How to Forgive and Really Mean It: Part I
Are you struggling with how to forgive someone who has hurt or offended you? If so, perhaps this article will help.
A Change In YouWe’ve all had that experience: someone asks us to forgive them for something. You know the script . . . you have to do it. So you say the right words, but you don’t really mean it. BUT . . . you really do want to mean it. So, how do we fix this?
It starts with where your heart was before the incident. (Your “heart,” despite all fuzzy ideas and misguided uses of the word, is that part of you with which you want — I call it your “wanter.”)
What is the state of your “wanter” if someone does something that is offensive, and you just simply forgive them as a reflex, without even thinking about it? What you want regarding them, their connection, their unity with you, their friendship, is more important to you than the loss. The loss is not worthless, but you want it less.
That’s a practical application of “Love covers a multitude of sins.” If you are harmoniously enjoying one another, you prefer to cover indiscretions rather than bring them up and ruin the bond between you (see 1 John 1:7).
This positive situation hints at the root of the problem. It points to the inverse: if someone does something for which you do not forgive them as a reflex, then you value the thing more than them, or your connection with them.
It isn’t that your priorities became off when they did this; they already were off. This leads you to a change of heart — that is, what is necessary to “really mean it” when you say you forgive someone: a change of heart, a change in what you think is valuable.
And that is the nature of repentance — wanting something better than you wanted before. I don’t think God’s making any apologies about the fact that you will probably need to do some hand-wringing in prayer before Him to get from wanting something inferior to seeing something better.
In your Christian walk, you can pretty much expect that there are going to be a good many of these. Why? Because between conversion and the second coming of Christ, a transformation is going on — a transformation in you.
A transformation? From what to what? Well, Romans 3:24-26 tells us that in God’s forgiving us is a demonstration, an open display of His righteousness:
“. . . being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time . . . .” — Romans 3:24-26, NASB
The Name of the Game
So forgiving is a display of righteousness. We tend to think of forgiving as neutral, getting back to square one, letting something go, a zero sum. That’s our second mistake, because to forgive is actually in the plus zone — it is altruism. I hope you find that to be incentivizing because we are called to increasingly grow in righteousness and altruism, including beneficence toward others.
But again, the positive points to the truth of the inverse: if you are not forgiving it’s because of a lack of righteousness and relational goodness. “There is something I am being alerted to that’s new, something relational, something that’s better than what I have been clinging to.”
You might say, “What? I am offended and I’m the one who needs to repent and change my heart?” Yep; that’s probably why God put it on your plate. He’s always about growth, always about transformation, gestating Sonship in you. That’s the name of the game in this Christian journey.
Christian Counseling for Learning How to Forgive
I’m hoping this article is helpful in defining the struggle well enough to win it. If you find yourself really stuck on how to forgive, really trying sort out things that complicate matters, perhaps a Christian counselor can be an objective listening ear — someone to help sort things out. If so, feel free to call my office or browse the online counselor directory above to set up an initial visit; we’d love to work with you.
In Part II of How To Forgive and Really Mean It, we will extend the root nature of true forgiveness to even greater depths of opportunity.
“Sitting on a dock,” courtesy of Susanne Nilsson, FCC (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Contemplation,” courtesy of Stefan Spassov, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Friday Morning,” courtesy of Jona Park, Flickr Creative Commons, CC by 2.0; “Shoreline Stroll,” courtesy of Steven Aguilar, unsplash.com, CC0 License