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Week 11 – The Seven Steps to Forgiveness

When we hold on to the story of how we were done wrong, it feels like righteous justice. If we let go of anger—if we forgive—it feels like we’re granting permission. Saying It’s okay, I’ll clean this up. I’ll accept the unacceptable.

On the dark days, that feels impossible.

We tell and retell the story of how we were robbed, thinking we’re reinforcing justice. And it’s no wonder you’re outraged. You might have lost everything: your innocence, your faith, career, finances, time, relationships, hopes, and dreams. After that, you might have made other decisions that didn’t serve you well, a ripple effect of being thrown off balance by drawing a short stick.

You’re not wrong. You were robbed. You might have lost years to the drama, the aftershocks, and the crisis of it. But every time we retell the story, we give up another chunk of ourselves. We start to believe we’ll never be at peace.

The author Jodi Picoult once said, “Forgiving isn’t something you do for someone else. It’s something you do for yourself. It’s saying to the brokenness, ‘You’re not important enough to have a stranglehold on me. You don’t get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future.’”

We’re here today to talk about how to access this kind of freedom. A true restart. But we get that it can feel like it’s easier said than done.

In what I’ve said so far, you might have felt an emotional or physical response. When someone says, “Let go of anger” or “Stop telling a story that makes you a victim all over again,” you might clench up and feel defensive. Almost protective of your short stick. It’s scary to ask yourself, Why am I holding this stick so tightly? Why do I introduce myself with this stick as the headline of my story? What do I gain from doing that—but how does it cost me?

Think of what we’re doing in this meeting as grounding to God, no matter where you are in your own spiritual journey. Think of Him as the most core, most vital hum of your existence. Be still and tap into that love to calm emotional inflammation and pain; to access flow and energy; to release your grip on control and be able to rest.

What Is Forgiveness, and What Is It Not?

Martin Luther King Jr. defined it this way: “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means the evil act is no longer a barrier. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning.”

Forgiveness is not:

• Denying the pain caused by what the other person did
• Pretending your pain is gone or forgetting what happened
• Excusing the other person’s behavior
• Saying what happened to you is not serious or important
• Sharing the blame for what happened

Forgiveness is: putting down the weight of anger and letting go of a need for apology or vengeance.

Marcus Aurelius and Seneca both wrote that the best revenge is to exact no revenge at all. If someone treats you cruelly and you respond with cruelty, you have done nothing but prove to them their cruelty was justified.

Forgiveness is a masterclass in grace. It’s also one of the most potent pain relievers in human existence.

Share Time:

In the past or present, no matter how justified you felt to withhold forgiveness, how has doing so been a barrier for your own healing? Or how has practicing forgiveness been a new beginning? Share from your own life.

The Benefits of Forgiveness

Much like walking barefoot through grass, a Johns Hopkins study concluded forgiveness lowers the risk of heart attack; improves cholesterol levels and sleep; and reduces pain, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and stress. Forgiveness grounds us to love. And it’s catching, too.

Your kids see the truth on your face. They hear it in every word you speak. It’s our job to overcome hopelessness, bitterness, and despair, or risk passing it on. Our healing is their inoculation. When we give ourselves access to peace, we give it to them.

God Teaches Us to Forgive

Like every loving parent who says Don’t run into the street or No, you can’t have chocolate cake right before bed or Wash your hands before supper, God tells us what to do with our best interests at heart.

Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

It’s as foundational as Don’t run into the street. God knows what we need to thrive because He loves us—even when we tantrum, or lie, or behave badly. His witness of us never wavers. Neither does His love or His help.

Seven Steps: The Practice of Forgiveness

1. Interrupt your current emotional state. Recognize you—and your kids—deserve better.

Stop what you’re doing and look around. See the bars of your own cage: the anger, the need for vengeance, or the way we repeatedly tell the story of our short stick. Max Lucado said, “Forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner.”

2. Take a deliberate step forward, and then take that same step tomorrow, and the day after.

Forgiveness is not a “one-and-done” experience. It’s an ongoing and daily choice to transfer your need for justice into God’s hands completely, trusting Him as the righteous judge. The author Sue Monk Kidd wrote: “Some people would rather die than forgive. It’s a strange truth, but forgiveness is painful. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s an evolution of the heart.”

3. Accept the apology you may never receive.

Your grace does not need to be reciprocated. Stop standing in the way of your own healing by needing acknowledgment, apology, or amends from the person who wronged you. Leave it to Mark Twain to turn this into poetry: “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

4. Pray for the offending person.

While this seems impossible, think of it as asking God’s Spirit to work in you as you release the process into His hands. “Lord, help me to be willing to pray for this person” is a good place to start. Be patient with yourself as God is patient with you. Writer David Small put this beautifully: “To understand somebody else as a human being is about as close to real forgiveness as one can get.”

5. In the math of tallying up life’s challenges, don’t forget to count your blessings—however they found you.

Acknowledge the gifts in your life with thankfulness. Your children, inner strength, supportive friends and family, moments of random kindness. This is the wellspring from which you can offer grace to those who have harmed you. Dick Van Dyke said, “Just knowing you don’t have the answers is a recipe for humility, openness, acceptance, forgiveness, and an eagerness to learn—and those are all good things.”

6. With humility, submit and surrender to God.

Humility helps us remember we’ve all had episodes of being less than we should be. We need to be forgiven as much as we need to offer it to others. With humility, surrender the outcome—whatever will be, will be— trusting God to determine that as only He can do. Author Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “If with courage and joy, we pour ourselves out for Him and for others for His sake, it is not possible to lose, in any final sense, anything worth keeping. We will gain everything worth having.”

7. Take care of yourself by grounding in God’s creation.

Reset your emotions and your capacity by seeking fresh air regularly, giving yourself the embrace of nature. Even the simple parks and sunrises of any town or city. Go wherever you can hear more birdsong than sirens and plug into the source. “The cortex—the conscious mind— is the enemy,” says motivational speaker and athlete Wim Hof. “We are estranged from our own deeper physiology because we are no longer in contact with nature. You have a depth within yourself which needs to be stimulated. If it doesn’t get stimulated it becomes weaker, like a muscle. Nature polishes the diamond of the truth.”

Share Time:

Which of these seven steps is most difficult for you? Which step have you made progress on?

Ephesians 3 proclaims the depth and breadth of God’s love for you right now, today, no matter what has happened in the past:

“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses
knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19 NIV)

Further Action Step:

Contemplate the disharmony that’s the biggest barrier to your next chapter. It could be a person you’re being called to forgive. In your journal, write a letter to that person not to relitigate the past, but to envision the future. Whether you send the letter or not is beside the point.

Take some time to ask God for help—for His love, for healing, and freedom.