In the previous articles we have looked at what the Bible has to say about forgiveness. We have seen in Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 18 that there are three main elements to forgiveness. i) A decision to show mercy, ii) cancelling the debt that is owed by the other person because of their sin against us and iii) letting them go, letting them off the hook of our unforgiveness.
We have also seen that God commands us to forgive one another in the same way He has forgiven us in Christ, Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” But how does one go about forgiving that other person or those other people?
The suggestions that follow are useful for those who want to forgive. They have been taught to individuals, to small groups and also to larger groups. One such group in Florida some years ago numbered close to two hundred people who participated wonderfully. Many attendees shared later what a release they had experienced even in a large group setting.
We begin with one example of a woman who was taught these truths and who then acted on them.
A TRUE STORY. (Names have been changed to ensure privacy and confidentiality.)
Gloria had a problem relating to women. As an adult she still remembered her mother taking her and her young brother into the nearby township. But this wasn’t to be a shopping expedition. Her mother had gone into town to “drop off something”. What she dropped off were here two children Gloria and Stan. That day she walked out of their lives and left them confused and fearful in the street. She never came back.
Gloria had a dad who loved her and when his wife didn’t return he went looking for the children and found them huddled together in the street. He loved them and they knew it. Gloria’s first male authority figure in her life was someone she could love and trust. Women? Well they were difficult for her to trust as she grew up.
But not all male figures were like her father, she was later to discover. As a young woman she was gang or pack raped by a number of men. Later she married and her husband became abusive and twice tried to kill her. She escaped and was left to bring up her daughter alone.
A work accident almost paralysed her. Any sudden movement could have made her a paraplegic. Little hope was held for her that she would ever get any better. On top of all that were her emotions which had been affected by the rejection and abuse she had known. She was in a bad way physically and emotionally. She asked her doctor for help. He was Christian man and suggested that she attend the Healing Service in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney. She did and made an appointment to see Canon Jim Glennon in the Cathedral.
Gloria was shocked when after listening to her for some time, he said to her, “You need to forgive.” Eventually she attended an Inner healing and Wholeness weekend in Sydney where one of the topics discussed in detail was “How To Be Forgiven And How To Forgive.” Much healing took place as Gloria acted on the truths we have been discussing in this book.
Forgiveness brings healing. On that weekend Gloria experienced what her leading specialist in Sydney described as a miracle. Her neck which had been in a brace to stop the possibility of paralysis was totally healed. When I saw her a little later in the day with the neck brace off her neck and turning her head in every direction I was tempted to say “Please put it your brace back on until you see your doctor”. But it was obvious she had been deeply healed, physically and emotionally.
Her specialist when he sees her now visiting in hospital says, “How’s my miracle woman?” Gloria had become a different woman. She has what I call a “Ministry of Hugs” loving to hug anyone, male or female, who wants a hug. Her witness has touched the lives of hundreds of people since that weekend.
Forgiveness brings tremendous release as we forgive in the way God told us to do. There are millions of others in the world who can find the healing Gloria experienced as she forgave. Here are the things she acted on to receive that healing. Her story should encourage us to forgive those we need to forgive.
HOW TO REALLY FORGIVE OTHERS. WHAT IS INVOLVED?
This teaching is relevant for those who are at this stage, “I know I should forgive. I’ve decided that I will. But how do I go about it?” These are some suggested steps that one needs to take to really forgive those who brought hurt and pain into one’s life. In this section we are looking at how we can forgive those who brought personal harm into our lives by their words or actions against us personally as an individual.
In a later section we will look at the situations where someone has brought hurt and harm to one of our loved ones. But the points below will have some bearing on those situations as well.
1). RECOGNISE THEIR GUILT – THEIR SIN AGAINST US. FACE THE FACTS!
a). Do not excuse them. Call sin by its real name, “sin”. Humans can sin against other humans in many different ways and in varying degrees.
They can be “sins of commission” where someone commits an act that brings harm to another person in the form of assault or some sort of violence. Or the sin may have been in the form of words spoken that were meant to hurt. They may have been directed to the person directly or about the person behind their back. Sin can also take the form of adopting an attitude that leads to a hurtful action such as meeting a person’s eyes while walking on the street and deliberately crossing over to the other side of the street to avoid contact with them.
