Everyone agrees that forgiveness is a good thing. But getting there is often a long, difficult journey. Maybe little things are easy to forgive, maybe people who don’t struggle with bitterness can just put things behind them and forgive easily. But for those of us who struggle in this area and find themselves stuck in patterns of unforgiveness, it often takes more time and effort to forgive.

It’s true that any journey should reach an end point or goal eventually, but in my experience the journey through forgiveness takes time, especially where deep wounds are concerned.

I believe forgiveness has three steps:

  1. We choose to do it, in obedience to Christ,
  2. We ask God to help us do it in the power of the Holy Spirit,
  3. and then we continue to do it over the ensuing months, weeks and years.

The first step is often difficult because we don’t feel capable of it. I just can’t forgive them! After all, the pain is sharp and the hurt is deep. The unfairness of the situation is overwhelming. We have been wronged, abused or neglected. And just getting to the starting point of deciding to do the thing is hard. Really hard.

Corrie Ten Boom once said,

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”

And she knew what she was talking about. If you don’t know her story, she was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and watched her beloved sister suffer and die.

We must review how great a love we have received from Christ. How much mercy and forgiveness our loving Father has bestowed on us! How undeserved it is for wretched sinners like us. How many times has He forgiven me? Too many to count.

We owe Him everything, we must remember the pain and separation of the Cross, what Jesus suffered for our forgiveness. We must choose obedience.

We must review how much mercy and forgiveness our Father has given us! How many times has He… Click To Tweet

The second step of forgiveness is to realize we don’t have the power in and of ourselves to forgive anyone, especially the life-long wounds we have endured. We beg Jesus to give us power, love, forgiveness. And we are promised that He will answer and give us what we need. 2 Peter 1:3 tell us “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

We humbly ask our loving Father to give us what we need to do this. His power is displayed in our weakness.

The third step: persevere in making the choice, ask God to transform our thinking. I carried decades of hurts and mounds of bitterness against my parents and it did not vanish in a day. It took months and even years of continuing to ask God for help and making choices to forgive. Every interaction with them, every additional hurt inflicted was an opportunity to continue on the road of forgiveness.

This really hit home for me when we took our daughter to college 15 hours from home. We had been dreading this goodbye for months; my husband and I wept as we drove away.  As we traveled home I thought back to when my parents dropped me off as a college freshman. They helped me unload my things into the dorm, said a quick farewell, and left. There were no tears, and no apparent sorrow on their part.

And I spent a few moments feeling badly. No one missed me, no one cared that I was leaving home thirty years ago. I wallowed in some self-pity. I felt a bit of that old familiar anger.  But… I made a decision years ago to forgive my parents. I was going to try to understand them, and choose to love and honor them.

That decision must continue today. I asked the Lord quickly to help me remember that and to increase my love and compassion for them. And He answered. I spent a few moments praying for them.

I remember and rehearse that I am deeply loved and forgiven and Jesus has done so much work in me. He has even restored the relationship with my parents in many ways. How can I possibly hold onto that old hurt? I can’t and I won’t, by God’s grace.

If you had asked me a year ago if I have completely forgiven my parents I would have said yes. But the enemy tries to get in there; prods an old hurt and plants a thought in my mind. And sometimes I briefly entertain it. But I must quickly repent and turn from all such thoughts. Because I have been on a long journey to forgive my parents (and others), and I have arrived at the destination.

And at this destination we find joy and freedom in Christ. I am healed from the old hurts, I am forgiven of my many sins of anger and bitterness and I am free! All praise to our glorious Lord!

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