7 Steps to Forgiveness

Forgiveness isn’t easy, but it is possible

Forgiveness is always more difficult than an apology. It seems so unfair, but in addition to being hurt, the offended spouse is responsible for the most difficult aspect of restoration – forgiveness.

While having breakfast with a mentor, we entered into a discussion about alcohol. I don’t recall how we got onto the subject, but I certainly remember how it ended. During the discussion, he asked me about my thoughts or feelings about should a Christian consume alcohol. I gave him the same answer I’ve offered probably hundreds of times.

“I’m a total abstainer. I believe I have biblical grounds for such a stance, but more practically I avoid alcohol because my dad is an alcoholic and it scares me.” As usual, this response invoked a few more questions about my dad and my biblical support for abstinence. But it was the final question my mentor asked that haunted me for months. “Have you forgiven your dad,” he asked.

“Umm, well… I think I have,” was my sheepish answer.

It took me months, but I was finally able to work through these 7 steps of forgiveness. This forgiveness has enabled me to begin rebuilding a better relationship with my dad. These steps of forgiveness will certainly help you restore your marriage relationship as well.

Understand forgiveness

It’s important to understand forgiveness before you embark on the journey it is. Forgiveness isn’t a process of condoning, accepting or justifying an offense. In fact, forgiveness requires a full acknowledgment of the severity and impact of the offense (see the next step). Rather, forgiveness is a process of giving up the right to punish your offender.

Acknowledge the pain

This is often the most painful part of forgiveness. Natural tendencies lead us to ignore the pain in hopes it will go away over time. Well, it doesn’t. Acknowledging the pain requires we think deeply on the offense and pain it has caused. It even requires we discuss the pain with our offender. Though it’s hard, this step is crucial to completing the remain steps in the forgiveness process.

Consider the other side

It isn’t likely that you’ve married an intentionally malicious person. Your spouse has offended you, but most often it’s completely unintentional. The pain of the offense builds a story in our mind that makes our spouse out to be the worst person on the planet. Consider for a moment the real character of your spouse. Try to determine what is going on in your spouse’s life that could cause them to lash out and offend you. Is it too much stress or pressure at his office? Is it burn out over the incredible load she carries at home?

Remember your own forgiveness

Jesus once said, “to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). I’ve been forgiven much. It serves us well to recall the level of forgiveness we’ve also received. The forgiveness Jesus has granted us certainly should be considered, but you likely have earthly examples of forgiveness as well. Remembering our own forgiveness helps us understand our own faults and presents an example for us to follow.

Let go of the pain

I say wish I could say “forget the pain,” but that just isn’t possible. The old cliche of “forgive and forget” just doesn’t exist for us. So the best we can do is let go of the pain. This simply means an intentional effort to avoid dwelling on the thoughts of the pain or offense and replace those thoughts with positive thoughts. Check out what Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8. Letting go of the pain means you choose to dwell on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy.

Pray

It’s difficult to be angry with someone when you are praying for them. It’s even more difficult to be angry with someone when you are praying with them. Though it’s not easy and you certainly will not want to do it, praying for and with your offender is important. It is important for both spouses as it exposes the pain and offense before each other and God. This vulnerability and transparency with each other and God will put relationship restoration on the fast track.

Repeat

Forgiveness is a process, not a one-time event. You will need to repeat the steps above often, especially soon after the offense. As time goes by, you won’t have to repeat these steps as often. But when the thoughts of the pain and offense do return, you know these 7 steps will lead you back to forgiveness and restoration of your relationship.

So, like my mentor asked me… Have you forgiven your spouse?

If you need to start relationship restoration with an apology, you should start with this article.

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