Five approaches to forgiveness

Last week, I made some observations on forgiveness. This week, I’ll outline five practical steps. But first, let’s remember a couple of things. First, Jesus wouldn’t have talked so much about forgiveness if everyone had nailed it. None of us are giants here, but all of us have ideas or methods which help us move towards forgiveness, and which might be helpful to others. So if you have any suggestions, let me know: What has helped you forgivePerhaps your suggestions will make it into a subsequent email. Now, for the first five ideas!

Idea 1: Let go of old stuff. When you mentally recite old hurts, you are binding yourself to those hurts in ways which are damaging. Read Luke 4:18-19, and give thanks that Jesus came to release captives, including those captive to sin. One person suggests that you can find release from this captivity when you list all the old stuff in horrible black spiky handwriting. Perhaps draw the person who has wounded you, with horrible arrows sticking into their horrible head. If you begin to laugh at yourself, and the rage dissipates and love returns, all well and good. Otherwise, tear up the sheet, and burn it, and offer it to God: for burning can be very cleansing.

Idea 2: Transfer the burden to God. Read Isaiah 46:1-4. Someone wrote, “All of the images and analogies of letting go, being released, the chains being cut through weren’t working for me because – where does the hurt  or incident actually go? Like it can’t just evaporate or dissipate for me, it has to GO somewhere – because the thing actually happened, I can’t by effort reduce or resolve whatever the hurt is … Then this morning I was struck by the image of not just ‘letting go’ of a hurt through forgiveness, but actually passing it from my hands to God’s. In my mind it’s like a big ball or bundle, and I don’t just let go of it *puff*. Instead I firmly and deliberately place it into God’s open, huge and capable hands. It’s still real, but it’s no longer mine to carry.”

Idea 3: Accept responsibility. A third person emailed to say that part of their learning to forgive has been moving from praying “Change her/him, Lord” to praying “Change me, Lord”. Read Psalm 51 and remember: change is not all the work of the other. Ask God to change you, too: to broaden your perspective, open your eyes to another’s viewpoint, heal your hurt, plant in you a right spirit, and grow you in love.

Idea 4: Act with love even when you don’t feel it. Read 1 John 3:18-20. Pray for the strength to act with love, whatever your feelings. And pray for your enemy. Don’t try to control them or their actions; instead, simply hold them in God’s loving presence. This is difficult, but, if you persist, one day you will find yourself standing with that person deep in the heart of love: and this will transform you and the relationship.

Idea 5: Forsake revenge. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord: but too often we want to enact it ourselves. Read 1 Samuel 24:1-13, then, using David’s words, pray Psalm 3. Ask God to ease your own drive for revenge, and to take care of things for you. Of course, this means noticing and confessing this drive in the first place. As you relinquish the idea of revenge, send a peace offering to the one who has wounded you: a card or small gift, or perhaps do them an unexpected favour.

Of course, all this is hard work. It takes time, effort, and intention; and it takes practice. Nevertheless, it’s good work to do, and it is work which is central to our Christian vocation. Therefore, I hope that one or two of these ideas resonate with you, and bring you a step closer to forgiving someone.

Thanks to those who contributed the first few ideas; ideas 4 and 5 come from a terrific little book, The Forgiving Family by Carol Luebering. Sadly, it’s out of print, but I’ll be drawing more from the book next week, when I look at forgiveness as a household practice.


Emailed to Sanctuary 20 June 2018 © Sanctuary, 2018. 

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