct bearing on whether the Father will forgive our sins.
In Matthew chapter 5, even before the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus gives some good instruction.
23 "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,
24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.
I often wonder how many church denominations, how many congregations, how many individual Christians, need to look at this principle, and realize that, to Jesus, the relationship we have with each other, and healing broken relationships we have with each other, is more important to God than bringing an animal to sacrifice to ceremonially cover up our sins. To far too many people, the ritual of approaching God to ask for forgiveness is far easier than humbling ourselves and approaching each other to ask for forgiveness.
Jesus says to take care of our relationships with each other first. God will wait.
We teach our children to go to the bathroom “the right way.” We teach them not to even think about coming out and presenting themselves to us unless they have finished their business and cleaned themselves up properly.
I guess God’s the same way. He doesn’t want to see us if we have anything against a brother. It’s just about pointless to try to have a direct relationship with God, while we have a wall built up between us and another child of God, who is also trying to have a direct relationship with God, but hasn’t cleaned up their relationships with you!
In effect, Jesus is saying to us, at a spiritual level: “Go back into the bathroom, clean yourself up properly, put on your clothes, wash your hands, dry your hands, hang up the towel, zip your fly, then come out and present yourself to your Father.”
In Micah chapter 6, the prophet gives us an insight into what God is looking for when someone comes to worship Him.
6 With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
8 He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
What does it mean, “to love mercy”? I think a lot of it has to do with forbearing, forgiving, getting past petty disagreements. It’s more than imperiously declaring, “I forgive you.” It’s humbly approaching another and saying, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
Have you ever apologized to someone for something they did to you? You should try it. It’s actually fun. And it works! They did you some dirt, but you go to them and apologize. I think that might give us an inkling of what it means to love mercy and walk humbly.
I know, it isn’t fair – to our way of thinking. After all, is that acting justly, to take the hit for an injustice that somebody else did to you? But Paul wrote, in 1 Corinthians 6:7: “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
Paul suggests that it might be okay to let an injustice or two go by. He was after the Corinthians in this passage because they had the mentality of going to court with their disputes, rather than settling them among themselves, or taking it to other Christians to help decide, as Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 18.
Paul suggests that it might be okay to just let it go, rather than let animosities build up, and brothers take brothers before magistrates and judges to settle disputes according to man’s laws. There’s no faster way to be defeated than to go into man’s courtroom and let an unconverted judge render a decision based on man’s laws.
Forgiving and Forgetting
Let’s consider this issue: Is it possible – is it even appropriate – to forgive someone who hasn’t repented, who hasn’t come to you asking for forgiveness?
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I forgive people – without even telling them! And they have no idea that I have forgiven them! They sit over there, thinking they’ve done me some dirt, and they’ve ruined my day, and they have power over me because I can’t overcome the anger and hurt feelings. But I fool ‘em! I forgive them – and they don’t even know it! And I can go about my business without ever having to think that I’m the low-down snake they think I am. Nine times out of ten, I won’t even remember what it was all about anyway!
I guess that’s called forgiving and forgetting. I’m not saying I’m any great saint because I do that. It’s just that I have a really poor memory. I simply don’t remember what someone has done to me, so I don’t remember why I should be mad at them. Now, if I continue to hang out with them, and they continue to do things against me, I finally catch on that these are toxic people, and they might be better off if I let them live their lives over there, and I don’t maintain a relationship with them. Then I go about my daily life, and forget all about these people, because I have such a bad memory. And I’m at peace.
Is the other person at peace? Probably not. But I don’t care. I’m over here living my life, and they’re over there living theirs.
Now, let’s look at it from another angle. I say that I am blessed with a poor memory. I think one of the best helps in forgiving and forgetting is to have a bad memory. If I don’t remember, I don’t hang on to the grudge. Well then, I suppose the converse is also true: One of the greatest impediments to forgiving and forgetting is to have a really good memory. What do you do then?
One of the reasons we remember something unpleasant is that we tend to go over it in our minds, over and over again. The more we do that, the more the incident gets logged into permanent memory. Recent brain research has shown that, whenever we recall something, we might change the memory just a little. Then we remember it in its new version. The more we remember something, the greater the chance that we’ll be remembering it in a more altered form as time goes on.
