The Discipline of Forgiveness
To have the warmth of the sun touch your cheeks and feel it all the way down to your toes. To laugh so hard your stomach aches and you nearly wet your pants. To wake up in the morning and no longer feel a weight pressing in on your chest.
We want to experience these things again, but healing is never complete without forgiveness.
One difficulty about forgiveness when the church hurts us is we feel we do not need to forgive. We admit we were affected by the situation maybe felt angry at the time, frustrated and even confused; but we believe we have moved on not realizing a tiny seed of bitterness against the church was planted.
Signs that forgiveness is needed:
- Am I happily plugged into a church freely serving and worshiping?
- Am I able to trust the leadership of the church of which I am involved?
- Am I able to run into anyone of the people who hurt me without negative inner feelings emerging like dread or anger?
- Am I able to be in a room with anyone of the people who have hurt me and interact with kindness to them?
If you answered no to any of the above questions, then I challenge you to set some time alone with God and ask Him to show you where forgiveness may still need to be granted.
Another difficulty is, where do we start? When we are hurt by the church, there are so many to forgive! Do we forgive the pastor? Elders/deacons? Staff? Small group? Ministry team? The people who left? The people who stayed? Every church that ever existed?
God has created us with a purpose and the lack of forgiveness will diminish our effectiveness. I offer four practices that have helped me with the discipline of forgiveness.
1) Identify Your Emotions
Stay with me. Unchecked emotions work against us. A counselor friend set me on the practice of identifying my emotions with the intent of Jesus healing them.
Consider it a warm up exercise before we use our forgiveness muscles. Printing off a feeling wheel from the internet can be super helpful. When the obvious signs of an inner struggle are present, set aside time to be alone with God:
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help identify what your true feelings are towards the person/situation and the reasons that evoked those feelings. Writing them down is helpful.
- Invite Jesus into the reasons that caused the hurt. What would He say to you?
- Ask God to heal any emotions that have been damaged and are spiraling out of control.
Identifying emotions, allowing Christ to address the source of the emotions, and asking Him to heal any damaged emotions that are out of control neutralizes the enemy’s influence over the situation. Addressing our emotions creates a clean platform to focus on forgiveness.
2) Forgive Again and Again….
According to Jesus, 77 is a starting point for the amount of times we need to forgive. Various triggers can bring a past situation suddenly to the present freshly stirring up the pain, add on our need to hold on to the hurt and the idea of forgiving multiple times should not surprise us.
Treat the need for forgiveness like a nasty virus attacking the soul. Every time we forgive we are fighting off the virus. Every time we ignore forgiveness the virus mutates into cancer cells designed to smother our soul. Forgiveness is a discipline an ongoing process until peace is restored to the soul and hopefully restoration to the broken relationship. Forgive and then forgive again.
3) The Unsent Letter
When a face to face is not plausible consider writing a letter you will never send, another technique used by counselors.
Prayerfully and thoughtfully, write down:
- Everything you have longed to say to the person(s).
- Add positives things you appreciated about them.
- Include the details of why you are forgiving coupled with how it made you feel.
- Conclude with a statement of commitment to not hold the matter against them anymore.
- Read the letter to a trusted friend or out loud to a very large pillow. Whatever works, I have done both.
- Destroy the letter which symbolizes the grip the person/situation had on you has been released and their fate is in God’ hands.
The unsent letter can be a forgiveness tool that unlocks peace and freedom.
4) Choose to Forgive
I often revisit Step 3 from Neil T. Anderson’s Steps to Freedom in Christ. I highly recommend going through all the steps, but Step 3 is Bitterness vs. Forgiveness. The Step ends with a prayer similar to the one below.
For every painful memory, hurt, painful situation or person, pray:
Jesus, I choose to forgive
_____________________(situation/person/name of the church) for ___________________________ (what they did or failed to do), which made me feel _______________________ (identify the painful emotions).
The method we use to forgive is not as important as the choice to forgive.
As you practice the discipline of forgiveness, may the Lord bless you with His presence like the warmth of the sun flowing from the tip of your head to the tips of your toes, may He return to you the gift of laughter and may He greet you every morning with a peace that passes all understanding.
(What does the Bible say? Psalm 103; Matthew 6:12, 14-15, 18:21-22; Colossians 3:12-14)
(For further growth on the discipline of forgiveness, watch/listen to the sermon series Grace is > by Dr. Nic Williams.)
Thank you for reading my blog. I have also written a Bible study for women, Image Wearers to Image Bearers. Gather a couple of your friends together and join me in learning the truth of what God’s Word has to say about who you are and who you are meant to be!