There are also “sins of omission”. These occur when people omit to do or to say what they should have done or said to another person. For example some adults may need to forgive their parents for their lack of care when they were young. Or for not showing affection to them or failing to praise them for their efforts. Even in secular work someone may need to forgive their employer for taking them for granted and for never affirming their work for the firm. The list of sins of this type is unending.
In the General Confession in the Morning and Evening Prayer services in the Anglican “Book of Common Prayer” people confessed their sins in terms of sins of commission and sins of omission, “ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us.”
In the General Confession in the Holy Communion service in the same Prayer Book is the recognition that sin can be in the form of thoughts, words and deeds. “ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed… “.
Jesus Himself taught that sin could be in the thought life as well as in speech or action.
• Regarding adultery He said, Mat 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
• Regarding anger He taught, Mat 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment… “.
Humans can be guilty of not loving as they should. The two Great Commandments Jesus taught His followers were that they should love God and love their neighbours as themselves, Mat 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
No one has ever perfectly loved God and that means they have broken the Greatest Commandment. Neither have they perfectly loved their neighbour and thus they have broken the second greatest commandment as well. In God’s sight all are sinners, as Paul writes in Rom 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
Sin in all its forms needs to be forgiven.
• Sin against God. Naturally every sin humans commit against God, in neglecting Him or rejecting Him or disobeying Him or failing to love Him, needs His forgiveness.
• Sin against fellow humans. Every sin a human commits against a fellow human also needs God’s forgiveness for it is a breach of love, and thus a breaking of the second Great Commandment He gave.
• The prodigal son had it right when repenting of his sins he declared to his father, Lk 15:21 “And the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” He recognised that in sinning against his father by not honouring him or loving him as he should have, he had sinned against God who had commanded that he had a duty to do so.
It means then that we have to recognise that any sin people commit against us (in their thoughts and attitudes, in their words and in their deeds) does matter. It matters to God. It needs His forgiveness.
He knows that sins in every form cause harm. Perpetrators need to be forgiven, and can be forgiven by God.
The victims whom they have hurt need forgiveness for their own sins but also need to forgive those who hurt them in order to receive more healing. That process of forgiveness begins by acknowledging that they were sinned against by those who hurt them in any way. They are identifying the people who sinned against them and acknowledging the sins that were committed against them.
So no excusing those who hurt us! They are guilty before God.
b). Why people seem to excuse the person who sinned against them.
I remember counselling one woman who shared that her father had molested her as a child over a period of years. Then she added, “But I know why he did it. My mother just couldn’t show any sort of affection to him nor to us as children. So he turned towards me for love and affection. I didn’t like what he did but I understand why he did it.”
She knew she been harmed by her father’s sin but she wasn’t in a situation where she could forgive him. (The reason is that you can’t forgive someone if you don’t see them as guilty).
Eventually I said, “So your father sinned against you as a child?” Her reply was immediate “No, I told you why he did it.” It seemed to be right in this case to push the issue a bit more so I repeated the question, “So your father sinned against you as a child?” Her reply was a little slower in coming, “No, I told you why he did it.” Then after a time of silence she said with a flood of tears, “Yes he did sin against me. I realise now that he did horrible things to me which really hurt me and have affected me ever since.”
Some time later she was in a position to forgive her father for all the damage he had caused in her life. But she had to come to the point of seeing her father as guilty of sinning against her before she could begin the process of forgiving him.
Why do people seem to want to excuse those who hurt them?
i. They want to keep some sort of relationship with them.
This may happen especially in family situations. If the victims were to make known the abuse, they realise there would be consequences. It would bring deep distress to the families. The victims don’t want to tear the family apart and so they live with their secrets. (NOTE: I am using the term “victim” to describe those who were indeed the victims of other people’s aggression or malice. But one has to be careful not to add to any “victim mentality” those who have suffered may already have adopted).
ii. They may be too afraid to reveal the sin.
If they made it known to the family or to some authority figure then there could be reprisals by the perpetrator who may still be seen as a risk. (In their thinking it would be better to steer clear of the perpetrator rather than bring about any dangerous confrontation.)
iii. They may be too embarrassed to reveal the sin against them.
