5 Steps for Forgiving Family
“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love” (Bryant H. McGill). To maintain the intimate love of family, family members have to practice forgiveness. If we do not practice forgiveness in our family, we will find our family overrun with bitterness, anger, and resentment. Without forgiveness, family will become a place of suffocating tension and unbearable pain instead of a stable and secure refuge from the world. How do we forgive? Here are 5 steps for forgiveness based on Everett Worthington’s model.
1. Count the Loss. This seems almost paradoxical, but the first step in forgiving someone is to objectively define what we have lost as a result of the wrong done to us. Spell out how we have been wronged and what was lost. Remain as objective as possible in this process. God did this through the prophets. He clearly defined how His people had wronged Him through idolatry, unfaithfulness, and stubbornness. He objectively told Israel how their actions robbed them of intimacy with Him and bruised His reputation. Following His example, we begin the process of forgiveness by objectively defining how we were wronged.
2. Realize that we have a right to expect payment for the wrong done to us, BUT (and this is a BIG BUT) we are morally incapable of collecting that debt. We are not a righteous judge. Recall a time in your own life when you wronged another person and they forgave you. Remember how undeserving you were of that forgiveness and how it made you feel to receive it. Even more, recall that our sin against God is thousands of times greater than any sin made by another person against us. When we realize how harshly we have sinned against God and how dramatically we have wronged other people, we can begin to recognize our own moral inability to exact payment for a sin against us. When we realize how freely God has forgiven us and how richly others have forgiven us, we can open up to the possibilities of forgiving another.
3. Drop the rocks of judgment, bitterness, and anger. In humility, give up your right for justice. Throw off resentment and cast off bitterness. Follow Christ’s example by “entrusting” yourself to “Him that judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21-24). Make a conscious decision to let God act as the final Judge and Arbiter. Trust Him to balance justice and mercy in your life and the life of the one who offended you.
4. Make the first move and commit to follow through. Don’t wait for the other person to change or apologize. Make the first move. Initiate the actions of forgiveness. This act of altruism follows God’s example. In the story of our relationship with God, the one needing forgiveness did not approach God and ask for it. God, the One who was wronged, initiated forgiveness and carried out the work of forgiveness before we even knew what we had done. He made the first move and He followed through with the actions of forgiveness. Make the first move to forgive. Initiate forgiveness. Altruistically offer forgiveness and commit to follow through.
5. Follow through with work of forgiveness. Unforgiving thoughts will pop into your head. Vengeance, bitterness, and resentment may rear their ugly heads in your thought life even after you have committed to forgive. Don’t let them take hold. Take those thoughts captive, remind yourself that you have forgiven, and throw those thoughts out of your mind. Replace anger with compassion and say a pray for the other person. Replace resentment with empathy and do some kind deed for the other person. Seek out opportunities to show that person kindness. Replace bitterness with love and reach out to them in love by seeking opportunities to promote their happiness and contentment.
Forgiveness is not for the faint of heart. Forgiveness is hard work. However, forgiveness can restore relationships. Forgiveness can bring reconciliation, peace, and joy to a family. Make the first move today.