5 Practical Steps to Help You Forgive

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
— Hebrews 12:15, NIV

As many of you know, two weeks ago, Julie and I embarked on a spiritual retreat along South Africa's east coast. We took a solid look at some areas of our marriage that needed God's intervention. By no means was the trip all fun and games, but it was most certainly worth the effort! It was worth the fights (yes, we had them), worth the tears (yes, I cried quite a bit), and worth the investment.

God set us free in areas of our marriage and in our individual lives too! My biggest personal breakthrough was in the realm of forgiveness. Without even knowing it, I'd tucked away years of unprocessed hurt. My compartmentalized pain had turned into unforgiveness, which inevitably gave way to bitterness in my heart. 

Bitterness leads to captivity. Forgiveness sets you free.

Perhaps you need to forgive some people as well. If so, here are five practical steps to help you forgive those who have hurt you:

1. Pray.
Get alone and ask God who you need to forgive. The names may not be so obvious at first. After spending some time in prayer on day one of our retreat, I realized I desperately needed to forgive five people. Yes, five.

Ask: God, who in my life do I need to forgive? What am I bitter about?

2. Write a letter.
Write a letter to the person who hurt you. State what happened, how "it" made you feel, and what role you may have played in the situation. Since forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean reconciliation with the person, you may or may not feel the need to give the letter to him/her. 

I wrote each of my five letters as journal entries, as I was seeking peace and understanding in my own heart and not reconciliation with the people who hurt me.

Ask: What happened? How did "it" make me feel? What role did I play?

3. Seek perspective.
As hard as it may be, seek to understand the other person's perspective. Ask God for the grace to understand 1) where the person comes from and 2) the influencers in his/her life. There's a possibility that the person didn't mean to hurt you, and seeing the situation from his/her perspective may enable you to extend grace or even empathize.

Ask: God, give me the grace to understand. Where does this person come from? What are the influencers in his/her life? 

4. Release your hurt.
Release your hurt by praying a prayer of forgiveness and verbally surrendering the need for revenge. Then, choose to move forward, in freedom, with God. You see, holding on to unforgiveness and the desire for revenge works in the opposite way we want it to. Those things only make our sense of the injustice fester and spread. 

Pray: God, I forgive (person's name) for (the offense), and I choose to release my hurt to You. Please come and heal my wounded heart. I choose to entrust (person's name) to You. I choose love, joy, and peace. I choose freedom. Thank you, Jesus, for your grace and forgiveness. Thank you for what you did on the Cross. And thank you for giving me the strength to extend grace and forgiveness to those who have hurt me. 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
— Matthew 11:29-30, NIV

5. Stop dwelling and retelling.
Yes, you need to allow yourself to experience your emotions, and often, that requires externally processing your hurt with someone. But dwelling on your hurt and retelling it (over and over) to those around you is different than healthily processing with a friend. Your words have power, and dwelling and retelling only result in negativity.

When you're tempted to dwell or retell, take notice! Visually picture yourself taking the thought or word captive, and say, "No! I choose the way of Jesus." This practice is unbelievably powerful. Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 

Thanks to God moving in our hearts and bringing restoration to our lives, new horizons are where we're headed. It's time, friends, to pull anchor and set sail. My prayer for all of you today is freedom. Ask God to reveal any unforgiveness in your heart and allow Him to walk you through the freeing process of forgiveness.

Heart to God.
Spread the Stoke.