Many sins committed against fellow humans are deeply personal, especially sexual sins. It would not be easy for someone who has known sexual abuse as a child to share those intimate details with other people, even with members of their own family. They may think such thoughts, “I have to live with my secret! Who would believe me?” Many studies have shown that child abuse normally comes from extended family members or from close friends of the victim’s family.
There is the additional difficulty in the minds of the victim of whether they would be believed if they were to share what they believed happened to them. One woman told me that she had some concerns about memories she had about her beloved Grandfather. The memories were of him sexually molesting her as a young child. She shared it with an older aunt who also expressed the same concerns about her own childhood. When they later convened a meeting of the aunts and granddaughters it turned out that they had all been abused except for the very youngest one.
The man was a highly respected businessman and a pillar of his church. When some of them confronted him he confessed it was true and begged for their forgiveness. The woman who shared the story with me felt initially embarrassed as she shared with her aunt but went through that barrier for the sake of the other female members in the family. It led to a lot of healing in the whole family and added protection for the great-grandchildren.
iv. They want to hold on to their self-respect by failing to admit to themselves that the person could have hurt them. (It is living in denial).
The reasoning in some people is like this, “Surely that person would not have done that to me! Surely I must have meant more to the person than that”. They may have suspicions about the behaviour of a person towards them but they balance that with “I can’t believe he could have done that to me. I’m his daughter. Fathers don’t do that sort of thing to their children. I must be wrong.”
v. A distorted view. “Could it have been an act of love to me?” (When “love” is seen as “paying some attention to me”.)
Many times have I come across situations like the following. A child is growing up in a dysfunctional family. Her parents give her no affection. She doesn’t see it modelled for her either because the parents don’t have it for each other. But her life changes when Uncle Bill comes along and asks whether she can go with him to the zoo.
Over the months further trips to the cinema and other exciting venues take place. He tells her she is so beautiful and she begins to feel loved and appreciated and special. At the same time he is becoming more personal and physically closer. She wonders whether what he has begun to do with her body is right. But she has no points of reference to go by. Her parents have given her no sex education or talked with her about morality. She thinks about the latest thing Uncle Bill did to her and questions in her mind, “Could what just happened to me been an act of love from Uncle Bill towards me?”
She realises much later that what Uncle Bill did was not an act of love but rather was a form of abuse. There are many people in our world who unfortunately equate “paying attention to me” with “love”.
vi. The attitude. “This relationship though painful is my security. If I let the sin go and forgive the person who hurt me, what have I got left?”
This can be the attitude of someone who has been in an abusive situation for many years. They can’t imagine what it would be like to be outside that situation. One example would be a woman in an abusive relationship in her marriage. Sometimes the husband is thoughtful and kind (in her estimation). At other times the marriage is sheer terror as under stress or under the influence of alcohol he becomes verbally and even physically abusive. Later he says regrets what he has done and promises life will be better in future. But it’s not long before the abuse returns. The cycle continues.
What can such a woman do? She can continue overlooking her husband’s faults and trying to make the best of a difficult situation. She may go on thinking, “I have coped thus far. Could I cope if I made known the sin against me, and there were consequences?” She may find it difficult to lose the little “security” she thinks she has in the relationship.
Or she could face reality and recognise her husband’s actions as abuse. If she does that she has a choice. She can decide to forgive her husband and then with help be able to decide the best course of action for all concerned.
2). DECIDE TO FORGIVE THE PERSON OF EVERYTHING AND TO RELEASE THE SIN
a). Not just the big things, but the little things as well.
All sin has a damaging effect on those who commit it and on those against whom it is committed. It is contrary to the way God wants the creatures of His world to act.
The effects of sin can be likened to concentric circles or ripples going out from the centre. It affects not only the person sinned against but through them many of their family and friends.
Sins don’t have to be “big” sins to cause damage. A careless word can bring hurt and harm. Matthew records Jesus as saying, Mat 12:36 “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” Carelessness is a breach of love. It is a breaking of the second of the two Great Commandments (and of the first commandment as well.)
