Jesus is unequivocal in teaching that we must forgive. Modern psychology reinforces the importance of forgiving, telling us that it frees us to live happier, healthier lives.
Sometimes we want to forgive, we try to forgive, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot make it happen. The process of forgiving can require an intermingling of human persistence with God’s grace. It can come quickly; it can take hours; it may take years. It is not a matter of linear time, but of the fullness of time. Here are some guidelines that can help:
- Following the example of the psalms, express your feelings, most especially the anger you have, with strong, raw, unvarnished language—addressed to God. You can do this silently as you lie in bed or sit in a chair, kneel in a church, take a walk or go for a run. And/or you can find a place where no one can hear you and wail aloud, screaming and pounding if it helps. You can express your feelings by writing or drawing or painting. If writing, you may want to substitute a capital letter for the person’s name to protect his or her identity in case someone might come across what you have written. The important thing is to get the anger and hostility out of your system and offer it to God. Do not put a time limit on how long this will take. In this matter, you are living in God’s time, not human time.
- As the tension subsides, start to move on. Try to put yourself in the skin of the person who has offended you. Think about all of their positive attributes—all that is good about their character and personality: their strengths, their talents, their special capabilities. Consider their needs, their sensitivities, the specifics of their background and psychological make-up. Try to feel things from their perspective. Develop compassion for them and empathize with them.
- Throughout, hold the person in prayer at the depths of your being. No need for words. Do this on a continuing basis.
No matter how long it takes, persist, trusting that God is working in you.