It’s kind of like opening a computer file, reading it, and then when you go to save it, it gets corrupted, a little more each time. In this way, we might not have a correct memory of whatever incident might be in our past. Our memory of an event might not be correct in every detail. Every time we take out a treasured bad memory and play with it, when we go to put it away – well, we change it somehow, maybe making it worse than it was, maybe mixing up a few details, maybe remembering only the things we highlighted and underlined when we had the file open.
That’s one reason attorneys like to delay trials, to give witnesses a better chance to forget details over time about what they saw, or become less sure about what they saw, so they can be manipulated under cross-examination. So, if our memories aren’t all that precise, and God wants us to forgive and forget, then why should we hang on to these treasured memories of unpleasant things? We might be holding on to pain and hurt that drags us down. Meanwhile, the other person goes merrily along, totally oblivious to the pain and hurt you are suffering because of them.
Forgiveness: The Power that Heals
Some years ago during a visit to Yellowstone Park, one writer observed that the only animal that the grizzly bear would share his food with was a skunk. It wasn't that the grizzly wanted to share his food but rather that he chose to. With one swing of his powerful paw he could have crushed the skunk, but he knew the high cost of getting even. That was one clever bear! Undoubtedly he learned the hard way. Strange that we humans often aren't as smart.
Sometimes we carry grudges for years, often repressing them from conscious memory, and end up hurting ourselves more than the ones we would like to get even with. We fail to see how damaging an unforgiving spirit is. Physicians, scientists, and counselors talk about the damage we do to ourselves when we fail to forgive. Some medical doctors estimate that the majority of illnesses they treat are related to emotional problems, such as resentment, which is a lack of forgiveness. And counselors see the roots of bitterness reflected in depression, anxiety, and destroyed relationships.
I read about one report of an astonished patient who was told by his doctor: "If you don't cut out your resentments, I may have to cut out a part of your intestinal tract." Fortunately, the man took the doctor's advice. He had been nursing a bitter grudge against a former business partner. He went to see this man, resolved their differences, and forgave him. When he returned to the doctor, his physical condition had cleared up.
That advice isn't new, of course. Jesus pointed out 2,000 years ago the importance of forgiveness. When he encouraged us to "forgive seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22), he was thinking of our emotional and physical well-being as much as our spiritual well-being.
Dr. S. I. McMillen, in his book, None of These Diseases, reported that a forgiving spirit could save us from "ulcerative colitis, toxic goiters, high blood pressure, and scores of other diseases," including ulcers, asthma, arthritis, neuro-dermatitis, and heart ailments – all possible effects of resentment.
Some time ago, in an article in Time Magazine (the January 9, 1984 issue) inspired by Pope John Paul's forgiveness of his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, journalist Lance Morrow wrote: "The psychological case for forgiveness is overwhelmingly persuasive. Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business. Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another's control. If one does not forgive, then one is controlled by the other's initiatives and is locked into a sequence of act and response, of outrage and revenge, tit for tat, escalating always. The present is endlessly overwhelmed and devoured by the past." But to forgive is to be free from the past.
An unforgiving attitude is destructive to personal relationships. Many close relationships, including marriages, are destroyed not so much by what has been done but by what hasn't been done – forgiving one another. When we fail to forgive others, a wall of resentment builds up between us, and eventually we become estranged. But once we forgive, feelings of love can be restored – if that is appropriate.
I say "if that is appropriate" because there are times, such as in cases of abuse or a lack of repentance, when forgiveness should not lead to restoration of the relationship. However, forgiveness needs to be genuine, and not just a religious or sentimental act, not just because it’s "the right thing to do." If our forgiveness isn't genuine, resentment will poke its ugly head out at the most unexpected times.
Have you ever been in an argument, and someone starts dragging up events from the past that they still feel resentful about? Obviously, those things haven't been forgiven.
When the Other Person Doesn't Forgive
Forgiveness can be very difficult if we have been hurt deeply. But how do we forgive someone when he (or she) doesn't even feel he (or she) has wronged us? You’re hurt, and they aren’t even aware they said or did anything to hurt you. Has that ever happened to you? I’ve been on both sides of that one! How can the offended party forgive the other party?
According to some authors and specialists, we can't! Some of them feel that real forgiveness cannot take place without an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of the person who is chiefly responsible for causing pain. Maybe you feel this way. Well, if this was true, some of us are going to carry grudges for a long, long time. True, when a person acknowledges his wrongdoing, that certainly makes forgiveness easier. But when he (or she) doesn't, which is often the case, forgiveness becomes a choice. We can choose to forgive or not to forgive.
