Christian Forgiveness How To
By Stacie Costa, LPC
Grace Ventures, LLC Tulsa, OK 918-212-8702 firstname.lastname@example.org www.gvcounsel.com
Sometimes we are focused on the 4 letter words in our vocabulary and overlook the 7 letter ones. Yet, there is a 7-letter word that sometimes we shun. One of these words can taste foul in our mouths and sours our stomachs. It is one that feels as if it is a further blow to the ones that already knocked us to our knees. F O R G I V E. Seven letters. A compound word; for + give. We assume that in between for and give is the word you, representing the offender. For-you-give. That leaves us holding the pain and without recourse for repayment. What if the word in between is me? For-me-give. That provides an avenue to deal with the pain and find restitution.
We are taught to forgive. We hear it over and over. However, there is little education as to how to forgive. We learn and assume that in forgiveness we are to forget, we let the offender off the hook, we reconcile and trust again, we leave ourselves vulnerable for repeat offenses, we forfeit repayment. That is not forgiveness. Not even close. That concept of forgiveness is instilled as children when we are obligated to forgive because someone is forced to say “I’m sorry” without backing it up with any true remorse or change. That is about for-you-give and it is not the true message of forgiveness or reconciliation.
It was in a valley of pain that I learned to forgive. It was life changing. It also opened my eyes to the idea that the valleys are really the mountain tops. More on that another time, as it is about a much bigger story.
My marriage of 20 years was being ripped apart. From the outside we seemingly had it all in our family. In truth we had much; much good and much bad. I thought the good balanced the bad and I was strong enough to handle the rest. As the weight of offense after offense after offense got heavier and heavier, I knew I could not manage it any longer on my own. Being very private about anything wrong, I did not know what to do. I got on my knees and pleaded with God to help me, protect my kids, and heal the marriage. Not all of that was to be. We all suffered great emotional harm and the marriage did not survive. However, I learned to forgive and in doing so I have found great healing in life. It is in pain that God grows and transforms us if we will allow it.
God, with the help of a wonderful woman who counseled me through this dark time, taught me a “how to” regarding forgiveness. I took my counselor’s guidance and added it to what God was showing me. Out of that I had a model of forgiveness that is straight forward and very useful. It has changed my life and that of others who have used it. I pray that it can be of benefit to you as well.
My journey to forgiving started with God laying it on my heart to meditate on the verse: Romans 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
I was curious and pondered what it meant to be more than a conqueror. The conqueror is the winner. How is there more? As I meditated on this, what came to me was the idea that one who is more than a conqueror is the one who does not carry the scars of the battle. Was that idea mine or from God? To confirm that it was an idea from God I went to scripture to see if there was an example there for me to learn from.
Here is what I found:
John 20:11-16 NASB But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
There it was. 3 days prior to this scene, Jesus was beaten and torn beyond recognition. 3 days later he was mistaken for a gardener! There was no sign on his body of the severe and brutal beatings he endured. He was more than a conqueror. Yes, there were some wounds still visible. The holes where the nails were driven through his hand and the rip in his side where he was pieced with a sword. Why? Because those were the markings of forgiveness.
In forgiveness, we were never meant to forget. We are always to remember. For-me-give. It is only in remembering that we can deeply forgive, utilize healthy boundaries, choose if and when to reconcile, and grow from the pain we endured.
As I considered this further, I looked at the story of the last supper with Jesus and his disciples. The bread is representative of his body and the wine of his blood. The body is exterior, and the blood is interior. The body accounts for everything that someone does to us; it is exterior to us. The blood represents everything we do to ourselves; it is interior to us. Therefore, in so much of scripture God ties together us being forgiven by Him with us choosing to forgive others. Forgiveness is a package. We cannot seek forgiveness for ourselves and withhold it from others. We are one human being, internal and external.
Consider the scriptures on this for yourself. Verses from NASB.
Matthew 6:9-14 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. ‘Give us this day our daily bread. ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’ For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Mark 11:25 Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
Matthew 18:23-35 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
Forgiveness and forgiving were both taken care of in the pain Jesus suffered. Attempting to separate them, overlooks what He did for each of us. Seeking forgiveness without giving forgiveness does not allow us to heal. To be more than a conqueror the exterior wounds are healed, and the wounds of forgiveness bring to remembrance that healing.
The process of forgiving is the same whether we are forgiving others or forgiving ourselves. We may want to forgive God, not that He did anything wrong. Forgiveness work is not about the facts of events. Forgiveness is about our experiences and wounding in events. I say this because it is sometimes said “they didn’t know any better” or “they really didn’t mean it” or “they didn’t understand that it was wrong” or “it isn’t that big of a deal”. There may not have been any intent to hurt us and we were hurt. If we experienced hurt or anger or confusion or fear or disappointment or angst or pain of any kind, we have something to forgive. For-me-give. This is not about our offender. It is about and for us.
Why do we forgive? Simple because God tells us to. He gives us this command because it is what is best for us. He wants us to be able to be more than a conqueror.
