This post is for the Christian who is ready to offer/seek forgiveness but needs help moving forward with the conversation.
[To learn about Biblical forgiveness, read this post from last year – https://byrontown.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/as-we-forgive and this one https://byrontown.wordpress.com/2011/12/06/what-is-forgiveness/ ]
In the last year, several people have requested “help to start the conversation” as it pertains to seeking or granting forgiveness. The request is understandable. It is difficult to experience clarity and freedom when a relationship is broken. What I provide are generalities. You may have to tweak some things to your particular situation. It’s impossible for me to provide a manuscript for every situation that can pop up. (Some of this year’s situations have been adult sibling rivalry, marriage, parent/child, parent/extended family, friends, workplace conflict and conflict in congregational life.)
God, please use these practical steps to equip Your people to obey Your Spirit that the world would see the beauty of Christian forgiveness in action.
1. Congrats on reaching this point! Take time to reflect and thank God for providing grace and strength in Christ Jesus. It’s the only way you’ve gotten to this point. Eternal grace, mercy and love is rooted in our Father, embodied in our Saviour, Jesus, and empowered by Holy Spirit.
2. Persevere through the conversation. The conversation you’re about to have – extending and/or requesting forgiveness – is going to be awkward, difficult, weird, tense, uncomfortable and so forth. But persevere! Following and experiencing God’s design is so powerful and satisfying. God’s power in the Holy Spirit through Jesus is unending; you can’t use it all up. Can you imagine Niagara Falls or Victoria Falls drying up? No. Stand under the powerful deluge of God’s grace, mercy and love. And don’t come out from under that tremendous waterfall until the conversation is over.
3. The conversation may require multiple dialogues. Depending on the depth of the hurt; emotional/mental soundness of both parties; willingness of both parties; and time constraints, the “conversation” might have to stretch out over a few days or weeks. Though the source of power – the Triune God – never tires or sleeps, we must remember we’re not a member of the Trinity. You (or the other person) may need time to process, sleep and regain energy. Don’t try to cram what might need to be a 12-hour conversation into “let’s grab some coffee this afternoon”.
4. Time Does Not Heal. It’s a silly sentiment, really. Certainly, we need time to “cool off” but time doesn’t “heal”. We hope over time that we would forget the hurt and the anger – but that doesn’t happen. Time just helps us file away the hurt and anger until we see the person again. The hurt and anger will not magically go away in four or five days, weeks, months or years from now. Actually, the hurt may never go away, but the anger dissolves when we experience forgiveness. The time to forgive is now.
5. Do you need a mediator? Sometimes we need a mediator (someone who is outside of the relationship) to help both parties begin a clear and free conversation. Talk to your pastor about the situation and trust him if he says he can mediate. If he’s wise he’ll know when to refer to a professional Christian counselor.
6. Write down what you want to say. Don’t “wing it” in this conversation. When you’re face-to-face you won’t be able to remember the things you want to say. You’ll be thrown off by their non-verbal body language and your own. Make two columns. Title one You hurt me when… and the other I hurt you when… Write down as many hurts as you can recall.
7. Say it. Here’s an outline for you to use.
My God tells me that as far as it depends upon me I should live at peace with other people. You may not be aware of it, but I haven’t been at peace with you. I want to be at peace with you. I want to honor my God and you. I’m not sure how to have this conversation without it feeling weird, awkward and uncomfortable, but I know I need to confess some things to you. Are you willing to have this conversation with me?
If the person is unwilling to have the conversation with you there’s nothing you can do. You forgive because God tells you to forgive; not because you want to look spiritual to this person or because you think you’ll find some backdoor emotional relief by letting this person know you hurt them.
Thanks for being willing to have this conversation with me. Just so we have a process in place, please let me finish everything I’ve written down and then I’ll stop talking and listen to everything you have to say. If you want to take some time to think of a response then we can plan to meet again sometime soon. Okay? Okay. To put it bluntly, I feel like I’ve wronged you and you’ve wronged me. I’d like to ask you to forgive me for hurting you and I want to forgive you for hurting me.
I felt hurt by you when…(read from the first column).
I feel I hurt you when… (read from the second column. If you don’t have anything written then say “I hurt you when I didn’t immediately tell you I was wounded by your comment/actions.”)
Are there other ways I hurt you that I’m not aware of? Do you need to take some time to think about what I said? Can we schedule another meeting or would you like to talk through some of it now? Thank you very much for having this conversation with me. I am humbled and encouraged that God used you in my sanctification.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers can live together in harmony!
– Psalm 133.1
If you’re looking for a Christian counselor (marriage, child/teen, sexual addiction, substance abuse, emotional issues, personal growth, etc.), please visit http://www.gracemidcity.com/#/resources/counseling
Blake Price and Cynthia Townsend provide valuable insight:
We may hurt over an offense every time we think of it. It may not go away, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t forgive. There is a difference between hurt and anger. Forgiveness = not angry about it. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we no longer hurt over it.
Lewis Smedes Book, “The Art of Forgiving–When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How.” Smedes talks about some of the “fundamentals” of forgiveness: (1) We rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us. (2) We give up our right to get even (including playing the tapes over again in our mind to dwell on them in our private thoughts. (3) Revising our Feelings over time. Feelings take time to be revised, but the decision to forgive is a great beginning to that process taking place.
So forgiveness is one of the greatest ways we imitate God and reflect His glory back to him.
Thanks to Blake and Cynthia!