How to Forgive, Even When It’s Hard

How to Forgive, Even When It's Hard

I would love to say forgiving people comes easy for me.

But sometimes it’s just hard, especially if the offense goes deep and comes from someone I really trusted.

As I look back, there have been times when forgiveness came more easily than others. Small, insignificant sins weren’t so hard to overlook.  But some past offenses have been difficult to let go of.

Are you right in the middle of trying to forgive someone?  I’d love to pass along some things I try to tell myself as I’m walking through that process.  And, let’s face it, if you’re around a spouse, co-workers or other humans in general, you’ll probably benefit from reading these tips.

Obstacles to Forgiveness

I think there are several heart attitudes that keep us from moving toward forgiveness and reconciliation.  When I’ve been sinned against I hear myself thinking statements like these:

  • I can’t believe he/she did that to me….  Unbelievable!
    (It’s like I’m surprised they’re a sinner & I’m so great that no one is allowed to sin against me… read: PRIDE.)
  • I deserve better than this.  OR   I don’t deserve to be treated this way.
    (Again, I’m such an incredible person that I only deserve wonderful things to come my way.)
  • Just wait.  The next time he/she expects me to serve them, they will just have to keep on waiting.
    (Revenge.  Plain and simple.)
  • I’m so done with them.  They don’t deserve my friendship.
    (I want to write them off.  D.O.N.E.  Stick a fork in it.  Done.  Reconciliation is not even an option.)

Have you ever felt this way?  It sure is ugly, and I hate to even admit those thoughts are in me. But this is the reality of what we sometimes feel when we’ve been wronged.

I don’t believe the Lord wants us to stay here, though.  He has peace waiting for us to enjoy if we will choose to walk in His ways, not our own.

They Really Did Wrong You, ThoughHow to Forgive

Even though there is so much of our own pride and sinfulness revealed in the statements above, that doesn’t take away from the fact that you were really and truly sinned against.

I acknowledge and agree with you that what they said/did/should have done but didn’t/how cruel they were- actually happened. I feel your pain.  If I was with you in person, I would weep with you over it, and it would break my heart to see you in distress because of their sinful actions.

But after weeping with you I would lift your head and turn your gaze back to the Scriptures, where we find hope and help.

Fess Up

Now comes the hard part: acknowledging you don’t have it all together either.  If you remember, we’ve all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23).

When I remind myself that I’m not perfect, it somehow frees me up to let the offender off the hook a little.  How can I expect them to be perfect when I’m not perfect?  Maybe I don’t sin in the same way they do, but I still sin nonetheless.  Both of us have offended a holy God and both need grace.  

Matthew 7:3-5 reminds us of this:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye,
but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother,
‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when there is the log in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye,
and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

What a clear reminder that we may have some things in our lives we don’t even see. Maybe your offender is blind to his own sin, too.  They messed up, but so do you and I.  I’m suggesting we give them some slack, just like we’d want to receive for our mess ups.

How Does God Treat People Who Sin Against Him?

  • God loves sinners.
    ~But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Rom 5:8)
  • God is kind to sinners.
    ~But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  Matthew 5:44-46
    ~Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?  Romans 2:4
  • God forgives sinners.
    ~He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:10-12

If anyone in the universe deserves to be treated with utmost respect and honor, it’s God.  Only He is perfect, yet in mercy, He chooses to love, show kindness and forgiveness to sinners.  That’s amazing due to the stunning contrast between Himself and sinners.  If we are His, we’re called to follow His example.  If He can forgive sinners, why can’t we?

Look at How You’ve Been Forgiven

Colossians 313

Can you remember sins that you were particularly ashamed of?  Those sins are gone, vanished forever, forgiven in Christ.  He is not holding those things against you, so how can we hold wrong-doing against others?

Trust God; Don’t Take Revenge

Instead of offering forgiveness, we think those who wrong us deserve some sort of punishment.  And most of the time we feel quite justified in giving it to them.  But in those moments, we must remember that the all-knowing and just God sees what is happening and will make all things right in the end.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21

Ask God for Wisdom

Jesus told Peter that we must forgive seventy x 7 times (basically without limit.)  But I don’t believe Jesus would want us to be unwise in how we continue to relate to those who habitually offend us.

In John 2, many believed in Jesus after seeing His miracles, but verse 24-25 say: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Jesus knew the heart of those men, that their faith was only shallow and temporal. For that reason, He did not commit Himself to them.  We must be very careful here, though, because we do not know the heart of others.  We can not assume to know another’s motives or intentions.  However, we must ask God for wisdom to know how much we should continue to put our trust in those who habitually sin against us.

Feelings Follow Actionswalk

Lastly, I want to remind you that the most important thing is to walk in what you know is true, and not in what you feel.  Right feelings follow right actions.

What are some tangible ways you can show kindness to those that have hurt you?
Pray for them.
Speak well of them to others.
Mail them a hand-written note.
Put a Starbucks gift card inside.
Prefer them in small ways, letting them go before you in line.
Ask about their family or something that interests them.
Show concern and genuine interest in their kids’ lives.
When the opportunity arises, find ways to serve them.
Do something completely extravagant, that would blow them away by how kind you are.

Just like the Lord’s kindness leads us to repentance, your kindness might just soften their heart and bring love and restoration to your relationship.

How to Forgive, Even When It's Hard

How has God given you grace to love those that hurt you? What is the hardest part to you about forgiving others? How have you been extravagantly forgiven? Share in the comments. We’d love to get to know you and be encouraged by your journey.

Photos by rema1n5, Billie Hara, Jim & Lachlan Hardy

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