“I sat on my bed reliving the moment I had spent 10 years trying to forget. Tears streamed down my face. I knew the only way to break free from the prison this memory held me in was to finally tell someone. I couldn’t hold it in any longer. There never was a “right” moment to tell a story like this, but I knew I could never get closer to God if I didn’t put a voice to it, if I didn’t get it outside of me. Would I even be able to get the words out? But somewhere deep inside, I knew it didn’t matter how much I could say, I simply had to try.” [Lo, DTS alum, California]
Like Lo, you too may have painful memories you wish you could forget. But the path to healing isn’t always easy. True healing only comes as we excavate the dark depths of the wound and release forgiveness. We hope you will find these 11 steps as helpful in your process as they were in Lo’s.
11 Steps to Full Forgiveness:
- Write down the name of the person you need to forgive.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of every instance in which this person hurt you. It’s OK to acknowledge how hurt you are, and even the hatred you may feel toward this person for what they have done. Be brave and decide you will face that pain, rather than attempting to escape from it. Hiding from the pain and holding onto the hurt causes an infection in our lives. And just like a physical wound can only heal by opening it up and draining it, the same is true for relational wounds.
- Take your piece of paper and write: “I forgive ____________ (fill in the person’s name) for _______________ (write it all down – every instance that the Holy Spirit reminds you of) and it made me feel __________________.” Write as much as you need to.
- Make a decision to forgive. Say it out loud, “I forgive _____________ for __________.” Spoken words have great power. Take as long as you need to, and be real.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand the other person. What is their point of view? How do they feel? Why did they do what they did? What have their life experiences been that have made them vulnerable to such temptation and wrongdoing? This doesn’t excuse their actions, but it helps you feel God’s compassion for them.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of something positive about this person. He may show you many things. Spend some time thanking God for the positive aspects of this person and any positive actions they may have taken toward you.
- Pray that God will bless them and be near them and do special things in their lives.
- Destroy the list of their offenses (burn it, tear it into shreds…) and make a decision that you won’t hold these offenses against them anymore.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there was anything you did wrong to this person. If so, ask His forgiveness for these actions. And make a plan to talk to that person and ask for forgiveness for what you did to them. Ask the Holy Spirit for the best way to do this. When you talk to them, make no mention of anything they did wrong to you.
- Whether the other person ever changes, keep on willing love and goodness to them, and praying the best for them.
- Forgiveness removes the pain of offense from our hearts. Sometimes, you need to speak out forgiveness many times before the pain is gone and your heart is restored. If the pain returns, choose to forgive again. Each time that you forgive peels back another layer of the hurt that came into your life. You should expect that when forgiveness is complete, you will no longer remember the event with pain (although you will still remember it).
Lo’s Testimony: Learning to Forgive
I sat on my bed reliving the moment I had spent 10 years trying to forget. Tears streamed down my face. I knew the only way to break free from the prison this memory held me in was to finally tell someone. I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
There never was a “right” moment to tell a story like this, but I knew I could never get closer to God if I didn’t put a voice to it, if I didn’t get it outside of me. Would I even be able to get the words out? But somewhere deep inside, I knew it didn’t matter how much I could say, I simply had to try.
I got to Kelly’s room and sat on her bed, nervous. I had been hiding this story for years, fearing what people would think. Fearing the painful memories it brought back, of how someone I loved had hurt me so deeply. I was scared and felt far too vulnerable, but Kelly held a comfort that was hard to explain. I knew I could trust her.
I stumbled through my story. I stopped a few times, trying to distract myself from dealing with the pain. But Kelly patiently encouraged me to finish. I had never felt so vulnerable in my life. Never cried so hard. When I finished, I didn’t even want to look at her. What would she think? I slowly looked into her eyes anyway. Uncertain.
