You’ve been wronged. Badly. Someone stole a lot of money from you. Your spouse cheated on you. Someone told horrible lies about you. You were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused. You were purposefully passed over in a business deal. A loved one was killed.

There comes a time after every such horrible wrong where you must make a decision. And it’s yours alone to make. You have only two choices. Do you:

  • Remain hurt and miserable, or
  • Do the hard work of forgiveness.

Remember, it’s your choice. Before you quit reading, let me acknowledge the depths of your pain. I may not know exactly where you hurt: pain is a very private thing. But I can give you the respect you deserve and need. I only ask that you think about what I have to say.

Forgiveness sets you free. It does much more for the one doing the forgiving than the one needing to be forgiven.

Forgiveness is also one of the hardest things for most people to do. There’s a sweet misery in nursing your wounds. Having been hurt is a wonderful excuse for all kinds of bad behavior.

Forgiveness is a process much more than a one-time event. It’s been misunderstood and made light of far too much. Here’s what forgiveness is, what it is not, and how to do it.

Forgiveness is:

  • Difficult! If it was easy, it wouldn’t be true forgiveness.
  • A choice. Forgiveness begins with an act of your will.
  • A process. It never happens in a moment. Sometimes you may need to make the choice to forgive repeatedly.
  • Not dependent on the one needing to be forgiven. You can forgive and be free whether or not the other person acknowledges their wrongdoing, or receives your forgiveness.
  • Godly. You have been forgiven much. The forgiveness you offer is nothing more than God’s forgiveness passing through your soul.
  • Letting God deal with the consequences to the offender.

Forgiveness is NOT:

  • A feeling. A change in your emotional state will come with time, but you do not have to feel different to offer forgiveness.
  • Saying “It’s OK.” It’s NOT OK! That’s the very reason forgiveness is so necessary. There’s no way to make it OK. What forgiveness does is set you free from the pain of it not being OK.
  • Immediately remove the hurt. You can cry, bleed, and hurt for some time even after offering forgiveness.
  • Accepting pain again. The decision of whether and what kind of relationship to have with the offending person is separate from the decision to forgive. You can forgive and still protect yourself, if necessary, by remaining separate.

Just because you make the choice to forgive does not immediately make it so. It’s more individual than a simple list can fully explore.

But here are some important steps in the process:

  1. Acknowledge the hurt. Don’t sugar-coat how bad the wrong was to you and/or those you care about. Give yourself time to feel the pain.
  2. Express the hurt in some way. That may be in a journal or diary, or in a letter you never mail. It may be to a pastor, a counselor, or a trustworthy friend.
  3. Seek God’s perspective. God hurts when His children hurt. In making such a decision, it helped me to understand something of how deeply God felt my pain.
  4. Make the decision to forgive. Don’t wait for a feeling. Make the choice to let go of your right to exact revenge for the wrong done to you.
  5. Verbalize forgiveness in prayer. Pray something like this: “God, I let go of my right to get revenge on (name the person) for (name the wrong). I turn that over to you. I choose to allow Your forgiveness to work through me in letting this wrong go.”

If you can safely do so, you MAY choose to tell the one who wronged you that you are extending them forgiveness. That is a choice only you can make. But you can find the freedom of forgiveness whether or not you do so.

And finally, the process of forgiveness works at whatever time you make the decision. You may have been holding on to the hurt for many years, but you can still let it go.

I wish for you the freedom of forgiveness!

Your turn: What have you found helpful in the process of forgiveness? What benefits, if any, did you experience from forgiving? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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