Sunday, May 17, 2009

Process of Forgiving


Forgiveness is not something that happens automatically or easily. This is especially true if what you must forgive is something very personal and painful.

Colossians 3:12-13 says, "As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." The means by which we can be kind, gentle and forgiving is stated in v.14: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

If this verse isn’t challenging enough, Jesus himself said, "If you do not forgive men their sins, our Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6:15. One apostle listening to these words was a bit slow in getting the message of forgiveness. He later asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, by seventy-seven times" (or seventy times seven times). Matthew 18:21-22.

These verses provide some very direct, sharp teaching about forgiving people who have hurt us and thus people at whome we are angry. Forgive, Jesus said, and don’t even keep track of the number of times you do it. Forgive, Paul said, because God has given you the love required to do it."

I believe that. But I still believe that forgiveness is not always automatic or easy. If it was, the Bible wouldn’t say so much about how and why we must forgive. If forgiveness was automatic or easy we would just do it.

I think forgiveness is a process, a process that sometimes takes months, even years, if the offense against us is serious enough. If you have been slandered, abused, violently mistreated, forgiveness may be a long, long process. If a family member has been violently mistreated, forgiveness may be a life-long process. That is ok, so long as you keep working at it.

The first step in the process of forgiveness is feeling hurt. If you have been badly mistreated and are hurt, admit that hurt. Stuffing the feeling or ignoring it will not help you or the situation. Stuffed feelings are still there, pressed deeply into the heart and psyche, breeding ugly thoughts and revenge. Instead, honestly and openly admit, "I have been hurt." Your emotions may swing from just wanting to forget it to feeling numb to crying. That’s ok, own those feelings.

The second step is anger, even hate, if the offense is serious enough. During this phase we may feel anger, rage, and even a hunger for revenge. We may want to retaliate and hurt the person who hurt us with as much or more severity. We all know what the Bible says about hate. It says, "Don’t do it!" We know it is wrong to hate, so when we feel hate we tend to deny it. Don’t. Again, if we are feeling this emotion the proper response is not to stuff it deep inside, where it will smolder and erupt violently later on. The thing to do is diffuse it through acknowledging the presence of hate and confessing it.

After confessing our hate and hatred we can move on to the third step in the process of forgiving: healing. Healing means we have worked through the hurt and hate and we experience a lessening of the negative emotions. We can actually begin to pray for the one who hurt us. We can move from wishing him harm to wishing well for him.

Finally, we can begin again. Beginning again means we can enter into and enjoy relationship again. In many cases it means we can function again with the one who offended us. It means we can look objectively at the conflict situation and even take responsibility for our part in it. Beginning again is very, very refreshing. (Note: The above 4 points are from Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgive & Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve").

How can we possibly work through the pain of hurt and hate to healing and beginning again? I’ll repeat Colossians 3:14: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity." God has blessed us with a loving and compassionate spirit. This is our power and ability to forgive.

John Patton has written: "Human forgiveness is not an act but a discovery that I am more like those who have hurt me than different from them; that I am capable of also hurting others very deeply. I am able to forgive when I discover that I am in no position to forgive ... at its heart is the recognition of my reception into the community of sinners - those affirmed by God as his children." ("Is Human Forgiveness Possible?", p.16).

This is a humbling statement: I am like those who hurt me. Haven’t I hurt others? Sure. I am part of a community of sinners. Can I claim to be without sin? No. I need to forgive others for the simple reason that I need others to forgive me.

How do we know when we have successfully navigated the steps of hurt, hate, healing and beginning again? One writer answered this by saying, "You know when you have forgiven when you can wish the other person well." (Managing the Congregation, p.372).

I am thankful to God for the forgiveness we have received from him. Rom. 6:8. I am also thankful that he has given us the means by which we can forgive others: his love.

Warren Baldwin
September 7, 2008


  1. Wow, amazing post. Yesterday I posted about a friend of mine who is in the anger/hate phase of what you describe. I don't know how to support her because she is kind of acting and talking crazy, if you ask me. She is totally irrational and I am afraid that she is going to do something stupid. (Not criminal, just stupid.) I know you can't force someone to move to the next phase of healing, but if she doesn't do it soon, I am afraid of what will happen to her. She is going to the dark instead of the light and becoming a totally different person! I hate seeing her like this!
    Anyway, I am going to use this knowledge you've given me to help her...thank you...
    I would appreciate if you don't respond to me on my blog, because I don't want her getting upset. No need for a response, just wanted to say "thanks" to you...

  2. Forgiveness IS a PROCESS!!! What a great post and oh so true. and yes, I think the hate phase is one of the hardest to watch or admit. I remember my husband being in the hate phase over a friend and truly I could NOT believe the words/feelings, he had "in his heart." But a wise person told me.....It's ok for him to feel this way, he HAS to get these out in order to release them! AND then the best part was this, they also told me these feelings/thoughts do not mean that that is who he is.....hmmm THAT was a relief! I was afraid of judgement coming on my husband and that he would choose to live with those ugly feelings but it was true after time he has been able to move forward in forgiveness of the situation.
    If you are needing to walk out forgiveness these steps are true to the process and God will take every step with you and the freedom that you will have is beyond description.

