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How to forgive someone who hurt you

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You were in a vulnerable spot and were blindsided. That person you trusted hurt you in an unthinkable way. The thing that was most precious to you was stolen and now life can never be the same. Every day you live with the pain of raw, exposed nerve endings – the throb of bitterness, the flashback…
By Seth Barnes

You were in a vulnerable spot and were blindsided. That person you trusted hurt you in an unthinkable way. The thing that was most precious to you was stolen and now life can never be the same. Every day you live with the pain of raw, exposed nerve endings – the throb of bitterness, the flashbacks, the thoughts of how things could have played out differently. What do you do?

broken heartWe all deal with it. To be human is to at times suffer extreme pain – rape, abuse, robbery, murder or merely betrayal. You’re not unique – we all get wounded. Yet, sometimes the pain of that loss is so unspeakable that we don’t even have the vocabulary to describe what it’s doing to us.

The result is often a feeling of bitterness that holds us prisoner and walls us off from a part of ourselves. It’s irrational, yet we feel powerless to change – we’re actually punishing ourselves and expecting the person who wounded us to suffer.

The only way out of that prison, of course, is forgiveness. I remember suffering two betrayals, forgiving both parties right away, and still struggling for a couple of years to figure out whom I could ever trust and how I should feel.

The way out for me began when I chose to forgive. It didn’t stop the pain or the flashbacks, but it did drain the infected wound inside me. Then, every time that those memories came to mind, I chose to forgive again, because forgiveness is never a one-time event. Every time the old memories are stirred up, you have to belly up the bar and forgive again.

Jesus began his ministry by pounding this theme. Read Matthew 5-7 and count how many times he said things like, “Pray for those who give you a hard time.” If we claim to be a follower of Jesus, we’ll do what he says (1 John 2:1-6 is unequivocal on this score – we have no wiggle room). As hard as this may seem, we simply have to forgive; we have no other scriptural options. So here’s a process:

  1. Be clear about your wounding – who was involved and what they did.
  2. Try to understand what their motivations may have been.
  3. Recognize what unforgiveness has done or will do to you – it keeps you from being your best self.
  4. Choose to forgive. Write out your forgiveness in a journal and then, better still, a letter.
  5. If possible, ask to sit down with the person. Tell them how what they did hurt you; then forgive them, no strings attached. True freedom only comes when forgiveness is total.
  6. Realize that how the person responds is irrelevant. You do the right thing; if they can’t respond with grace, that is their issue, not yours.
  7. Every time old memories and feelings come up, forgive the person again, and keep forgiving.
  8. Pray for the person. Ask God to bless them.
  9. Meditate on Jesus’ radical words about forgiveness. Soak in them. Remember that, like old age, forgiveness ain’t for sissies.

Also, check out: Admitting My Mistakes
For more on this, visit my “Living Free” topic on this blog.

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