By: Mac Owen
Mac Owen is Celebrate Recovery’s national director and lives miles off the beaten path near Divide, Colorado with his wife Mary and his very large and manly standard poodle, Monroe. Mac and Mary have devoted their lives to helping people recover from hurts, habits, and hang-ups that threaten to destroy their relationship with God and others.
There is a Chinese proverb that says if you’re going to pursue revenge instead of forgiveness, you’d better dig two graves, which says to me that our resentments and unforgiveness will destroy us.
I have never met a Christian who did not struggle with forgiveness at some time in their life. I believe God has a plan for us to follow to receive the freedom that can only be had by practicing forgiveness in our lives and become a person who lives a life of deliberate forgiveness.
Which leads me to this question: What are some steps I need to take to start the forgiveness process and then keep it going? In fact, how can I keep my list of people to forgive short or even nonexistent?
Step 1: Pray For The Willingness To Forgive
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV: 2 Peter 3: 9)
God wants everyone to come to repentance. In becoming more like Jesus, the first step is to pray that I will have the desire for others to repent, because I’ll be honest, sometimes I want them to get what’s coming to them. It’s almost like I feel that I am so deserving of God’s forgiveness but not them.
So when people hurt me, the first thing I do is pray for the willingness to become like Jesus and forgive them as He has forgiven me. Why? Because when I become willing to forgive, this opens the door for others to repent. I become part of God’s plan, following His lead.
Becoming willing to forgive even when others don’t deserve it helps me to take a giant step toward becoming more Christ-like. Forgiving others who have wronged me, whether for a relatively small thing or a giant, incredibly destructive act against me, can sometimes seem like an insurmountable step to take.
In some cases, the process takes more time. At the same time, the Bible is crystal clear on the necessity of forgiveness. And there are no caveats like (and you can fill in the blanks):
I’ll forgive them when …
I’ll forgive them unless …
I’ll forgive them if …
I’ll forgive them, but …
Remember, as in all things, I need to look at Jesus as my example and remember what He has forgiven me of. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, waiting for me to come to the end of myself and say, “Jesus, I trust you, please forgive me.”
That one step on my part opens the door for us to experience the total and instant forgiveness from God and the chance for me to repent.
Wouldn’t I want to open that door for others?
In my desire to follow Jesus, I look to His example on how to forgive. I find what He did as He was about to take on forgiveness on a global scale very interesting. When in the garden, before His voluntary surrender, He prayed this prayer: “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.” Afterward, an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. (Luke 22: 42-43 NLT) Jesus didn’t choose to “man up” and say, “I got this!” No, He first asked His Father for help. Then He received comfort from an angel.
Step 2: Don’t Go It Alone!
While following Jesus’ example, don’t do it alone. Ask for help. Ask the Father for help. He is faithful. Then ask others who mentor you or hold you accountable for help.
I’ll never forget when our son was about to get married, and my father told him that he would not be attending the wedding because there were things in the service that he would disagree with.
I couldn’t believe it. I do things all the time for our family, even though I can’t entirely agree with everything they do. I choose to support them because they are family.
I decided to go to my father and explain to him why he needed to attend the wedding. Unfortunately, I left the meeting frustrated and angry because my father adamantly told me there was nothing I could say to change his mind.
Fortunately, I had a great mentor in my life. I left the meeting with my father and immediately went to my mentor. Through tears, I shared with him how painful the decision my father made was to me. What my mentor did next would stick with me all these years later. He sat with me in silence with his hand on my shoulder, and let me pour out the hurt I felt. He gave me comfort just by being there and sharing in the pain that I was going through.
Like Jesus, we must ask for help in forgiving, and then we receive comfort for our hurts from others. Remember, please don’t do it alone.
Another thought, according to Jesus’ statement on the cross, is that He understood that the soldiers, and even the religious leaders of the time, did not know what they were doing. Just like Jesus, after my mentor had given me comfort, he explained that he believed my father was not trying to hurt me purposely. He felt my father’s convictions, however skewed I thought they might be, were because he thought he was doing what was best.
After getting my feelings out, he pointed out to me that the only one who was going to be hurt by me holding on to unforgiveness was me. So, in no uncertain terms, my mentor said, “Forgive your father. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
My father really couldn’t see how this would hurt my family and me. He grew up in a dysfunctional home, and he was doing the best he could do with the information he had. It wasn’t worth holding on to this. Instead, I could be the best example for my family by forgiving my father.
This is when Step 3 came into play, after completing the first two steps:
Step 3: I Found the Strength to Forgive
I forgave the one who was hurting me, and this was the process for me:
1. I prayed for the willingness to forgive.
2. I asked for help and received comfort from my mentor and came to an understanding of the truth.
3. I found the strength to forgive.
Receiving comfort, understanding the truth, and reaching for forgiveness are seldom simple, one-moment endeavors. A long time may be needed to follow Jesus’ model of forgiveness completely.
And that takes me back to Step 1: Pray for the willingness to forgive, remembering that God is faithful in all things.
“Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is the faithful God who for a thousand generations keeps his promises and constantly loves those who love him and who obey his commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9