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How to Forgive From the Heart - Main Technique (Part 1)
You Are Responsible For Your Own Attitude
Like most people, I struggled for years with how to not hate others. When I was in Junior High, I wanted to kill my brother. I grew to hate my father. I married at 19, and after seven years, grew to hate my husband. And I did all this knowing full well that to hate is to kill someone's soul. So my list of hatreds and of soul-murders grew. When I caught myself planning how to do my husband in for real, I decided it was time to learn to forgive from the heart. I had gotten good at faking it. I could talk the talk, and put on a plastic smile, trying to convince myself and everyone else that I had it together, and could do just fine at loving people. I could even take my husband to bed right on the heels of wishing for his demise. That was forgiveness, wasn't it?
But no, it wasn't. And it was time I figured out what was. And how to do it. Well, I learned. And ever since then, I've been craving to pass on the process to you.
How Does the Creator Respond to a "Stumble"?
The Plan for Teaching You How to Forgive
I will outline how to do this in three very practical steps. Virtually anybody can do this. There's just one catch. Your heart has to be full of light. Jesus Christ is Light, as is His Father. He can make your heart full of light, and wants to. Then, in His power, you can forgive anything or anyone. Anyone. For anything. You'll see. You can leave behind the haunts of bad feelings left by what people have done to you...including yourself. Even if the person you're mad at is God, this still works.
So, before we begin on the forgiveness process, here's a crash course in how to cooperate with God in undarkening your heart. In case you don't need this part, and you know for sure that you and Jesus are friends, just skip to the section labeled "The Forgiveness Process Part 1."
Would You Like to Let the One Who Hurt You Stop Telling You How to Think? Then Forgive Them.
Friends with Jesus
I will not preach at you. You've probably had enough of that. You already know that you need to forgive, or you wouldn't be reading this. You also know you can't do it on your own, because you've tried, and, while you may have made the decision to forgive, chances are good that you haven't gotten rid of the nasty feelings that came with being wronged.
So now what? Let Jesus take a peek at your heart. It's alright; He already knows what's in there. He designed you, created you, and has been looking out for you ever since. Maybe it doesn't feel like this is true, but we're not here to argue that. Perhaps we'll talk about that another time. If you're determined to be angry, I can't stop you. Only you can decide if you want innapropriate anger to cease, and take actions to ensure that happens.
I'll tell you why Jesus wants to have this look at your heart. It's so that He can love on you. When your heart is black and slimy, you can't properly feel His goodness toward you. You're stuck, and likely to be too concerned with your own problems to know that He's trying to communicate with you, or that He cares about what's happening in your life. What He wants is to heal your heart. But He can't do that if you play keep-away with Him. So let Him have a look, and hold your heart for a moment.
How? Just tell Him what you want. You could say, "Jesus, I want you to see and hold my heart." You may or may not feel anything at first. That's OK. The decision is what's important right now; the feelings will eventually come. This decision to be receptive to the Creator may be the hardest you've ever made. There's a good reason for that.
Real Freedom Means Being a Warrior
Your soul has an enemy, and this enemy will do anything he can to keep you away from your Creator. If you are determined to get close to Him in spite of this enemy's efforts to divert you, then he will do his best to help you form only distorted, fearful pictures of your Creator. This has been his self-appointed job, since before the Garden of Eden, where he deceived Eve. Yes, this enemy has a name, and is commonly known as the Devil, or Satan. These are really titles, not names, and refer to this enemy's activities in our lives. Satan, which means "Accuser", carries the idea of a prosecuting attorney, who, in this case, accuses God's children before Him, and seeks to create so much confusion and fear in us that we can't function correctly. He loves to lock up our minds and mire us down with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and horror. The good news is that Jesus has been our defending attorney ever since His work on the cross, where He already won His case. The word "devil" means "adversary", as he is both our adversary and Jesus'. In other words, he fights against anything good, pure, righteous, holy, and peace-loving. He is enraged that Jesus already won His case when He, through His Father's power, conquered death and rose from the grave, as a kind of gate and pattern for humans to receive eternal life. The enemy knows he can't win, but he's stubborn, and is trying to take as many down with him as possible, just to spite the Creator. Unless you have chosen to give your heart over to Jesus, you are among those who are going down, as that is the default choice. Jesus said, Either you are for Him or you are against Him (Matthew 12:30). You already can feel the enemy working in your life, or you would have less fear, and a way to deal with the guilt, doubt, and confusion that pile up inside you. So let's see what Jesus wants to do with your heart.
