Forgiveness. We all want to receive it without hesitation. But we’re so reluctant to give it to others.
And it’s not that we don’t want to forgive people who have wronged us. We know that forgiveness is a good thing. We give lip service to it. We can even wax eloquent about the virtue of it. Sometimes we even think we’ve forgiven someone when we really haven’t. (Here’s how you can tell.)
But sometimes we just pretend that we’ve forgiven someone, even when we know we haven’t. And we do that because we don’t really know how to forgive. No one ever had to teach us how to hold a grudge. But forgiveness doesn’t seem to come so naturally.
Forgiveness is almost never easy. But here are 6 ways we can go about offering true forgiveness to the people who have hurt and wronged you.
1. Share your hurt with the person who hurt you.
This may seem overly simplistic, but sometimes the best path offering forgiveness is first being honest about how a person’s actions have hurt you. Talk to them about the ways you feel wronged.
Sometimes, we interpret someone else’s actions or words in a certain way. We feel slighted, and as though someone was intentionally trying to hurt us. We think things like, “They know exactly what they were doing when they said ____.”
But the fact of the matter is that maybe they didn’t know what they were doing at all. Maybe they had no intention of hurting you. They might not even be aware of the fact that what they did or said was offensive. Or at least they don’t realize how hurtful it really was.
So open the lines of communication. Speak humbly to that person about how you feel. Chances are that they have no idea. Give them a chance to explain. They may even apologize on the spot once they realize how they have affected you. And that does so much to defuse the hurt and bring about healing.
It won’t always go this way, but this is still a good place to start.
And maybe, if you’re like me, you’ve already said something to that person. But since you downplayed and understated it so much so as to not incite a major argument, they might not have even realized the weight of what you were saying.
So be direct. Be loving. And seek to bring about healthy resolution.
2. Admit your own fault.
We can be so quick to minimize our own fault when someone else has hurt us. We tend to think the best of ourselves and the worst of others. When I did something hurtful, it was a mistake. When someone else does something hurtful, it’s a major sin.
One major way we can genuinely come to a place of forgiveness is by taking responsibility for our part in the situation. That person may have hurt you, but they may have only been responding to something you did or said. Or maybe in your hurt, you retaliated and made the situation worse.
Be honest about your shortcomings and the way you have wronged and hurt other people. This will help you to develop empathy.
You never meant to hurt anyone. So maybe they didn’t either.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
3. Commit to forgiving a person even when they don’t ask for forgiveness.
Forgiveness feels the hardest when the other person isn’t asking for it. It’s really hard to forgive someone who isn’t even sorry for what they’ve done.
Maybe they deny having done the things you know they did. Or maybe they deny that their actions were wrong. They rationalize the ways they hurt you, because they’re unhealthy and unwilling to look their own faults in the face.
In these cases, still choose to forgive that person, even if they go to their grave never having admitted to all the ways they hurt and wronged you. This choice has to be volitional, and it will go against everything you feel within you. But make a commitment to forgiveness.
This kind of forgiveness definitely costs you something. It will offend your sense of justice. But even for all it costs you, you gain so much more. You will be free of the resentment that would continue to grow and begin to consume you.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Sometimes the best way to get back at someone is to forgive them. Once you forgive a person, the hurt they’ve inflicted no longer has any power over you. And so if their intention was to hurt you, they have failed. You have only become stronger.
On the other hand, you can also choose to see the ways in which that person is broken and begin to realize that they probably didn’t have sinister intentions. The hurt they inflicted on you actually has nothing to do with you. It’s just the turmoil of their own heart that leaked out on you.
Hurt people hurt people.
From this place of understanding, you can actually develop compassion for the person who hurt you, rather than resentment.
4. Fight the urge to be petty.
I don’t know about you, but when someone offends or hurts me, I begin to harness my ability to creatively and very specifically nitpick all the shortcomings of their life. I can be petty. This is where being observant and quick-witted gets me into trouble.
I can think (or sometimes even say) things like,
“I don’t know why that person is so disrespectful to me. They aren’t even that talented.”
“I don’t know why so-and-so always has something sarcastic to say about what I’m wearing. What they wear in heinous. And they’re ugly!”
“It’s really interesting how they talk down to me, when I’ve seen them be incompetent on this and that occasion.”
When it comes to a friend or someone I like, I’m really generous in overlooking their faults. But once someone has genuinely offended me, I can turn into Simon Cowell meets Gordon Ramsey on steroids.
But none of this leads to resolution. It certainly doesn’t lead to forgiveness. It only leads to resentment. And pettiness begets pettiness. It’s a vicious back-and-forth cycle. I’m pretty sure this is how most international wars start.
So fight the urge to be petty. Don’t take cheap shots. Don’t even think about cheap shots or rehearse them in your mind. Be direct in speaking to a person who has wronged you, sans sarcasm. And if not, choose to let it go.
5. Choose to love the person from a distance.
Sometimes the things we’re forgiving people for aren’t all that huge in the grand scheme of things. But sometimes they are. There might be people in your life that have wronged you and hurt you so deeply that it has borne negative effects on your life. Effects that can even last years to come.
In these situations, forgiveness may require some distance. Especially if the person continues to inflict the same hurt, open the same wound without remorse, time and time again.
It doesn’t do anybody any good for you to remain in close proximity and constant contact with people who abuse, manipulate, or persistently take advantage of you. Jesus calls you to forgive those who wrong you. But Jesus isn’t calling you to be a doormat.
Sometimes creating distance is the best way to gain perspective, experience healing, and eventually know what it’s like to truly forgive someone who has wronged you so deeply.
Forgiving these kinds of people will likely be one of the most difficult things you do, but it will grow your faith and your relationship with Jesus more than you can imagine.
6. Just Remember that forgiveness is hard.
Forgiveness isn’t for the faint of heart. It certainly isn’t something that weak people do. They don’t have the ability. True forgiveness always comes from a place of incredible strength.
It’s much easier to hold onto a hurt than to let it go. It’s much easier to build walls of resentment than to continue to cultivate vulnerability even after we’ve been hurt. We can only do it with Jesus’ help.
And we can only do it by following Jesus’ example. And this is the kind of example that God has set for us when it comes to forgiveness.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Only when you understand the pain and price of the forgiveness that has been offered to you will you be able to offer it to others.