How to Forgive Someone

Donald Miller explains how to forgive someone—and why it's so important to do so.

I confess I’m the type of person to hold a grudge. It’s not that I want power over people, which is often the motive for holding a grudge; it’s just that I want all-due glory for my suffering. If somebody is causing me some pain, I want them to know I am bearing it for them. For this reason, it’s hard for me to forgive my enemies. If people slam me on the Internet, it’s hard to forgive. If people screw me in a business deal, it’s hard to forgive, too. And for so long it seemed there was nothing I could do about it. I knew I’d be better off to forgive, but how? What are the steps to controlling your uncontrollable emotions?

I don’t fully know the answer to that question. Part of the reason it’s so hard to forgive is pride. If I forgive, it feels like I’m also saying they had the right to do me wrong. That doesn’t feel right. But it’s a real feeling.

Additionally, if I’m having to forgive somebody who really has no idea what they did that was wrong, it’s even more difficult. It means you are doing the hard work of forgiving them and they have no idea they wronged you, or worse, they don’t honestly care. So why forgive?

Before I say why, I should say how. Here’s how:

• Go through the stages of grief. Let the offense shock you, then let it completely hurt you. Don’t avoid the pain. Sit with it and feel it no matter how unbearable it is. Please know it will end in time. It will get 2 percent easier every day. Just feel it like a toothache and soon enough it will transition into something bearable.

• Then let the offense make you angry. Don’t lash our or you’ll be guilty yourself. Talk about it with trusted friends but confess you’re angry and your emotions aren’t under control. And don’t feel bad for being angry. The last thing you need is anger and shame. Just punch a pillow and make it through. The anger, like the pain, will lessen over time.

• After being angry, accept what has been done. Accept it as a fact and don’t over-analyze it. It happened. This will still be shocking at first, but in time, you will accept it as a fact you can’t change.

• From there, you’re at a place to forgive. It will be hard work, but it’s worth it. Sit and pray for the person you’ve been hating. Sit and imagine them with a good life, them coming to realize that what they did was wrong, maybe not to you, but to somebody—perhaps to God. Then be willing to love them in your heart. Want the best for them. Hope for the best for them. Stop praying for God to destroy them and pray for God to bless them. Pray for God to open up their hearts so they can receive the love that will stop them from hurting others. This is the only way I know how to forgive.

Why should we forgive? Well, there are many reasons, but I’m only going to focus on a few.

• The first is because, believe it or not, forgiveness is a pleasurable experience. No kidding, it feels much better than anger or hate. God has designed forgiveness as a powerful blessing for those who have been hurt. The experience of truly forgiving somebody can make you more happy than if you’d never been hurt in the first place.

• The second reason for you to forgive is that it removes you from being entangled in the rather dark thing that hurt you in the first place. If it was a bad business deal, then you get to be free of it and maintain your integrity. If it was a family member talking behind your back, you get to remove yourself completely from all the complications of gossip. Forgiveness sets you free from being bogged down in knee-deep mud. Forgiveness gives you a taste of what it feels like to be God, and it’s a terrific feeling. God forgave us because it gave Him pleasure to do so. He was happy to do so. Love forgives, and so does God, and so can you.

• The third reason to forgive is that you open yourself up to amazing possibilities for a happy life. When you don’t forgive, you draw the curtains in your soul and your life gets dark. When you forgive you let the light in again, and you go on about your life in peace. And don’t you want some peace? Isn’t it time for some peace?

But the greatest thing about forgiveness is it will allow you to love again. It will allow you to love and be loved. And believe me, it’s worth it. Forgiveness is tough, for sure, but love is infinitely more valuable than the pain of forgiveness costs. No matter what you have to go through to forgive, you’re getting a steal of a deal to be able to love and be loved again. Pay the price and I promise you’ll be happy you did.

Donald Miller is the author of Blue Like Jazz (Nelson) and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Nelson). This article originally appeared on his blog and is used by permission.

28 Comments

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Panda_1057 commented…

I've gone through the motions, I've tried to forgive, but for whatever reason, I'm unable to, and I've spent the last 1.5 years in counseling trying.

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James M. commented…

Wow. This was so timely for me to read today. I've been struggling with this for months regarding the betrayal of a friend. Thank you so much.

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Darryl commented…

I would add there is a fundamental reason to forgive that Donald doesn't mention: this is the mind of Christ. Regardless of the benefits we forgive simply because we are forgiven and our father is a forgiving God. The other reasons are true, but what if they were not? It doesn't matter. This is what forgiven people do: forgive. As Miroslav Volf quotes his parents who forgave a soldier who, through his negligence caused the death of Volf's brother: "It was the hardest thing we ever did."

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Besterandrea commented…

I think something crucial that we also need to take note of is: if we don't forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart then God cannot/will not forgive us. This is probably the most compelling reason to forgive! Matthew 6:14-15. Mark 11:25. Matthew 18:21 onwards.

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Anonymous commented…

One of the most moving poems about forgiveness I've read is by Bernadette Kabango, who was a victim of the Rwandan genocide.

"The killers, you've invaded my nights. Singing your haunting lullaby, drowning other voices. Chocking, suffocating, numbing, sending me to sleep. You've awakened me many mornings like an unexpected alarm, shattering my dreams, confusing, terrorising, traumatising. I've talked to you in tears and anger, spat on you in rage, whispered to you in sorrow, tied you in chains, thrown you in jail. I've pulled you out, asking you many questions, knowing there would be no answers. I tied you in chains again and again, round and round, until the chains, in my dizziness, bound me to you. You and I becoming one, bound by the chains of hate. I knew then the choices to make. I untied the chains, letting go of those who converged on my dad beating, pounding, leaving him dead. I untied the chains, letting go of those who propelled the grenade, scattering my brother's brains. I untied the chains, letting go of those who strangled my sister, leaving us an endless grave. I untied the chains, letting go of those who knifed my sister's throat, leaving her begging for a better death. I untied the chains, painfully, purposefully. Knowing the One who said to do it, seventy-times-seven, totally understands the depth of my pain."

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