Individuals then need to be willing to forgive what they consider to be the major sins committed against them. They also need to forgive the sins which may not always be in their memory but which nevertheless influenced them in harmful ways.
b). To forgive does not necessarily mean to forget what happened.
In a previous chapter we looked at the difficulty the words “Forgive and forget” pose for many people. They know they will never forget some of the things done or said to them, so they can’t “forgive and forget.” But they can forgive even though memories of sins committed against them will remain. So it is a help to assure people that they don’t have to wait until they feel they will be able to forget what happened to them before they begin to forgive the people involved.
c). To “not remember” means to try to not consciously bring the memory of their sin back against them again. God promises to “remember our sin no more” even though we know that He as the omniscient (all knowing) one He cannot forget anything. We are to forgive others in the same way God has forgiven us Eph 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” If He has chosen not to remember our sins against us, then we too need to determine not to bring back others’ sins against them, but having forgiven them, to let them go.
d). God can heal the memories.
We saw in a previous article that God is able to help us to forgive other people and to let go of the sins involved. The term “healing of the memories” does not mean that the memories are taken away, for some memories will remain with us. What it does mean is that having forgiven people, we can find that the power of those memories is lessened and so are the emotions associated with them.
It is a help for many people to encourage them to forgive, assuring them that they will in the future not feel the same emotions of pain or shame when the memories return from time to time.
e). God can set us free of bondage to those people, or to the places where hurt occurred.
“Will I ever be free from that person?” That is a remark often made by those who have been badly hurt by other people. It seems that the perpetrators are always “in their face” (as well as in their minds) even though the sin was committed perhaps decades before.
However forgiving others brings a real release that has to be experienced to be believed. Two of the words for “forgive”, (apoluō to loose) and (aphiemi to let go, remit) have that sense of letting go and being freed oneself in the process of forgiving.
People can be in bondage to places as a result of being sinned against in those places. In many cases it is a family home where abuse took place that becomes a fearful place as the child grows older. In one situation I encountered an adult woman could not drive past the family home when she later married and moved to another suburb. In fact so deep was the pain associated with that home because of the abuse suffered there, that she could not drive anywhere near that suburb. As she learned to forgive those responsible for a lack of protection when she was a child and for the abuse, she found she could now drive into the suburb and later stop outside the home and reflect on the healing God had given her.
3). VERBALISE TO GOD, OUR FORGIVENESS TOWARDS THEM
It is not enough to think that forgiving others is a good thing to do. Nor is it enough to think one should do it in obedience to Jesus’ command. We actually need to DO it. Here are some suggestions.
a). We need to verbalise, to speak out our forgiveness before God. Words are powerful. Having decided to forgive someone we need to speak out our forgiveness of that person before God. (In the next chapter will be more detailed suggestions). But it can be as simple as saying before God, “Lord I choose to forgive so and so for all the hurt they brought into my life.” There may be a need later on to be more specific in forgiving individual sins but a blanket cover is a helpful way to begin.
It is amazing what a difference it makes to people when they actually get around to verbalising their forgiveness. I have often seen people change before my eyes as they spoke out their forgiveness for the first time. Not only was there great emotional release but there was a marked change in body language as so much stress was released. There is always freedom in doing what God wants us to do.
b). We need to keep affirming that forgiveness, when the person or the situation hasn’t changed.
It is a wonderful thing when people come and ask us to forgive them for all the hurt they brought into our lives. Even though we pray that it will happen there is no guarantee that those who wounded us will ever ask for our forgiveness. Humans have freewill and can choose to harden their hearts and to fail to repent of the damage they have caused to others. Some people may never ask us to forgive them.
The good news is that our freedom does not depend on whether they ask for our forgiveness. We can forgive them in spite of their unwillingness to change. A situation may not change but we can change within the situation. A young Christian secretary came to see me stating that her boss was sometimes rude and unappreciative of her work. She had retaliated by not making him coffee as she used to do but said that she felt childish in doing so. When we discussed the question, “Whose problem is it?” she recognised that her boss had a problem. But she also admitted that she had created a problem for herself in adopting the attitude she had taken to her boss.
