The misery of living with unforgiveness in your heart always lasts longer than the pain of the offence. Always! When you hold on to resentment, you open the door to depression and physical illness. Forgiving brings healing to your wounds and restores your joy. Here are two steps to help you forgive:
1) Remember that you have been unconditionally forgiven. Recall God’s grace towards you, and the price paid for your forgiveness. By refusing to show mercy, you’re like the man Jesus said was forgiven an enormous debt, yet was unwilling to forgive another man’s paltry indebtedness to him (see Matthew 18:23-34). The grace God has extended to you leaves you no grounds whatsoever to refuse the same grace to the one who hurt you.
2) Release the offender from the debt they owe you. You may be totally justified in saying, ‘They owe me for what they did!’ Your friends may agree. The law may agree, and you may be thinking that the only way your offender will ‘learn to do what’s right’ is if they’re made to pay for the wrong they did. But as long as you’re holding on to your ‘rights’, you’re chained to the past. It has you in its grip, and your future is being held hostage to the past’s control over you. Your offender’s sin against you was paid for by the same sacrificial love that cancelled your sin debt, so they have the same need and right to forgiveness that you have. And there is more; forgiveness is not just for their benefit, but for yours: ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (Luke 6:37 NIV).
Here are three more steps to forgiveness:
1) Accept people as they are and don’t try to change them. You say, ‘I’ll only forgive them if they change.’ That just keeps you tied to them, obsessing over what they did and demanding they act in ways that you approve of. Nothing makes people less willing to change than when you try to control them and demand that they meet your requirements. Changing people isn’t your job – it’s God’s job! Your job is to choose to forgive and leave the outcome in God’s hands. The formula for healing is simple: forgive, let go, and let God.
2) See your offender as God’s tool for your growth. It’s easier to forgive someone when you stop seeing them as Satan’s agent sent to destroy you, and begin seeing them as God’s instrument to develop you. The life of Joseph speaks to this principle. The path that led him from the pit to the palace was paved by injustice, disappointment, betrayal. But God used each painful circumstance to get him to his destiny. And God can do that for you.
3) Try reconciling with your offender. Reconciliation is God’s nature. ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son’ (Romans 5:10 KJV). And what God did for you, He wants you to do for whoever you are at odds with. Jesus made reconciliation a top priority by saying, ‘Leave your gift there before the altar…First be reconciled…then come and offer your gift’ (Matthew 5:24 NKJV). Yes, it will take selflessness and humility on your part, but the return is worth the investment!