"Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Do you ever wonder how Jesus was able to offer this prayer with the knowledge that he would die for His sinful oppressors? He experienced it all in the crucifixion: betrayal, humiliation, rejection and physical torture. Nevertheless, while hanging on a cross he uttered the words, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
"But that was Jesus…I'm only human."
True enough. Yet for Christ followers the example is clear. The ability to forgive is an area of growth that we must pursue. Bitterness is a relentless enemy, a greater force than the person who hurt you. It masquerades as a friend, a kind of sympathetic defender, but is actually a parasite that saps your strength. It can devour your health, your beauty and your soul.
Forgiveness is a process wherein we allow the Spirit to move us to a higher place than we can achieve on our own. Even so, we are not powerless. We have free will to make choices and apply practical skills. The following steps may prove useful for your personal victory:
1. Acknowledge to yourself and to God the pain of the offense against you. Glossing over your genuine pain, pretending that it never happened, is dishonest. Ask God for the strength to forgive and if appropriate, to seek forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a decision. Choose to forgive.
3. Pray for the offender (through clenched teeth, if necessary) that God will intercede to bring enlightenment and repentance to him/her and that they will realize the blessings God intends.
4. Remember that a person who committed evil against you was a pawn being used by your real enemy, the ultimate Evil. Ultimately, we are all fighting the same enemy!
5. Set healthy boundaries. Be civil, polite and respectful in necessary interaction. Forgiveness does not demand reconciliation of a relationship to its former status, but neither does it seek revenge nor behave spitefully.
6. Work through your intense anger or pain with some of the following exercises:
- Write an expressive letter to the offender then tear it up. A real-life confrontation could make your negative emotional bond tighter and put you in danger of further pain.
- Write in a journal.
- If you are alone in the house and comfortable doing it, pretend the offender is in the room and speak your feelings as plainly as you would want to. Sometimes the simple statement aloud will bring a clarity and release.
- Talk to a trustworthy friend, minister or therapist about your angry or bitter feelings. They may be able to offer valuable emotional support and suggestions for moving on.
- Have a good cry.
- Channel angry energy into exercise or other physical tasks. The productivity will give you a lift. Negatively channeled anger in forms such as looking for faults in yourself or others, depression, anxiety, violence or substance abuse can make you sick over time.
- Practice calming yourself through sitting quietly and breathing deeply for a short while.
7. Limit the amount of time you spend thinking about your pain or the offender. Allot a certain amount of time each day to work through your feelings and then turn your attention to something else. Anger is made stronger by feeding it excessive negative thoughts and it increases the negatively charged attachment between you and your offender.
8. Remind yourself that God is available and willing to comfort. As long as you are in relationship with Him, Evil never gets the final word. Will yourself to sing praises and allow God to lift you above your pain for at least a little while.
Forgiveness can be like swimming upstream. It is hard. It takes time and effort. But it beats going over the falls. Forgiveness heals. It releases you from your enemy. Maybe that is why Jesus insists on it. “Forgive and forget” is not likely, but if you can eventually remember with less emotion attached it will have been a worthwhile endeavor.