A sense of relief filled me when all I saw on Kelly’s face was compassion, love, and understanding. I wanted to give her a big hug, but I held myself back. It had become my habit to fend for myself, and a hug would certainly be a sign of weakness. I slowly closed myself up again as Kelly explained that I needed to forgive.
“Thanks for listening,” I said, knowing she was right. “But I need to go to bed. I don’t expect anything to change, I just needed to tell someone.”
I walked back to my dorm and my mind raced with questions. Why had I just told my story? Would this be like all the other times at all those other retreats where I wrote something on a piece of paper and nailed it to a cross or watched it go up in flames? Those times brought me a day’s, maybe a week’s respite, but it never lasted. Kelly’s words that I needed to forgive echoed in my head, but I couldn’t shake the pain I’d always felt. Forgiveness hadn’t worked for me before. I didn’t expect to feel any better and wouldn’t give Kelly the chance to help me.
Could God make this hurt and resentment go away? How?
The next day was worse. I was still filled with pain and confusion. I thought it would never go away and I just had to deal with it.
But that’s no way to live. I felt like I needed to talk to Paul, but every break during the day I just wanted to run and hide instead. It was Friday, which meant that we would review our week and ask God if there was anything in our hearts that held us back from Him.
Impossible, I thought. I don’t know how to get past this.
I knew that I needed to go deeper with God. I needed God to come down and pull the hurt and memories from my mind. There must have been a look of deep pain and despair on my face because it didn’t take Paul long to come over. “Let’s just talk now,” he said. “No need to put this off any longer.”
Of course I didn’t expect much again. I was caught between wanting to sort out my pain and wanting to ignore it, as if that would make it go away. So I told my story again and shared the pain I had felt. Then Paul told me about something that I had never heard of before–steps of forgiveness.
Was I ready to really face this? I hesitated, knowing that going through these steps meant I would feel the full amount of my pain. But if that meant I could move on, then I was willing to give it a try. Anything is better than feeling this way.
“Explain to God how the events made you feel,” Paul said. “Tell him how much they hurt you.”
Then Paul helped me forgive each individual act that had hurt me. It wasn’t just a general blanket forgiveness this time, but specific. As I forgave, I began to feel lighter. I could feel the bitterness and pain lift away from my heart.
“Lo, you look different now!” Paul said.
Could it be that what I felt inside all these years has been written on my face?
Finally, I was ready for the last step: to thank God for the good and fun times I had had. Paul and I kept talking, discussing why these things might have held such a grip over my life, why they had hurt me so bad. We walked outside into the cornfield that surrounds the Training Center.
“You’ve gotta yell it,” Paul said.
So I did.
I shouted for all the world to hear that I am second-best to no one, that God made me unique and valuable and wonderful. That I am God’s princess. I faltered a few times, but by the fourth time I said this, joy flooded my heart.
It’s been a week and a half, now, and there’s no pain or bitterness in my heart. I even had a great conversation over the phone with this person. I can actually say that I have the capacity to truly and purely love those who have hurt me.
Forgiveness is not impossible when you are overcome by hurt. God’s love doesn’t have boundaries for what you’ve experienced in your life. The question is: Will you expect God to show up when you need him? Will you trust God enough to believe who he says you are?
A few simple truths about Forgiveness
- Forgiveness is for YOUR sake. Holding on to resentments is more hurtful to you than anyone else. It keeps you from living fully.
- Forgiving is NOT forgetting or condoning. “Because I can’t forget I can’t forgive” is an excuse and not true. Forgiving is simply a decision not to dwell on the hurt. It is a decision that may need to be made repeatedly, for as often as necessary. Jesus said to forgive “seventy times seven times” and “Forgive us as we forgive….”
- Forgiveness is, believe it or not, 100% your responsibility. You DO NOT need the other person to admit that they were wrong. Waiting until they admit wrong keeps YOU stuck in the past.
Lo’s Story took place during her Discipleship Training School (DTS). You can learn more here. Feature Photo by Ben WhiteClick Here To Learn More About DTS!