We need to realize, however, that forgiveness is essential to our own well-being. Our resentment toward the one who has wronged us can lead to all sorts of symptoms and syndromes. Ongoing resentment — the hurt and anger — leads to a lack of forgiveness. Therefore, to forgive genuinely, we need to face, and deal with, the hurt and anger. To resolve our hurt and anger, we need to be totally honest and admit exactly how we feel. Then we need to get these feelings off our chest, not by lashing out and hurting the other person, but by "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), or by writing out our feelings until they are lessened.
To forgive another, however, is not to ignore justice. Pope John Paul forgave his would-be-assassin, but the man stayed in prison, up until this month, as I understand it. I heard on the news that he is being released now. 
8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
If we don’t forgive others, why should we expect God to forgive us?
More About the Health Benefits
Forgiveness can be a challenge for several reasons. Sometimes forgiveness can be confused with condoning what someone has done to us: “That’s OK. Why not do it again?” Forgiveness can be difficult when the person who wronged us doesn’t seem to deserve our forgiveness. It’s hard to remember that forgiveness benefits the forgiver more than the one who is forgiven.
Ultimately, forgiveness is especially challenging because it’s hard to let go of what’s happened. However, it’s important to let go and forgive. Here are some reasons why:
Forgiveness is good for your heart – literally. One study from the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found forgiveness to be associated with lower heart rate and blood pressure, as well as stress relief. This can bring long-term health benefits for your heart and overall health.
A later study found forgiveness to be positively associated with several measures of health, including physical symptoms, medications used, sleep quality, and fatigue. It seems that the reduction in negativity, strengthened spirituality, conflict management, and stress relief that people find through forgiveness all have a significant impact on overall health.
A third study found that, first of all, forgiveness restores positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward the offending party, restoring the relationship to its previous positive state. Not only that, but the benefits of forgiveness spill over to positive behaviors toward others outside of the relationship. Forgiveness is associated with more volunteerism, donating to charity, and other altruistic behaviors. And the reverse of that is true with people who did not forgive.
So, forgiveness is good for your body, your relationships, and your place in the world.
That should be reason enough to convince virtually anyone to let go of anger and work on forgiveness. 
Bible Verses on God Forgiving Us
Acts 2:38: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
2 because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Psalm 103:12: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."
1 John 1:8 - 2:2:
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
God Forgives Us Even Though We Don't Deserve It
Do you ever wonder why we should forgive people who have not asked for forgiveness? Here’s why: Because God has set us the example, and Jesus followed that example:
Daniel 9:9: “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him.”
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left.
34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."
2 Corinthians 5:17: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new."
Hey, if you have something against a brother or a sister, or a cousin, or the guy down the street – who’s talking, the new creation or the old creation? If you’re the new creation, quit acting like the old creation. If you’re still the old creation, get new, man!
Hebrews 3:16: “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Bible Verses About Forgiving One Another
1 John 2:9-11:
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.
10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.
11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
Are you imprisoned in a dark dungeon you dug yourself? Remember what Corrie Ten Boom said: “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free, and to realize the prisoner was you."
Romans 14:4: “Who are you to judge someone else's servant? [The intent is: “Who are you to judge, to condemn, God’s servant?”] To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
How Do We Forgive? Some Steps You Can Take
It wouldn’t be right just to talk around the subject without getting in some practical advice on how to do this thing I am asking you to do.
How do you forgive someone? The quick answer is, “Hit your knees and give me ten!”
Ten what? I don’t know, ten pushups, ten commandments, ten minutes in prayer, ten people you should call up when you get home today, ten things that people have done that really irritate you, ten things you need to forgive me for.
Here are one author’s suggestions. What is Involved in Forgiveness? Forgiveness takes place in five basic steps:
1) Remember in detail what happened and how it made you feel. We already discussed how our memory can be faulty, so keep in mind that what we remember may not be exactly how it happened. But just remember in detail what happened and how it made you feel. We might get some details wrong, but in this particular set of steps, the author wants you to remember how the offense made you feel. You may or may not find this valid, but let’s play this out and see what this author suggests.
