I have never experienced so much freedom in my life as when I’ve chosen to walk in forgiveness. One time, I had a friend tell me that when he let go of his anger, it felt like the day he got saved. His heart became light again, because he no longer had to carry the burden of bitterness and rage. Forgiveness is powerful. It is a forceful weapon against an enemy who wants to destroy your life and make you miserable. Let’s talk about how to truly forgive and let go.
Do I Need to Forgive?
But just because his forgiveness is powerful does not mean that it’s easy. In fact, it can be one of the hardest things we ever do, because we often must forgive the people who caused us the most pain we’ve ever experienced. Forgiveness can feel like revisiting trauma, but with God, it does not have to stay there. God has a beautiful design for your life, and forgiveness is a central, underrated part of it. I’m here to explain how to forgive, step by step. Even though it isn’t always easy, it doesn’t have to be confusing.
Why is Forgiveness Confusing?
This four-step process changed my life. My heart had been ready to forgive for a long time, but I never really knew whether or not I had “achieved forgiveness.” I didn’t really know what forgiveness was and what it was not. I was confused because I continue to feel anger and hurt, even after I thought I had forgiven the person. This four-step process will assure you that you have done the work in your heart of forgiving, though it may be a process you revisit again and again.
Disclaimer: This process requires you to interact with the God who created you.
He made your heart, and he also made the heart of the person you are trying to forgive. Ultimately, justice rests in God’s hands, but he strongly desires to bring peace to your hurting heart. You will find joy in this process, because your relationship with your Creator will grow deeper as you realize how well he cares for your heart. Don’t forget that:
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”Psalm 34:18
How to Truly Forgive and Let Go
- The first step to forgiveness is acknowledging what the other person did wrong. Without naming these actions specifically, you will not understand the cause-and-effect relationship between the wrongdoing and your emotions. Some people may tend to be vague at this step of the process, but I encourage you to be as specific as possible. Write it down if you need to. Trying to forgive your boss for “making me feel stupid” is not as effective as forgiving them for “talking down to me and disrespecting my experience.” When you acknowledge specific wrongdoings, you also acknowledge how you deserve to be treated, and – this is important – you allow God to fill in the gaps where that person did not treat you rightly.
- The second step might be the easiest for most people. This is the step when you name the emotions that you felt as a result of that person’s actions. Again, be as specific as you possibly can. “Sad” is a big umbrella emotion, but under that umbrella are more helpful words like hopeless, betrayed, and disappointed. While I’m looking for words to describe my feelings, sometimes I need to do an Internet search for an emotions graph – yes, they exist! You might read through that graph and see the perfect word that matches how you’re feeling.
- After naming your unpleasant emotions – again, write them down if needed – it’s time to give those to the God who created your heart. He knows that your heart is hurting, and he is powerful enough and good enough to heal it. You don’t simply have to list your negative emotions and then continue to feel them! When you ask God to remove your bitterness, jealousy, or shame, ask him to replace those emotions with something. Perhaps you could ask for Joy instead of bitterness, or gratitude instead of jealousy. Perhaps you could ask for peace instead of anxiety and worry. You might want to simply listen to God instead, asking him what he wants to give you in return. Imagine God filling a hole that was created by the person you’re forgiving. One time, I was surprised to hear God tell me that he was giving me friendship as a replacement for my rage. Friendship is not really an emotion, but after hearing that, I kept my eyes open for ways that he was bringing friendship into my life. Sure enough, friendship healed my heart better than anything I would have asked for.
Finally, after listing the wrongdoing and your emotions, and asking God to heal your heart, it’s time to release that person from the wrong that they did to you.
- This is the part where you acknowledge that justice belongs to God, and that it is no longer your job to seek vengeance or to harbor resentment toward that person. At the end of the day, you simply don’t have the power to right the wrongs that that person did to you. It takes a lot more than what you or I have to offer. that’s actually why God sent his son, Jesus, to give his life for us. Only his perfect blood was enough to pay the price for wounds like that. When you release that person to God, you are asking God to not hold their sin against them anymore. Ask God to forgive that person, just as God has forgiven you. I would challenge you to go even further if you can – ask God to actually bless that person. This is a hard thing to do, but when you give up your bitterness, you’ll feel a weight come off your shoulders – it’s no longer your responsibility to make things right. (It never was, which is why this felt so heavy for so long.) Love will replace pain, no matter how impossible that seems.
The Power of Forgiveness
Now that I have given you my four step process for forgiving, you may think that everything will be solved once you go through these steps. this is only partly true. God will absolutely heal your heart, but he may take you on a journey to getting there. The reason why he might not immediately fully remove your painful emotions, like hatred and grief, is because he wants a relationship with you. If you allow him to take his time, like a gentle surgeon slowly repairing your heart, that process will become a story of how you grew closer to your Creator. If you trust him and continue coming to him when you feel hurt, he will continue to bring more healing each time, and you will come to know and trust him as the God who comforts you. This is what will ultimately give you freedom – confidence that the limitless Creator of everything loves you.
So yes, what they say is true – you will probably have to go through this four step process countless times with countless people. You might have to forgive the same person everyday for months. That’s what I’m doing right now. Jesus encouraged his disciples to forgive someone “seventy times seven” times. One of his disciples had asked, “How many times should I forgive? Seven times?” I guess seven was the maximum he could imagine! Jesus challenged him to multiply that number on itself. That’s because the more forgiveness we have, the more freedom we have.