She learned to forgive her boss and when I saw her weeks later she said that the work situation had not changed (her boss was still rude) but she had changed and was again making her boss his coffee and trying to be like Christ to him. She dealt with the problem that was in her power to control (her own attitude) and through forgiveness was released to be the best she could be for her boss, whether he appreciated her as much as he should have or not. Months later she reported that the situation was now changing at work with her boss becoming more thoughtful towards her and sometimes expressing appreciation of her work.
4). ASK GOD TO FORGIVE THEM AND TO BLESS THEM
We saw above that when people sin against one another they are also sinning against God. Our forgiveness of others should also be accompanied by Christian love (agapē) in seeking the best interests of that person. That means praying that they will come to know God and claim His forgiveness for their sins.
It is often a help when an individual declares they are ready to forgive the person who hurt them to see whether they are willing to pray a blessing on that person as well. It can be a test as to their sincerity.
a). We should ask God to forgive them if we are to follow the example of Jesus as He prayed for His tormentors in Luke 23:34. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” and later of Stephen as he was being stoned to death, Acts 7:60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
We also need to bless them. However we do need to look at the blessing we want God to bestow on them in answer to our prayers. It is not asking that they would be blessed with prosperity. Nor is it praying that they would enjoy abundant health. Nor is it asking that they would rise to positions of power. None of these in themselves would necessarily prove to be a blessing to them.
Rather the blessing we ask God to bestow on them is the blessing of finding peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is the blessing of coming to know His will for them so that by the power of the Spirit of God they can become all God wants them to be. It is the blessing of entering into the centre of God’s will for them so that they play their part in God’s purposes for His world.
If we don’t want God to bless them in this way then we need to examine our hearts to see whether we really want to forgive them or not.
b). Those who have hurt us have made themselves our enemies. What should our attitude to them be according to Jesus? He taught in Mat 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” We are to love them as I said before, in seeking their best interests, and we are also to pray for them even though they might not have changed.
c). Our prayer that God will forgive them doesn’t automatically mean that they are forgiven. They still have to turn to God in repentance and faith personally, to receive God’s forgiveness. What it does mean though is that our attitude to them isn’t a barrier to their salvation. Rather as we learn to forgive and to bless we give a glimpse to them of God’s forgiving love. They have seen the reality of grace at work in us and may become more open to hear of God’s amazing love towards people like themselves. Our prayers for them may enable kingdom power to work in their situation, to provide an opportunity for them to respond to the Lord.
5). ASK GOD TO FORGIVE ME OF ANY PART I PLAYED IN CONTRIBUTING TO THE SIN AGAINST ME
It is so easy to blame others. It is endemic to the human race having begun with Adam and Eve in the Garden as they projected their guilt onto others. We can all too easily do the same. Those who brought us pain are guilty before God but did we in some way help to bring their anger upon us? We need to be open with God and ask the following questions.
a). We need to ask God to show us if we may have contributed to our hurt in any way. Did we do it deliberately, in which case we are guilty before God and need to repent. Did we do it unconsciously perhaps through what we now see as insensitivity or through inappropriate speech or actions?
b). We need to ask God to forgive us of any guilt for our contribution. We may also need to ask His forgiveness for holding any resentment, bitterness or unforgiveness towards those we need to forgive.
However if we believe that we had no part to play in the hurt that came upon us then we need to reject any guilt others try to impose on us. It is well known that perpetrators try to make their victims feel guilty as a means of diverting the blame that would be directed towards them. Some of them have been so successful in this that they have managed to persuade the victim that it was all their fault using remarks such as, “If you hadn’t dressed that way!” “If you hadn’t led me on!” and so on.
One woman who was burdened by her past shared her life story with me. She felt guilty about a particular incident in a relationship in the past. It was obvious she was blaming herself for what happened in the relationship. The more I heard, the more it seemed to me that she had no reason to feel guilty for what had happened. Eventually I said to her, “It wasn’t your fault!” She was shocked to hear me say it. But she began to realise that indeed it was NOT her fault but she had been made to feel guilty by the other person involved.
She later told me, “When you said those words to me it was as though you slapped me across the face and I suddenly woke up. Of course it wasn’t my fault.” She had learned to recognise and to reject false guilt. There must be millions of Christians around the world who are carrying false guilt and not growing spiritually as a result.