What About Confession?
Don't we have to confess our sins in order to be forgiven? Isn't that what the Bible says? (I John 1:9.) Well, if this verse meant we have to make a list and check it twice, then I'd be in trouble and so would you. Do you know or remember all of your sins? Give me a ring if you do, because I want to know what memory course you're using. So if the verse doesn't mean that God wants an itemized account of every stupid thing you've ever done, what does it mean? It means you need to recognize that you have no power to redeem and cleanse your own soul...or body...or spirit. The good news is that Jesus is not only capable, but willing to do these things for you. That's why He left His home with the Father, to come live in the slums and hang out with prostitutes and dock workers. And get lynched. And rise again, totally undefeated. Yeah, that's love.
So let's get this straight. Jesus isn't on the edge of His seat, waiting to put you down. He's waiting to lift you up. But in order to do that, He needs your permission. Yeah, God needs your permission. That's because He respects you. He created you with a mind of your own, and loves you so much that He refuses to take away your freedom of choice. You have the power to choose Him, or reject Him and His claims. And in order to choose Him (and His claims), you must acknowledge that He is God and you are not. Pretty simple, huh? But not easy. Never easy.
Don't stall here. Go ahead and make that choice to respect the Creator back, which means receiving His claims - that He is who He says He is, and that He did what He says He did. He's the Living God, He's the Messiah, He's the Creator, and He is light, love, and life. Every good and perfect thing started in Him (including you). Every distorted, ugly, and dark thing is something He made, twisted out of shape by the enemy of your soul and His. This includes your soul, made imperfect through sin. Nothing imperfect or dark can enter His holy presence, because He is a consuming fire. He will one day put all things to rights, but is allowing everyone time to make their choices first. At any time in our lives here, we have the ability to call on His Name and accept His invitation to become holy and perfect through His work in the person of Jesus Christ. Those are His claims, in a nutshell.
Is Jesus Holding Your Heart?
If the darkness seems to be choking you, try saying, "Jesus is my Creator, and I choose Him." This won't necessarily make everything all better, but it will send a vivid message to the enemy that you are not fooling around, and you are prepared to do battle and win. If this seems like too much trouble, ask yourself why the enemy wants your soul so much? Why is he willing to go to so much trouble to keep it? Ask yourself, also, why Jesus died for the sake of your soul? He thought it was important, too. So struggle if you have to, and win through.
Ask Jesus for a picture of Him with your heart. I have never seen Him deny anyone this picture. He wants to share with you. But if, as sometimes happens, you can't see anything but darkness, or you seem to be in a gray fog, try to go forward without the visual for now, and in the Resources Section of this article, I will list some articles and books that may help you connect better to Him. This problem is probably just the enemy trying to get you to turn back, and admit defeat.
If you are able to receive a picture, feeling, or visual of some kind, you are likely to see or feel Jesus holding your dirty heart. Many people see their heart covered in a tar-like substance at first, or perhaps mangled and bloody, or pierced full of holes. Sometimes, their hearts have been shattered, and appear in pieces, or with cracks throughout. Whatever the condition of your heart, I want you to notice Jesus' eyes and expression. Does he seem grossed out, as you feared? Does He seem mad at you? Or does He seem to be handling the situation with steady emotions and practical actions? Is He, perhaps, sorrowful and patient? Is He smiling? I would love for you to tell me about your experiences seeing His expressions, in the Comments Section below. Tell me what He says to you, whether it's with His mouth or His eyes.
Ask Jesus what He wants to do now. Often, He'll simply continue with the clean-up process, but sometimes He wants to discuss something He sees in your heart. Let Him make this call. It's the wisest, bravest thing you can do.