  3. Wonderful post. I too believe forgiveness is often a process that takes time. I'm comforted that others feel this way, too.

  4. Forgiveness for me has been a one-time decision and with each succeeding rise of the feelings of anger, resentment, or pain I kept reminding myself that I made the decision to forgive - sort of affirmed my original decision. It is indeed an ongoing process.
    God is faithful!

  5. This is awesome to read! Forgiveness is one of the Christ-like attributes that I need to seriously work on. I have tried various studies to get a better understanding and have come to realize that I may possibly understand it, I just don't want to accept my part in it. Therefore, I am making it harder than it has to be.


  6. I am finding out that forgiveness, somewhat like grief, is not a neat and tidy thing. I have passed to and fro between all these stages you mention. I think I have moved through one and something happens to send me back again. Peace like a river, right? It ebbs and flows.

    Beautifully written, my friend. Much needed reading for this heart.


  7. Kirti - thanks.

    Loren - insightful example. Think of the Psalms. The Psalmist (the author of the Psalms) was often VERY angry. Ch.109 is incredible to read: the anger oozes from the Psalmist's pores, the revenge he desires is horrible. But, he never acts on those emotions,but hands them over to God. I wrote a paper on Psalm 109 I could post if anyone was interested (it is very long).

    Eileen - Your comment that, "I'm comforted that others feel this way, too," made me think, "Oh, you have a lot of company!"

    Karin - good point, forgiveness may often begin as an objective decision from which the emotions can develop.

    Proverbs 27:19 - I think you are right. We all may play more of a part in the pool of emotions than we are comfortable with.

    Laura - ebb and flow ... good description of the process. Again, think of the Psalms. One psalm is happy and upbeat, yet in the very next one the Psalmist is downcast, dejected, angry. That's life, right? That is the benefit of reading the psalms through, and not just picking one for the mood. Read enough and you'll find one that describes you at the moment, and one that can elevate you.

    Thank you all for commenting! WB

  8. The first time I really understood the importance of forgiving was when I heard that forgiveness is a process you go through for yourself. It doesn't mean you accept what has been done to you.

  9. Forgiveness is definitely a process. I like to refer to it as the Power of Forgiveness. It is a power that is placed within us by the Holy Spirit to forgive another. I feel without the Holy Spirit in my life i wouldn't be able to forgive anyone.

    I have made it through the stages of forgiving another and can wish the other person well and even pray for them. But "beginning again is the toughy for me". Even though i have forgiven and can pray and wish the other person well, things just are not the same with the person. My guard is up and there is a distance between us. I think this has to do with the fact that the other person has yet to acknowledge their part in the wrong-doing, which makes me think that they feel they have done nothing wrong and will more than likely do it again. But i have my suspician that when forgiving another is only onesided, the other who doesn't ask for forgiveness has a sense of self-righteousness, which then makes it very hard to begin again with that person!

    For example; it is similar to an alcholic they will not turn from their addiction until they acknowledge and take ownership that they do indeed have a problem and at that point healing and deliverance can begin in their life and they likewise can begin to stop hurting the people around them.

    I don't know if you have ever had to live with an alcoholic but you can forgive them and wish them well and even pray for them but in the meantime you keep your distance and your guard up and pretty much have to walk on eggshells when around them. It's very difficult to get close to an alcoholic even though you have forgiven them! Like wise it is very difficult to have relationship again with people who have continually hurt you even though you have forgiven them.

    You bring very good messages in your posts which causes me to think about my own life. I still have questions and i suppose i always will until i see Jesus face to face but in the meantime i do enjoy reading and hearing what others have to say, this is why i am a blogger i love to write but at the same time i love to read and learn. And a good way to do this is to read others blogs :)

  10. GutsyWriter and Tamela - Thanks for adding to this discussion on forgiving.

  11. BTW i did write a post today.. thought i would let you know.. God bless you Warren :)

  12. Hi, Warren,

    I came to your Blog from my friend Tamela's Place because you put the lyrics to the song about "this not being my home anymore". I had wanted to quote that song in one of my own posts on "Night Writing in the Morning Light", but couldn't remember them, couldn't even find the right song on Google. We use to sing that song a lot at places in my past, but I hadn't heard it for some years, so I wanted to thank you for providing me with them.

    Forgiving all those who you believe you have a grievance against is a great balm for your own soul. I had one person it took me a long time to forgive (because of something he did when we lost one of our children), but when I did it released all the long pain and I could pray for him. I have friends who never forgive or forget and they relive what has angered or hurt them over and over, never allowing the wound to heal. You can never feel whole until you stop picking at the scabs. Then you heal and be free from the pain.

    You are right, it is easier to forgive others when you stop focusing on your own scars and begin to see the scars others carry.

    I will add you Blog to my links and I invite you to stop by and visit mine sometime at

    Larry E.

  13. Larry,
    Thanks for this very nice post. I'm sorry I didn't respond sooner, but for some reason I was alerted to your post. Thanks for adding my link to your blog. WB