2) Understand the other person, hearing what they thought happened and how they felt as they experienced it. Did the other person feel as if they were right in what they did or said? If you can understand “where they’re coming from,” you might be able to see the other side of the issue. Walk a mile in their shoes. See it through their eyes. It’s not always easy to do that, but it can give you some valuable insight.
3) Identify the reasons that prevent you from reaching forgiveness. Is there a good reason to hold a grudge against someone? Is there any valid, legitimate reason not to forgive someone, after the scriptures we’ve seen? Can you list the reasons why this thing someone did to you is the unforgivable sin? What are the reasons that prevent you from forgiving?
4) Choose to accept responsibility for your life, and choose to release yourself from your expectations and from the reasons that keep you from forgiving. It’s not okay to harbor bitterness and resentment against another human being who may have done something rude or unkind to you. It’s understandable if you hold something against someone who really hurt you, or hurt or killed a family member. But really, does it do any good? Or does it do you some harm – physically, mentally, emotionally?
Can you do anything to undo the damage? Can you bring back the dead, or regenerate an arm that had to be amputated? I don’t think I can do that. So why not go on from here, accepting what happened as what happened, and that you are hurt, and that you have been limited in some way.
The present reality is the present reality. If you have to stay away from an abusive ex-spouse, by all means do so. There’s no need to put yourself into a dangerous situation.
But go on with your life. If you at all possibly can, let go of the hostility, the pain, the burden. The nice thing about having the Holy Spirit is that you can lay down your burdens at the foot of the cross. The one who hung on the cross said to take up his burden, because it’s light and easy.
5) Create a ritual act of release, of letting go and forgiving. As an example, shaking your hands, or writing out and then burning a list of what the other person did wrong. You could establish some little ritual, some thing you can do to release the tension, the anger, the hostility, the grudge.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is just to fall down on your knees. There’s a good ritual to help you to forgive. Remember the French nun and the German soldier? She prayed all night, not for God to clobber the German man, but for herself to be released. She prayed to be released from her feelings of hostility, from being a victim, from being a prisoner of the past. 
Then, after forgiveness comes reconciliation. It is the high point of moving toward healing. Reconciliation may or may not take place following forgiveness. But it’s always worth a try.
As I mentioned, these five steps were one author’s ideas. If you find value in them, great! Go ahead and use them. But from what I have found, and from what others have told me, we often can’t do this – can’t forgive – without God’s help. If the Father and Jesus are living in us through the Spirit, don’t you think the Spirit gives us the power to overcome sin, overcome human nature, and overcome the negative feelings from the past that haunt us?
Have you done what the French nun did? Have you spent the night in prayer to ask for the strength to forgive? Have you had your own Gethsemane, praying all night to see if God would lift a particular burden from you?
Why do we hold on to these feelings that tear us down? Perhaps you are holding onto a grudge, or a hostility, or a resentment that helps you to anchor yourself against the raging torrents of life, that gives you strength to fight off the world with your own strength and power? What strength and power? We have no strength and power on our own! Is that why you hang on to the pain? To give you anger? To give you strength? You don’t need to. Let it go!
Ask God to give you His strength! Then lean on Him for the power you need to forgive, and go on with your life.
I spoke earlier about the need to forgive God. Are you angry at God for some terrible thing that happened to you? So many of the things that have happened to us in life are the result of choices we have made – choices which have direct consequences. So maybe a lot of it is our own fault. What are we going to do – get mad at ourselves? People don’t usually like to do that, so we end up blaming someone else. Often, people tend to blame God. Maybe there’s no one else to blame, other than ourselves.
So God gets the blame. Fortunately, He has big shoulders. And a lot of patience. And a lot of love, and forgiveness. And tenderness, and mercy. And grace. And a lot of Holy Spirit He’d like to share with you.
Sometimes, there is no good reason when something terrible happens. There are times when bad things happen to good people. There’s a book by that name. Maybe there’s some good information in that book.
In this article we have looked at the subject of forgiveness. If you are one who has no problem in this area, and this doesn’t pertain to you, God’s blessings are on you. If, however, you may be one who needs some work in this area, I have given you good information, some concrete steps to take, and permission to do this. God’s blessings are on you if you do them.
In this article I have used useful material written by other authors. I must give credit where credit is due, as there is information here which has been culled from good writers with good things to say. My thanks to them for approaching this delicate and often painful topic.