6). ASK GOD TO HEAL ME OF THE DAMAGE DONE TO ME
Having gone through the forgiving process it is helpful for us to think about what effects the sin of that person had on us. It is necessary to do so.
a). All sin has an effect. We need healing of the damage caused to us through attitudes adopted to us, through words that were hurtful or unhelpful and through actions that caused us harm.
In counselling, one sees how words spoken decades ago still have power over those who heard them. It may have been a short phrase uttered on one occasion but it is still strongly present in the memory of the person. “You’re ugly!” “You’re unlovable!” “You’ll never make good!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re useless, you can never get anything right!” are some of the words people remember hearing when they were younger and they were affected by them. But wonderful healing can take place as the people forgive those who spoke them and as prayer is made breaking the power of those words in the minds of those who were affected by them.
b). God knows exactly the extent of the damage and how it can be healed. It has been amazing over the years to see how believers can know a greater release and healing. One of the passages of scripture which I have found has been used by God to bring people into a greater freedom is from David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
God is the omniscient One who knows everything about us from before our birth to eternity. He knows every thing that has ever been said to us or happened to us. He knows whether our responses to what was said or to what happened were healthy or unhealthy.
In verse 23 David asks that God might search him and know his heart and his mind, that is, his thoughts (often translated “anxious thoughts”).
The word for “search” can mean to search and to make known the result of the search. David wanted God to show him if he was carrying unnecessary anxiety. He also wanted God to show him if there was any grievous way in him (also translated “any path in me that brings You grief”). It could refer to any wickedness in David that should not have been there or it could also mean that God could be grieved because of David’s unwillingness to draw fully upon God’s grace, wisdom and strength. If it is possible for believers to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”) by words and actions unbecoming to new creatures in Christ, then He would be grieved by the same thing in His people today.
David wanted to be all God wanted Him to be and he was willing for God to search him and to show him how He saw him. He can show us what we need to know about ourselves as we pray such a prayer and allow Him to speak to us through His word. We may find that the things of the past had more of a detrimental effect on us than we ever realised. We can also ask Him to bring healing to any part of our lives that He knows needs healing.
7). AFFIRM THAT I AM BEING HEALED IN ANSWER TO PRAYER
If we believe the promises of God in His word then we should be able to thank Him by faith for answers to the prayers that we have prayed for our healing.
We can so easily focus on the hurt and pain others brought into our lives and even see ourselves as “victims” who have been hurt by hurtful people. Or having forgiven those people and prayed a blessing on them, we can believe that God hears our prayers to be healed from all the things of the past (which only He knows).
Instead of focussing on the hurts of the past we can focus on the Lord and on the progressive healing that He is bringing into our lives. That is helped as we affirm the healing that He is bringing, even though we may not see the healing clearly ourselves. One of the blessing of being involved in ministry in one place for a longer period of time is seeing people becoming progressively more healed as they become more open to God and His scrutiny. They may not see it in themselves but others notice the changes in them.
8). PRAY, “LORD, WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?”
Having gone through all those steps above in forgiving other people what else might need to be done? Here are some questions that might need to be faced. We need to pray for God’s wisdom as we make the decisions as to what to do in particular cases.
a). Should I make contact with the people I have forgiven? Would it be wise or unwise?
In many cases it would be very unwise to make contact with those who formerly abused us, especially if we know they have not changed. Renewed personal contact might lead to more of the abuse occurring again.
However it may be different with other people whose sin against us was less gross. For example it may be a family member who gave us a bad time in the past and we have not made contact in years. If one feels that it would be beneficial to all concerned to try to bring about some form of reconciliation then one could make some effort in that regard.
Having prayed for wisdom and feeling that it would be wise to reach out to that person, there are other questions to consider.
b). How will I make contact with that person? What sort of contact should I make? When should I do it? These are important questions to consider. In some cases it might not be wise to personally visit the person unannounced. So the first contact could be in a less personal manner such as by sending a letter or an e-mail or by a phone call to gauge whether the other person is interested in meeting with us. If he or she is open to a meeting then an appropriate venue needs to be suggested such as in a public place.
c). What should my attitude be if I approach them? In general, an attitude of humility. It may be true that you see yourself as the innocent party who was sinned against by that other person. However it does not help the situation by saying something like, “You once hurt me terribly but I’ve decided to forgive you! Could we meet together?”
