How To Forgive Someone Right Now
By Alice Clarke
My high school drama teacher started a class with a storytelling exercise. We were supposed to guess whether another person’s story was true or false. He began by telling us about his older brother.
They were both kids, playing in their garden together. My teacher’s older brother had hidden on top of their garden shed, and thrown a brick down onto his head as he ran past. Ow. My teacher painted a picture of the searing pain, the blood pouring from his head, and his anger at his older brother’s cruelty. “I’ve never forgiven my brother for it, and I never will,” he said as he finished the story.
He turned to the class and asked us whether we thought the story was real or a lie. I responded, “Well, he’s your brother. You must have forgiven him. You can’t not forgive your brother. So it can’t be true.”
I remember feeling awkward about that comment when I found out that the story was, in fact true. My 50-something drama teacher leaned back in his chair, seemingly content to never forgive his brother for something that must have happened 40 years before.
Maybe you have one of those stories, of people who hurt you a long time ago. Of pain that’s almost impossible to let go.
Maybe you don’t. Maybe you feel pretty ok with the people in your life.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you probably need to forgive someone. Right now.
Why do I need to forgive someone, you ask?
Jesus. There’s my classic Sunday school answer. In Matthew 6 Jesus taught us how to pray every day. He told us to say “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12 (NIV). Jesus knew that we need to forgive regularly.
It makes me think that either all of us humans are sensitive types that get hurt regularly, or we take a long time to process hurts and get over them. It’s probably a mixture of both.
To put it really simply: forgiveness is good for you.
We become followers of Jesus, in relationship with the Father and knowing the Holy Spirit, because of forgiveness. God has forgiven us so much. The salvation message a.k.a. Forgiveness message can be summed up in these two Bible verses:
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the son of his love, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Colossians 1:13-15 (NKJ)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
Injustice is really important to God. He’s totally pure.
Through Jesus, we have avoided judgement for our own unjust behaviour, and we’ve been given grace and mercy that we don’t deserve. John and Carol Arnott, founders of Catch The Fire, describe it as two different levels: one is grace and one is judgement.
When we were forgiven, we moved from the judgement level to the mercy and grace level.
Then in life, we experience pain and injustice, and terrible things happen to us. At this point we have a choice, to forgive or not to forgive. When we choose not to forgive, we go back into the judgement level: the place of revenge. We want justice for what other people have done.
But we reap what we sow. Jesus put it bluntly “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
The justice level is where the devil lives. “When we choose not to forgive, it gives room for the enemy to harass us and to have all the strongholds in our lives,” said David Bonnet, Pastor in the School of Ministry in Toronto.
The grace level is where Jesus is.
When we choose grace for others, we can receive God’s grace too.
John and Carol have written a book, Grace & Forgiveness, that explains forgiveness, judgement and mercy really well: "At all costs, then, we want to remain living in grace." (p33)
You might go so far as to say that forgiveness is a survival tactic.
In a study on forgiveness, Dr. Pietro Pietrini even suggested that forgiveness is an evolutionary development. The idea is that humans, throughout the centuries, have learned to forgive to survive, because you can’t trust or thrive in relationships without it. (The article this came from, The Science of Forgiveness, is a great read, by the way).
In my opinion, that doesn’t make much sense. To me, forgiveness seems totally counter-intuitive. I mean, why would you want to let someone off the hook if they actually ruined your entire life?
David Bonnet shared his own forgiveness story with me. David’s parents had split up, and his father had hurt him and the rest of the family in the process. “In 2004 I didn’t want to talk to him,” said David, “Forgiveness was definitely a process…The Holy Spirit led me at different times. I can think of specific moments where the Holy Spirit was really saying how much I was rejecting my dad or judging him or making inner vows. It was a long process from declaring that I forgave him to my heart feeling compassion for him.”
It took time, but after a while, David saw incredible changes in his relationship with his Dad, “He hugs all the time, and it’s nothing to do with the relationship that we had before. That whole process of forgiving and dealing with my heart responses helped the process of healing.” David has since seen his parent’s relationship restored.
It’s important to remember that forgiveness isn’t pretending that a person hasn’t hurt you.
In fact, it’s about realizing how hurt you actually were, but that you don’t want to keep hold of that hurt. The Arnotts describe unforgiveness as drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.
David talked about how he helps School of Ministry students through this process, “It’s nothing to do with the person who offended them, because the person is not even in the room, and the one being tormented is the student who is with me in that moment”
Forgiveness is definitely a process, and it’s not always super easy, but it’s pretty simple.
You might remember that Jesus told Peter to forgive 70x7 (which equals lots and lots of times). The reason is that we actually go through stages with forgiveness.
1.Choose with your will.
Say “I forgive…” even when you don’t feel it. Your words are powerful and they make a difference.
David told me the story of a student so steeped in pain and unforgiveness that she had changed her identity and rebelled against God. The day she chose to forgive, something was unlocked in her and she began a path to freedom, “The moment that she with her mouth said that she forgive didn’t mean that everything changed right away, but that opened the door for the Holy Spirit to come in her heart, because she was willing to forgive.”
2. Get real.
Have you ever tried to forgive but not found it’s made any difference at all? Perhaps you haven’t really got in touch with how you felt about it. The best thing is to be really open and raw with God. Trying to forgive at the same time as ignoring your pain is like taking a shower fully clothed. You’re covering stuff up and you don’t get properly clean!
If you find yourself trying to gloss things over or pretty things up in front of God and others, remember that the Bible tells us that Jesus comforts who mourn. When we’re real with our pain, we experience Him there and receive the grace to forgive.
3. Let it go.
Let it goooo *sings at full volume*
Once again, speak out forgiveness. It will help to picture the person in front of you: “I choose to forgive you, to give you the free gift of forgiveness.”
This is the point where you give the injustice back to God and trust Him to deal with it. Where you unhook yourself from the other person’s actions being your only ticket to freedom. (That feeling that if they only came to say sorry, or if they only got what they deserved, then I wouldn’t feel the pain).
Choosing to forgive is not the same as trusting a person. Forgiveness is a free gift, but trust must always be earned. The blessing stage isn’t about welcoming the person that hurt you back with open arms, but it's changing your thoughts toward them. It can take a while to get here. Maybe weeks or months of working through forgiveness. Ask God to bless them, that they would find freedom too. Take time to let the Holy Spirit lead you in how He wants to bless them.
So why not have a go? Take a few minutes and ask the Holy Spirit, who do I need to forgive today?