Ultimately, He'll make you a trade. Your torn, stained and spattered heart for His healthy, glowing, and glorious one. Does this seem unfair? Or like too much? Just remember, He's an extravagant God. He created extravagant beauty in nature, and can bring beauty out of anything. When He makes this trade for your heart, He's just getting what He already paid for, anyway. Yes, paid for. With His blood, 2,000 years ago. He's been waiting for the gift of your heart, and when He gets it, He will put it next to His, where He can feel every beat.
In an instant, at the moment of this trade, Jesus will begin cleaning you up from the inside out. This is the secret of His power in your life. He's the only one who can work from the center out. During His discussion with you, whether verbally or visually, He will probably have asked for permission to keep your heart, instead of just holding it for a few moments. When you give Him this permission, He will most likely want to show you what He's done to make things beautiful. I would love to hear the description of your new heart. Some common themes are: Fist-sized jewels or gems; jewelry or music boxes of various makes; polished wooden ones in a traditional heart shape; and flesh-looking hearts, healthy-colored with no hint of dirt, and glowing with sun-like intensity. Jesus will show you exactly what you need to see, in order to let Him help you keep your heart pure.
Back to Forgiveness
Now that you are sure of your need for the Creator's power in you, understand that forgiveness is something that He practices regularly. He knows how hard it is to forgive, as He forgave those who beat, spit on, and crucified His Son. And He's eager to forgive you, too. To hold nothing over your head with which to manipulate you or guilt-trip you. He wants to give you joy and peace...to trade your brokenness for His wholeness.
Things to Think About
What Forgiveness is Not
Let's discuss what forgiveness is and is not. If you have wrong ideas about forgiveness, you're unlikely to make much headway. Forgiveness is not:
- Letting the person who hurt you off easy
- Pretending nothing happened
- Ignoring the other person and his needs (or yourself, if you are the one at fault)
- Trusting the other person, as if they will never hurt you again
None of these things were what Jesus intended when He instructed us to forgive as He forgives. You can see this in the way He demonstrated forgiveness. The most pointed example is probably His interaction with the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were an ultra-religious group who believed they were more pleasing to God because they kept a lot of rules. Many of these rules were self-imposed, and had nothing to do with the Law of Moses, which God had given to Israel when they came out of Egypt. Not only did the Pharisees work hard to keep these rules, but they tried to force everyone else to keep them, too, claiming they were part of "the law". Meanwhile, they held other people in contempt, and ignored the needs of aging parents, widows, orphans, and others whom they had a special obligation to help. (You can see these details for yourself as you read through the Gospels.) A famous prayer attributed to a Pharisee carries the sentiment, "God, I'm glad you didn't make me a Gentile, or a woman."
Had enough of them already? So had Jesus. Jesus and the Pharisees played cat-and-mouse all three-and-a-half years of His ministry on earth. That is, they tried to trap Him in discussions about religious matters, and He got on their case for their selfish bull-headedness and hypocrisy. The Pharisees hated Jesus, because He saw right through them and let them know it. He told them they were vipers, and white-washed tombs full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27). Yet He forgave them, and gave them every chance to respond reasonably to God's goodness. They refused. So - did He hug them and tell them it was OK, and God loves them anyway? Hardly. He publicly got in their faces, and berated them for leading others astray.
This is not to say that you should indiscriminately yell at people who offend you. You should not. The point is that Jesus never pretended things were OK when they weren't. And you shouldn't either. It's not healthy, and it doesn't help anyone. It may enable others to continue in hurtful behaviors, but it does not help them. Jesus also did not trust the untrustworthy. He definitely did not trust the Pharisees. In fact, He didn't trust anyone but His Father with His heart, because He knew what was in the heart of Man (John 2:24-25). Yes, he loved and liked His friends, and was very close to Peter, James, and John, and others like Mary of Bethany, and her siblings Martha and Lazarus. But He wasn't afraid to be real with them, telling them what He thought when they weren't doing their best (Matthew 15:16). So forgiveness is not about being nice; it's about being real, with yourself and others.
