What Should You Do Before Truly Forgiving?

Forgiveness is something we talk about a lot in Christian circles. Someone wrongs you, forgive them. It’s as simple as that, right?

I am not so sure. Forgiveness is not usually a one step process, it involves acknowledging, grieving, anger, setting boundaries, and then finally, in time, true forgiveness can be achieved. Depending on how deeply you have been hurt, the longer the process can take. There is no timeline for forgiveness, we must allow the process.

It’s easy for us as Christians to tell ourselves or others to just forgive when wronged. But without the proper healing, forgiveness can just be denying our feelings surrounding the event.

When someone has hurt us, we are allowed to be angry, sad, and feel any emotion we are feeling. That’s okay. Jesus is not asking us to be a doormat, to let others walk all over us. He is not asking us to deny our pain and suffer in silence in the name of forgiveness. But He does want us to move toward forgiveness and love. So how do we do that?

First it’s important to take a step back and really look at the situation. Emotional and physical abuse, and any sort of trauma, both past and present may require some extra help. Therapy can be so incredibly helpful in these situations and doesn’t mean that you are weak or failing to forgive. Actually, it shows strength and the desire to heal and move forward. I would even go as far as to recommend therapy in general. Sometimes we just need someone to listen who has the experience and understanding to walk us through the messy stuff.

But for all those day-to-day irritants, people who let us down, disagreements with friends and family, how do we handle that? It doesn’t always feel in our nature to turn the other cheek. Especially when we find out a dear friend calls us names behind our back, or a family member yells hurtful things at us during an argument.

Firs things first, take a step back. Take a good hard look at the situation. Were you saying and doing things that hurt the other person as well? Do you need to apologize for your part? Sometimes we are so caught up in our feelings about what has been done to us that we don’t see the things that we could have done differently. So it’s important that we look at that.

From there it’s time to have a conversation with whoever has wronged you. It’s an important step to speak up about how they have hurt you and how it has affected you. Now like I mentioned before, in cases like abuse or trauma, this step may do more harm than good. Consult a therapist, pastor, or trusted friend before confronting someone you have been traumatized by.

At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We have all said and done things in our life that have hurt others, things that we are not proud of. Allow yourself to feel what you need to feel regarding the situation, but remember that just like you, the person who wronged you is human. The sooner that we can acknowledge that we all make mistakes, the easier it will be to forgive the mistakes of others, even if they have hurt us.

So keep that in your minds when you are struggling to forgive. We are all flawed human beings. That doesn’t mean that we can treat people however we want, and it certainly doesn’t mean that we allow others to hurt us with no repercussions. But it is a helpful reminder of what Jesus speaks of when he said:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 ESV

Friends, forgiveness is not easy. There is not one formula that we can follow. Forgiveness is a process, a choice, a difficult path. But we have the greatest example. And we can always look to Him for guidance and strength.