In one seminar I suggested that in such family situations one can have an approach like this. One could phone or write and to say something like, “I’m sorry we are not closer friends but I would love to be. If there is anything that I’ve ever done which hurt you would you please forgive me?” I suggested that there could be a couple of responses to such a request. The other person might say, “Look I want nothing to do with you so I’m not interested in meeting up with you!” They might even add, “I hope you rot in hell!”
On the other hand they might say, “Yes you did hurt me back then but I have often thought of how mean I was to you and I must have hurt you a whole lot more than you hurt me. I really am sorry about that. I’d love to get together with you.”
Just a few weeks later a woman who had attended that seminar rang me to tell me the following story. She said, “I have a sister who lives on the other side of Sydney but we hadn’t spoken together for fifteen years. She really hurt me back then and I wasn’t going to let her hurt me again in that way. I ceased to have contact with her. But a few days after the seminar it was Good Friday, the day that reminds us of the death Jesus died to bring about reconciliation. So I thought I should try to make contact with her. I rang her and said, “Sis, I’m really sorry that we haven’t spoken for all these years and I’m sad about that. If I ever did anything to hurt you would you please forgive me?”
She said her sister replied using almost the same words I had painted in my scenario at the seminar. Her sister said, “You certainly did hurt me back then but I’ve often thought that the harm you caused me was nothing in comparison with the hurt I must have brought into your life. Would you please forgive me?” (It was as though she was reading the script of the talk at the seminar which of course she knew nothing about.) The conversation continued with the first woman saying, “Of course I forgive you but I’d love to meet up with you soon.” She was amazed and overjoyed when her sister said, “I’ll be there in an hour” and she was. On Good Friday a wonderful reconciliation took place as two sisters who had been at odds with each other forgave each other and vowed to let nothing come between them again. A humble attitude opens doors. An arrogant attitude means they remain closed.
A Principle to keep in mind:-
I close with a principle that is my way of summing up what is involved in forgiving others.
The principle is this. “It only needs one to dance, but two to tango”.
When I have asked attendees at our seminars what this principle means I have been amazed that people grasp it so quickly and how it helps those who come to understand its meaning.
“It only needs one to dance” is a way of saying that it only needs one person in a relationship to forgive for that person to be able to dance in the freedom of their forgiveness (the freedom of being forgiven by God and the freedom that comes in forgiving others). There is always freedom in doing what God wants us to do.
“But it takes two to tango” is another way of saying that it takes two people to bring about a reconciliation between them. One person may long for a reconciliation but the other is not interested. So reconciliation cannot take place in such an instance. But the important and liberating thing to realise is this, that when one has done what God has commanded us to do, forgiving another person in the same way He forgave us, we are personally liberated. We can “dance” in our freedom whether the other person wants reconciliation or not. Our freedom does not depend on a reconciliation taking place. It depends on whether we obey what God has commanded in His word about forgiving others.
It has been a joy to see people come to understand this. I have often heard Christians bewailing the fact that a family member or a friend refuses to ask their forgiveness or to forgive them. They see it as a loose end that doesn’t look as though it will ever be made right. But when they understand that all they have to do is to do what God wants them to do, forgive, then they are free. They might be sad that the other person is closed to any closer contact but they can dance in the freedom of their forgiveness without feeling guilty. As they do so they can keep praying that God will touch the lives of those family members or friends who want nothing to do with them.
In a final article we will look at how to forgive other people and know that we have done so.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:-
1). Are there people you need to forgive but you find it hard to blame them for what they did to you? How can you overcome that attitude?
2). Do you think you have to wait until you feel loving towards someone before you can forgive them? When is the best time to start the process of forgiving those who sinned against you?
3). God commands us to love our enemies. How can we love those who brought hurt and pain into our lives?
4). What would you say to someone who thinks that to forgive someone of their sin is really condoning what they did?
5). On a personal note, are you living with regret that someone has never asked you to forgive them? If so what can you do about it?
Blog No.217. Jim Holbeck. Posted Monday 1st May 2017