The question is not, Did you get hurt? The question is, Are you going to let the hurt harden you? Numb you? Suck up all your joy?
Some people abandon the path of forgiveness because they perceive it to be impossibly steep. And it can be. So, let’s be realistic.. Forgiveness does not pardon the offense, excuse the misdeed, or ignore it. Forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation. A reestablished relationship with the transgressor is not essential or always even possible. Even more, the phrase “forgive and forget” sets an unreachable standard. Painful memories are not like old clothing. They defy easy shedding.
Forgiveness is simply the act of changing your attitude toward the offender; it’s moving from a desire to harm toward an openness to be at peace. A step in the direction of forgiveness is a decisive step toward happiness.
These six steps will help us on the road to forgiveness:
1.Decide what you need to forgive. Get specific. Narrow it down to the identifiable offense. “He was a jerk” does not work. “He promised to leave his work at work and be attentive at home.” There, that’s better.
2 Ask yourself why it hurts. Why does this offense sting? What about it leaves you wounded? Do you feel betrayed? Ignored? Isolated? Do your best to find the answer, and before you take it out on the offender…
3. Take it to Jesus. No one will ever love you more than He does. Let this wound be an opportunity to draw near to your Savior. Does this experience and lack of forgiveness hamper your well-being? Does it diminish your peace? If the answer is yes, take steps in the direction of forgiveness. Talk to Jesus about the offense until the anger subsides. And when it returns, talk to Jesus again.
And if it feels safe, at some point…
4. Tell your offender. With a clear head and pure motives, file a complaint. Be specific. Not overly dramatic. Simply explain the offense and the way it makes you feel. It might sound something like this: “We agreed to make our home a haven. Yet after dinner you seem to get lost in emails and projects. Consequently, I feel lonely under my own roof.”
If done respectfully and honestly, this is a step toward forgiveness. There is nothing easy about broaching a sensitive topic. You are putting on a servant’s garb. By bringing it up you are giving forgiveness a chance to have its way and win the day.
Will it? Will grace triumph? There is no guarantee. Whether it does or not, your next step is to…
5. Pray for your offender. You cannot force reconciliation, but you can offer intercession. “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44 niv). Prayer reveals any lingering grudge, and what better place to see it! You are standing before the throne of grace yet finding it difficult to give grace? Ask Jesus to help you.
Here is one final idea:
6. Conduct a funeral. Bury the offense. I don’t mean to bury it in the sense of suppressing it. Nothing is gained by shoving negative emotions into your spirit. But something wonderful is gained by taking the memory, placing it in a casket (a shoebox will suffice), and burying it in the cemetery known as “Moving On with Life.” Take off your hat, cover your heart, and shed one final tear. When the anger surfaces again, just tell yourself, “It’s time to walk boldly into a bright future.”
Forgiveness is the act of applying your undeserved mercy to your undeserved hurts. You didn’t deserve to be hurt, but neither did you deserve to be forgiven. Being the recipient that you are of God’s great grace, does it not make sense to give grace to others?
This piece was excerpted from Max Lucado’s new book How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations (Thomas Nelson). Used with permission.
Max Lucado is a San Antonio pastor and best-selling author. His most recent book is the children’s illustrated book Where’d My Giggle Go? (April 2021, Tommy Nelson). He is also the author of the 2020 bestselling book You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power. Visit his website at www.MaxLucado.com or follow him on Twitter: @MaxLucado.