Now, for what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is handing over the bad stuff to Jesus, and trusting Him to deal with it. So, why would you trust Him to deal with things? Because He's already paid for what's been done wrong. He did that 2,000 years ago, with His own blood. That's why He died - to pay for everything you and I and everyone else have ever done wrong, or will do wrong. The alternative is that we each pay for our own wrong-doing with our own blood (lives), and stay under condemnation, never getting back the eternal life we forfeited in the Garden of Eden, when we, as a race, partook of the forbidden fruit. Jesus removed the need for us to pay for our own sins, by sacrificing His own life for us. Furthermore, he became sin for us, so that He could receive the full wrath of His Father against sin [reference], and also, I'm convinced, so He could know what guilt for sin feels like. After all, He needs to be able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, since, prior to this, He had no personal contact with sin (Hebrews 4:15 and II Corinthians 5:21).
So - supposing that Jesus did all that, and that He did it to give us a second chance, why would He not want to finish putting everything to rights for us...including making sure that we never suffer in vain? It's OK to trust Him with the results of forgiving someone. Everyone will one day get what they deserve, whether that's good or bad. Forgiveness means that you give over your right to hurt the one who hurt you, and allow the Creator, the only Just Judge, to oversee the consequences of sin in that person's life. After all, Jesus already paid for the wrong-doing itself, and when you hold onto resentment or vengefulness, you're just holding onto the pain the other person gave you, extending it in your life.
...don't 'weep inwardly' and get a sore throat. If you must weep, weep: a good honest howl! I suspect we - and especially, my sex - don't cry enough now-a-days. Aeneas and Hector and Beowulf, Roland and Lancelot blubbered like school-girls, so why shouldn't we?
- C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady
Forgiveness Step 1: Pour Out Your Emotions (Empty the Trash of Feeling Hurt)
Step 1 is simple, but can be emotionally difficult. Most of us who have trouble with forgiving don't cope well with emotions, and forgiveness requires that you be real with your Creator and yourself about what you really feel. Forgivenss is not an intellectual process. It is a decision to let go of the pain, but is also an emotional process. That's not what you're used to hearing, I'm guessing. Many people believe that forgiveness is strictly an intellectual decision - a declaration that you will not treat anyone like crap just because they treated you like crap, or maybe that you won't allow yourself to dwell on what they did. But that is only ignoring the problem, and your emotions are likely to continue in a rotten vein. Have you ever made a decision to forgive someone, only to find yourself lashing out in anger because your emotions never caught up to your decision? You can't fake your way through forgiveness, and you can't do it only in your head. Your heart and emotions must be involved, because unforgiveness affects every part of you - your physical being, your emotions, your mind and intellect, and your spirit. If any of these areas is allowed to associate with bitterness or resentment, your whole interconnected being will be affected by that darkness. Yes, unforgiveness is darkness. It is unlike your Creator, who is Light, so the alternative is darkness.
So here's how to begin clearing your emotions. You may not even know how you feel about what's been done, especially if it's been a long time since the event happened, or if you tried to "stuff" your emotions in an effort to be nice or "mature". Begin by stating who you are forgiving, and specifically for what. Start with whatever comes to mind first, but if nothing particular strikes you, choose something "small", just to practice on.
I choose to forgive Joe for calling me a bitch, making me feel...
So, just how did you feel? Choose at least three or four emotional words to describe what you felt. Be as specific and emotional as you can. It's OK to cry...even if you're a man! It's also OK to go scream and pound on a wall, or kick a tree, or shred an old piece of clothing. It's OK to use any language you want, and any kind of language you want. Remember, the emotions, thoughts, and words are already there. All you are doing is dumping them out. It is needful for you to verbalize your pain, whether it takes the form of crying, raging, cussing, clenched fists, or energetic weeding of the garden while you growl. The only thing that is not permissible is actually hurting another person or animal. So - no punching someone's lights out; no kicking the cat; and no screaming at the children or your spouse. But do allow yourself to go somewhere that is conducive to showing emotion - go sit in your car by yourself; lock yourself in the bathroom and turn on the shower; take a walk or a run; or lock the bedroom door and hide under the covers...or in the back of the closet. The point is, let the emotions come.