How do we forgive? We transfer the debt from the person to God. God is a God of justice. He operates within a legal system. In forgiveness, we write an invoice for what damage was done to us. We enter the court of heaven through prayer. We hand God the invoice. He agrees to pay it if we agree to accept payment from Him and transfer our right to collect from the offender to God. Now the offender owes God, we are paid (healed), and we have no further claim due us from the offender. We did not let the offender off the hook. They are on a bigger hook.
Confused? Consider this as an example. Someone crashes into your car. Your car is totaled, and you spend a week in the hospital and then several weeks in therapy and rehab. The bills add up to $100,000. You go to the person that hit you with the invoices. He has no money and no insurance. You are left holding the debt and the pain. You remember that on your insurance there is a provision that covers this very scenario. You go to your provider who agrees to write you a check for the $100,000. In order to collect the check, you are required to sign a release that states that you have been repaid, and that the claim against the other driver now is transferred to the insurance company. The responsible driver is not off the hook for the bill. They now owe it to a more powerful entity.
Think about the verse. Romans 12:19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. The person that needs to be repaid is the one who was taken from. The Lord says he will repay us. He can! Often the offender cannot even if he/she wants to. When we give God an invoice, He repays us. Also, in this verse, He tells us that vengeance is His. Vengeance is the meting out of justice. Only God can investigate the heart of our offender and determine what is needed to deal with him/her properly. God tells us not to try to figure out and serve our own punishment of the person. When we transfer our right to the debt to God, we are transferring the right to punish and to collect from the person. We are not transferring the right to set necessary boundaries for our own protection.
When God repays us, with time the wounds are healed, and the scars of the offense are not visible any longer. They do not cause us further struggle. That does not mean that the events were not painful. They were and the scars of forgiveness speak to that. In remembering, we reconcile, if we choose to, only when there is true remorse and trustworthy behavior by the offender for a sustained period. Of course, reconciliation and trust building are different depending on the depth of the offense. Reconciling with a friend who failed to show up for lunch is quite different from reconciling with a spouse who has been unfaithful.
Forgiveness is a verb, an action. It is a legal transfer in God’s courtroom. Feelings are not instantly gone. They may remain, they may fade away, and they may change. Continuing to have feelings does not mean you did not forgive. If you made the choice to obey God in forgiveness, wrote the invoice, took it to God in prayer and transferred it to Him; you forgave. It has often been said that when you still feel emotional, you have not forgiven. I disagree, a sad event is a sad event. I would think that Jesus stays emotional about what He did on the cross. He intentionally carries the scars of forgiveness as a remembrance and a sign to us of His love for us. In the last supper, His words were to “do this in remembrance of Me”. Forgiveness is a big deal, a life changing deal. For-me-give.
When I was learning to forgive in this way, I looked for opportunities to practice this. I wanted it become habit in my life. In each day, I was aware of even the smallest of offenses against me. In my mind I wrote invoices and took them to God. It only took a minute for each offense. I wrote invoices for drivers that passed me too fast or cut me off or sat at a green light. Invoices were transferred for people in the store who were in my way or failed to acknowledge they were taking up the whole aisle. I forgave all the sales callers for interrupting my day. I forgave my kids for whining or complaining or leaving their toys in the middle of the floor. (Yes, they still had to pick them up.) I practiced and practiced until in the moment I felt any offense, my mind immediately went to invoice writing. This was the experience I needed before I tried to apply this forgiveness to the hard people in my life. Those were not quickly written invoices in my head. Those took hours with paper and pen and tears. Upon completion of the invoices, I read them aloud to God and then destroyed the paper.
With this habit built and great success in feeling lighter and free, I sat down with a spiral notebook to work through the offenses of my spouse in a 20-year marriage. I wrote invoices addressing his offenses against me. Then I addressed my offenses against myself, him, and my family. It took a few weeks to do. I thought it was complete and so I took it to court of God and read it aloud. I transferred each and every debt. I destroyed the notebooks. This changed me. I found closure and healing. I have not forgotten. The story still has its happy and sad components. Across the years more memories have surfaced and as they have, I have written the invoices and transferred the debts to God.
It can be powerful to take communion as you give God an invoice. My practice is to say the Lord’s prayer first. Then I eat a whole saltine square which is dry and hard to eat. I want to acknowledge that forgiving others is sometimes hard. I want to be authentic in that. I tell God I am choosing to forgive and asking that the wounds and scars be gone. Then I ask for forgiveness for my sin and forgive myself for my failings. I drink the grape juice realizing that it washes down the cracker crumbs. Accepting forgiveness for me causes it to be easier to forgive others. I ask to know that the scars of forgiveness are visible in my life. I do this practice several times a week. It is some of my favorite time with God.
For-me-give. Using this model to forgive is for the forgiver. There is not a requirement or even a need to share the invoice with the offender. We do not have to tell the person we forgave. We never have to see or speak to the person again. The offender may not even be alive any longer. Discussion of forgiveness are a part of reconciliation, not forgiveness. Reconciliation involves both people. Forgiveness involves only one.
I pray this is of help to you. Be more than a conqueror.
Attached are samples of invoices that I use.