How To Forgive
The other day I wrote a post on The Ten Tests of Forgiveness. A few people wrote me and expressed appreciation for the post, and it found it's way across the web. But I got a few comments and some emails asking how to forgive. Testing whether or not you have forgiven someone is one thing. But how do you forgive in the first place? So, here's another list of how to forgive:
- Command. I know it will surprise some of you that I've started with this one. I grew up with a very developed sense of responsibility. I'm a first-born, as well as strongly influenced by a fundamentalist evangelically conservative pentecostalism. So when my Father tells me to forgive or else I won't be forgiven, then I have no choice. I've taken a softer view of it since. I now understand that the command to forgive helps me to set myself in that direction. It inclines me to set my heart's default setting at "Forgive!" So as soon as I have been hurt, my obedient mind forgives and waits for my wounded heart to catch up knowing that my bruised body will drag itself along later.
- Desire. I remember once catching myself praying, "God, I can't forgive so-and-so, but I want to." Although I have never been in this situation, I have met people who refuse to forgive. They have no intention to, and they see no necessity in doing so. They will hold on to that offense forever. Without the intention, the action will never follow.
- Self-awareness. Once wisdom enables you to understand that you would have been capable of the same evil that has been inflicted upon you given the same circumstances the offender was given, forgiveness is the only option. This is the beginning of empathy.
- Apology. When the person apologizes for the pain they've caused you, it helps you to soften your heart towards him and let the offense go. Especially when you can hear in their apology that they are truly disturbed by their behavior and you also hear sincerity in their promise never to do it again.
- Restitution. I will have to admit to you that this doesn't happen very often. But once in a while the person who has hurt you will apologize, ask for your forgiveness, and make every possible restitution for the damage they've caused. I know one time when I was really hurt in a very serious way, and the ramifications of the offense included my whole family, an apology eventually came. But restitution for the abiding damage it caused would have helped reverse the effects of the offense and speed reconciliation's arrival.
- Faith. When Jesus taught about forgiving someone who has hurt you 7 times a day, the disciples said, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17) He said that having faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains into the sea. My personal take on that whole passage is that that it is not about performing physical miracles. Rather, it is about how faith creates new miraculous realities. The mountains represent offense. With a little faith‚Ä¶ faith in yourself, faith in the offender, faith in unity, faith in reconciliation, faith in relationships, faith in love‚Ä¶ with a little faith, habitual offenders can be forgiven, reconciliation can happen, relationships can be restored, and love can conquer all.
- Prayer. When something painful has been done to me by another, I often feel that it is beyond my power to release that person. Prayer, in all its forms, is an acknowledgment of my feelings of powerlessness, and that something that seems superhuman is being required of me. Like forgiveness. Prayer opens me up to a deeper potential.
- Revelation. I remember after having been seriously hurt by someone, I wondered how I would ever be able to forgive that person. One day I suddenly realized that this person was acting out of his own hurt. In fact, it was a hurt he probably thought I had inflicted on him. It was a flash of insight that I would call revelatory. Instantly, my heart changed towards him, and I knew I had forgiven him already.
- Dream. This has happened to me many times. I will have a dream in which the one who has offended me appears. We approach each other and embrace. When I awaken, all the negative emotions and feelings are gone. I find it very peculiar, but it works. It is like the dream is an actual act of forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Art. Sometimes a painting, a sculpture, a film, a song or a story will break my resistance to forgive. This has happened so many times for me. It usually catches me totally by surprise. I will be watching a movie, when all of a sudden the dam breaks and I will catch myself weeping. I will realize that it is my heart softening and allowing itself to forgive and love that person again.