Updated: Aug 3, 2020
By Dr. Ashley Anderson
In the realm of psychology, forgiveness is often defined as a conscious, deliberate decision
to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Three things stand out to me about this definition. The first thing is the word conscious...to me, this means that forgiveness is not something that happens without our consent. It’s not something that just happens over time. The next word, Deliberate tells me that forgiveness is on purpose. Lastly, this phrase stands out: “regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” Forgiveness in essence, is a purposeful act of grace. It’s something we often don’t want to do, but it’s something that in order to have true peace in our hearts, we must. But how do we forgive and move on in peace?! Especially when God has made it very clear in the Bible that forgiveness is an absolute expectation –
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 NIV
Here are 5 Tips to help you practice forgiveness.
1.Sit in the mess for a while.
Naturally, this is the hardest thing to do. I hate conflict, so when it happens, I want it over. But that’s never good. One of best pieces of advice my friend, Justin Patton ever gave me, is to sit in the mess for a while without bailing. When you’ve been wronged or hurt, feel what you need to feel. Cry your ugly, snotty cry if you have too, and sit in it. I have a 48 hour rule. Feel it for 48 hours, then tighten up. It is not healthy to dwell too long in that space. I also want to recommend that you don’t bring your whole world into the mess with you. Many times we cannot forgive because we’re getting bad advice from the peanut gallery. Anyone can sit back and dissect your life from the safety of their couch; if they’ve never fought in the same arena you’re in, leave them on the sideline and out of your business. God gave us a spirit of discernment, this is the perfect time to use it!
2.Find the lesson In the Mess
There’s always something you can learn from every situation to better yourself. I believe that no matter what happens in life, there is a built in lesson. When God says no or not right now, my experience has taught that there is something better in store, but this doesn’t always make the situation easier to deal with initially. Once the emotion is less raw, take a look at what’s happened and find the lesson. What is it you need to learn or change about YOUR behavior in order to prevent this level of pain and devastation from happening again? This process is about healing yourself. It is not about blaming yourself for what’s been done to you, it’s about preparing yourself to walk differently and peacefully into the next phase of your life.
3.Set your boundaries
Remember, you cannot control another human being, all you can control is yourself. Once you have the lesson in hand, you can establish boundaries to protect yourself. Stand firm in those boundaries and enforce them. You deserve to have your boundaries honored and respected. If people are unwilling to respect them, they don’t deserve to be in your life.
There is also a misconception that forgiveness means you have to let the offender back into your life. You don’t. If you believe that this person has caused too much pain or harm in your life, or that they are too much of a risk for your future wellbeing, leave them alone. You can forgive them and release them. It’s totally up to YOU.
4.Act out of love.
Give some grace. None of us are perfect. Life is too short for any of us to walk around holding grudges and purposely trying to hurt other people. Choose to handle your offender with love and respect. It says more about your heart than it does theirs. No...they may not deserve it, but how many times have you needed grace and not deserved it? How many times have we disappointed God and needed to repent and ask for grace and mercy? Trust me, it’s better for YOUR spirit to deal with people using love and care.
5.Let it Go
It’s over. That moment you’ve endured will never happen again. The only place where you could relive the situation, is in your head. Once you have accepted your feelings, found the lesson and made action steps to protect yourself moving forward, you have to wash your hands. It’s not a “forgive and forget” type of thing that I’m suggesting. I want you to say, “I refuse to allow this situation to have power over my future.” If you find that you cannot let it go on your own, it’s time to engage with a counselor or therapist to support you through that process. It is absolutely normal for things to bother you over time, but if those feelings aren’t getting any less intense and you find that this situation is causing you to make other life decisions to your detriment, it’s time to get help. I always encourage therapy, it’ll work if you will.
***So often we think that forgiveness is for the other person/people involved in a situation. It’s not. It’s for you and only you. You may be angry, you may be hurt and horribly disappointed; you may even still feel sick to your stomach at the thought of the offense, but you cannot allow yourself to stay stuck in that space. You have a choice; the choice to release yourself from the broken record of that pain repeating itself in your mind and heart day after day. You have the choice to stand tall and use your scars as evidence that you made it through the storm. You have the choice to live with a settled mind and heart. You have the choice to have peace. That choice is forgiveness.