Sometimes all you can manage is a feeling of depression, or a clenched jaw and no tears. Do the best you can. You may have practiced for a long time to hide your emotions or to be "stable". You'll have to work hard to overcome these habits and learn to be real again.
I choose to forgive Joe for calling me a f***ing w**** b****, and making me feel enraged, dirty, incomplete, resentful, miserable, like smashing his face in, like tearing his balls off....
See what I mean? Be real. Your thoughts are there inside you anyway, so acknowledge them to yourself and the Almighty. He already knows. But you need to let yourself know. No one else has to hear your outpouring. Even the person you are forgiving doesn't usually need to be involved. But defining your feelings is crucial. A person often doesn't know how he feels until he starts into the forgiveness process, and begins naming and exploring emotions, letting Jesus open up what's really there.
Forgiveness Step 2: Acknowledge Jesus Already Paid the Pain Debt
Step 2 is usually much easier. It involves putting this burden of emotions into Jesus' hands, and acknowledging that He has the right to deal with you and the one who hurt you, as He sees fit. Remember, He's already paid the price for what you and the other person did. It is His right to deal with things His way. You might therefore continue like this:
Jesus, I know you already paid the price for this sin/my wrong-doing/this ugy thing that happened. (Phrase it how you like, just so you say what you mean and mean what you say.) I choose to let go of this situation, and I hand it to you, Jesus. I release to you all the emotions that I've already acknowledged, and ask you to heal me from them - heart, body, soul, mind and spirit. (Again, you can say it how you like - just make sure that everything you want healed gets included.) Jesus, I ask that you show me now what you already did to pay for this problem.
Give Jesus time to respond in your emotions or thoughts, to answer your question of what He's already done. He can give you confidence that He is competent to handle the situation from here on.
If you realize at this point that you have more emotions you need to unleash, or for whatever reason you need to return to Step 1, do it. Remember, the point is to get free from whatever hurts and angers are there, not to show your prowess by moving cleanly from one step to the next. It would be a good idea to ask Jesus to show you if there is anything more you should say or do before you continue...or if He wants to say anything to you, or do anything for you.
The Container Method Demonstrated
Alternative Method for Step 2: Putting Emotions in a Container
A friend taught me this method when I was struggling to understand and remember Step 2. He began by putting in front of me a cardboard box, then said, "Put it all in there." He marked on the side in black magic marker, "For Jesus." Next, I imagined every emotion and angle of the situation that needed forgiveness, as if each had become a solid object of some sort, which represented its own problem or feeling. I began to feel the weight lift from my soul. When I had trouble imagining what something looked like, I just asked Jesus to provide an "object" image for me, then pictured putting that into the box. You may use a real box or other container, or you may simply imagine something that suits your purposes.
Before and After Forgiveness
Forgiveness Step 3: Allow Jesus to Redeem the Affected Part of Your Life (Take Back the Ruined Ground from the Enemy)
Step 3 is usually the fun part. This is where you usually get a feeling of release, as of burdens being lifted from your body and heart. But even if the results are slow to show, remember how brave you've been to do what few people do well - forgive thoroughly and willingly. It's the hardest thing there is to do.
So - ask Jesus to take back the ground that you yielded to the enemy of your soul. What ground? How does ground relate to forgiveness? Well, think of your life like a battlefield. It is one, whether you realize it or not. That's why you sometimes feel pulled in pieces when it comes to right and wrong. The enemy wants you to ignore Jesus' efforts to befriend you, and Jesus asks you to become like Him - full of light. No wonder you feel pulled around!
Back to the ground. The enemy works to take over parts of your life. He does this in many ways that are beyond the scope of this article, but the outline often looks like this:
1) The enemy will accuse you of something...especially something you couldn't seem to help at the time. Maybe it was something you really couldn't help and that wasn't your fault. Say, an uncle who molested you. The enemy will leverage this or anything else he can to make you feel dirty, unwanted, unholy, and worthless. A complete failure, impossible to love.
