Steps To Forgiveness

                                      STEPS TO FORGIVENESS 

Now that we understand more about the myths of forgiveness and have exhausted all our attempts to deny our painful feelings; now that we know that holding onto resentment and anger hurts only ourself,  the question of “why” should I forgive becomes “how” do I forgive.          

 Step 1.  Declare an intention to forgive.

          There are a variety of ways to do this.  You may declare your intention in prayer where you first ask God to forgive you for your inability to forgive.  Ask that God be with you throughout this process as you struggle to give up your desires for retaliation, revenge, punishment, your feelings of superiority and righteousness and any other negative feelings that may arise in the processAsk for guidance, direction, courage and honesty. 

          You may choose to write out your prayer thoughts in a journal .   Be as honest and detailed as you can.  The greater the wound, the more public the nature of the offense the important it is that you seek help with this process from a spiritual advisor, therapist or trusted friend.  Be sure that the person you chooseis a good listener who can hear your words without attempting to judge or to solve the problem for you.

          Take time with this step; the more that you reflect on the meaning of forgiveness,  the more you will be aware of how your refusal to forgive is hurting you most of all. 

Step 2. Recall the hurt.

          Remember that it is a myth that if you forget about it than it will go away.   Name the offense and the offender.  Be as accurate and objective as possible.  What exactly happened?  What exactly is your injury?   What exactly did you lose? 

           If you found journalingwas helpful in Step 1, you may want to continue to do this.  If others have been helpfuland supportive with your first step seek their help again.   Be clear that you want them to listen without comment, asking only questions of clarification.  You do this so that you can be clear in your own mind about what it is you are trying to forgive.  In doing this you may begin to overlap with Step 3.

Step 3.  Feel your feelings.

          As you progress through Steps 1 and 2, it is common to feel the feelings about this incident more acutely.   Your may have numbed yourself to feelings over the years in an effort to forget about the hurt.  Some examples of the feelings that may be hidden are fear, pain, hurt, confusion, chaos, betrayal and particularly anger.   At times you may feel thatyou are in a continual “pity party” and be tempted to short circuit the process.  If you share these feelings with friends and they sympathize with you,  you might find you are enjoying the attentionof being a victim.   If this happens you may need the help of a professional counselor to resolve them.  What you must resist is the temptation to bury the feeling again. The goal of this step is to admit that a wrong wasdone to you and to set your sights on repairing yourself. 

4. Grieve your loss.                      Remember, “feelings” are NOT sinful so experience them all.   Feel the pain of the betrayal and the belief and innocence you may have loss.  Perhaps you want to blame God for the wounding and pain.   Take these feelings to God in prayer.   Anger, rage, hurt, tears, etc. give them all to God.  Pray for release from your pain, including and especially pain of the hardness of heart that you have done in an effort to protect yourself from further hurt.   Ask for forgiveness for you inability to forgive. 

5.Commit to forgive.                                                                                                Sacrifice your rights in prayer.  Remember the world view is that you have a legitimate right to dignity and retribution.  Christ’s view is to seek the healing of others.  Make your commitment tangible; write it in a journal or tell a friend or counselor.  Set a time table for yourself but allow for a revision in case it turns out to be more of a process than you anticipate. 

6. Empathize.                                                                                               This is where the process gets harder.  In “full disclosure,”  the writer finds this step sometimes takes a long time and is one she must revisit again and again. 

          Make an effort to understand the other person.  Try to see the other as a human being who is loved by God, despite his failings.  Endeavor to put yourself in that person’s shoes and to see things from his point of view.  Try to understand what he was feeling and why he acted in the way that he did.  Try to identify the pressure that made him hurt you.  Write a letter to yourself as if you were the other person explaining the hurtful acts.  Because you can do this does not mean you would have acted in the same way, it merely shows you can walk in the other’s shoes.   It is an attempt to break down the barriers that hold you back from forgiveness. 

7. Write a Certificate of Forgiveness. 

          This is an exercise for you and NOT to be shared with the person who hurt you.  Name the person and the acts for which you forgive her.  It may take you a long time to do this.  You may choose to write on paper or in your journal. 

8. Holding onto Forgiveness.          

          Building a forgiving heart is a lifetime spiritual growth process.  You will be hurt again and again, and you will hurt others again and again.  This is the nature of being human.  Each time you say theLord’s Prayer, ask God,  “How am I doing? 

Note again:  Forgiveness is NOT reconciliation! 

Anne L. Burton

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NEXT WEEK:  We will look at some of the signs that show you that you are succeeding in your quest to build a Forgiving Heart.  I will share with you some of the writings and prayers that I have found helpful in keeping me on track with this process.