If loving others can be really hard sometimes, forgiving those who hurt us deeply can seem almost impossible at times. Yet, forgiving others is not optional for Christians, and is perhaps the greatest expression of agape love we can show.
If you are struggling with your feelings toward a hard-to-forgive person, here are 10 points to consider that may help.
1. Forgiving others doesn’t mean that you are saying that what happened to you wasn’t terrible or wrong, or that you will enable their abusive behavior by not calling them to account. Rather, forgiveness means that you no longer want to stay stuck in your anger. You want to stop being fueled by harsh, resentful, or vengeful feelings. Holding on to your anger isn’t going to make things right; it’s only going to make you sick.
2. Forgiveness means that you stop hoping something bad will happen to “pay them back” or “to make them suffer” for what they did. Instead, you begin praying that God will work in their hearts and minds for good, remembering that “God’s kindness leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4) and that Jesus said, “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).
3. When you forgive others, you stop holding the offense against them. You decide that you are not going to demand that they “give” you something (an apology, repayment, suffering, or some other kind of “payment”) before you will treat them with agape love, as described in 1 Corinthians 13. Instead, you choose to be patient, kind, and unselfish; and you refuse to punish them by treating them rudely or vindictively, because you want to be a person of love, regardless of what they have done or have not done.
4. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean that you will put yourself in a position to be hurt by them again. You need to know whom you are dealing with and what to expect from this person, so that you can set boundaries for your own well-being and that of others who may depend on you for safety. Limit their power to hurt you by not expecting kindness, goodness, or fair treatment from those who cannot or don’t want to love you in return.
5. Forgiving others will set you free from being a prisoner to the past, if you begin to discipline your thinking:
• Stop ruminating over what has happened. It’s not helping you.
• Stop trying to make sense of senseless behavior. It’s not possible.
• Learn whatever you can from what happened, and then stop going over and over the failed or dysfunctional relational dynamic. Such internal churning will wear you down, and give you nothing in return.
• Maintain at least a neutral attitude toward the person who refuses to apologize, or is unwilling to seek healing in your relationship.
6. Remember, the future lies before you. Grieve what was lost or taken from you and accept that you do not have the power to change what has happened in the past. Then start looking forward.
7. Forgiveness, then, means moving on:
• Use your energy to focus on what brings you life and joy.
• Cultivate and enjoy your relationships with those who truly love you, enjoy your company, appreciate you, nourish and sustain you, and treat you well.
• Focus your attention on your calling and purpose in life to serve Christ with your unique set of gifts, abilities, resources, and opportunities.
8. Ask the Holy Spirit to release you from your attachment to your hurts and disappointments. Ask God to release the poison from your heart and mind. Seek freedom and healing so that you will not be so controlled by the actions of others, and so that you can focus your energy on developing truly loving relationships.
9. Pray for the ability to be compassionate and gracious toward them; and to genuinely desire good for their life. For those who offer a heartfelt apology, set them free by accepting their gesture.
10. Accept that no matter how hard or impossible it may be to “feel” forgiving toward someone, forgiveness is ultimately a matter of obedience to the Holy Spirit, who tells us to forgive others as we have been forgiven.
After the genocide, “Nehemiah” wanted to kill as many people as possible. After his parents were killed by workers on their farm, he sought to slake his thirst for revenge by joining the army.
One day the man who killed his father came to him asking for forgiveness. A revolver was holstered at his waist. This was his opportunity.
But he couldn’t do it. By this time, Nehemiah had become a Christian and left the army. He was teaching children and working as an evangelist.
When his elder brother heard that he passed up the chance to get revenge, he was livid. “Why didn’t you kill him?” he screamed. Jill and I asked him the same question.
His answer was simple, but sincere: “God has forgiven me for so much, how could I not forgive him?”
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 4:32-5:2, NIV)
The Point: Forgive those who have wronged you, rejected you, or let you down, for your sake as well as theirs. Imitate God’s love by forgiving others as you have been forgiven. Choose to act toward them in ways that fit with your faith and values, in obedience to the Spirit, regardless of how they may act toward you.
Prayer: “Loving God, thank you for the immensity of your patience, kindness, and generosity to me, in spite of my reluctance to repent at times and resistance to your call to love others as myself. Please set free from my anger, hurt, and desires for revenge. May your will truly be done in me and through me that I may rise above my own limitations to increasingly become a person of love, without exceptions.”