2) The enemy works to isolate you, either physically or emotionally, influencing you to believe that no one has ever felt just the way you feel, or been through exactly what you have. He may influence you to feel this way through friends who betray you, or through a spouse who abuses you, or through a boss who hates you, or through a child with cancer. He loves to see you miserable. He himself is a miserable being, and pain is his game. He may influence you further through nightmares, or religious confusion, or something as seemingly harmless as a car that won't start.
3) He works to introduce people into your life who will help in his work of making you feel lonely, worthless, and unlovable. These people may not be aware that they are hurting you. Often, they themselves are hurt quite badly, too. And this helps blind them to what they are doing to those around them. If the enemy manages to keep you isolated enough, and works to humilate and hurt you through other people, eventually, you will reject the idea that you can trust God. You will feel that He is a tyrant, or that He is "just like everybody else I've known". If you once start believing that God doesn't and can't care about you, you'll find a way to finish taking yourself, and what's left of your life, straight to the enemy of your soul. Game over. Maybe you won't realize it for a number of years, but if you're not resisting him, you're automatically on his side, and being drawn deeper into his ways.
If you don't want to spend the rest of your life sitting miserably chained somewhere near the enemy, then you must treat this taking back of ground seriously. Ask Jesus to take back the ground, therefore. "Jesus, would you please take back all ground/all the parts of my heart and mind that I gave to the enemy through hanging onto my anger, hurt" - and whatever else you need to name.
Now, here's the fun part. Ask Jesus for a before-and-after picture of that ground. Ask to see what He's done with it since He took it out of darkness. I think you will be pleased and amazed. (You may ask immediately, as it takes Jesus no time at all to restore something to beauty.)
How'd you do? Do you feel better? If not, give yourself 10 minutes or half an hour, and check again. Sometimes things need time to adjust. This would be a great time to ask Jesus if He has anything further to say or show to you. He wants to help you, remember? - not beat you over the head with things. Ask Jesus, "Have I truly forgiven this person for this thing?" If not, follow Jesus' instructions for finishing the process.
This has been a long article, so I'll re-cap.
Are you friends with Jesus? If not, this is an excellent time to change that. Anyway, your heart is not equipped for forgiving without His power and Light in you.
Step 1 -
State clearly and precisely who you are forgiving, and for what. Dump the trash. Pour out all the emotions you can get your hands on. Be real.
Step 2 - Acknowledge Jesus' right to deal with the results of forgiveness His way. Take your hands off the situation that led to your pain, anger, guilt, etc.
Step 3 - Ask Jesus to take back the ground you gave to the enemy by holding onto hurtful feelings. Ask Him what the ground looks like now that it is in His control.
I am planning a trouble-shooting article, for those tricky times when you just can't seem to get forgiveness to work, no matter what you try. In it, I will cover topics such as:
- When someone does the same bad things to you over and over. What then? Should you still forgive them? Do they deserve it?
- Forgiving a stranger, whom you know nothing about besides that they hurt you.
- Forgiving God. Is it OK to be mad at God?
- Forgiving things that deserve serious retribution...maybe even the death penalty.
- When you must forgive exactly the same offense repeatedly, because the feelings won't go away for more than a few days. Why this may be happening, and a few things you can do about it. (Hint: You may need to talk to the person you are forgiving...or, you may be experiencing Dissociative Identity Disorder.)
- When you can't trust God to take care of your heart, or the situation that hurts, and the pain never stops. (Hint: A person's view of God is based on their relationship with their physical father or important adult males.)
Helps and Resources From Which I Have Learned
- The Emotion Code: How to Release Trapped Emotions for Abundant Health, Love and Happiness. The process outlined in this book can help you clear emotions that have been running your life.
- The Healing Codes, by Dr. Alex Loyd. An extremely effective, simple exercise that can prompt healing for virtually anything, physical, mental, or emotional.
- Caring For the Heart (John Regier). Highly-effective counseling methods, developed by a pastor who feels other people's pain and was determined to help.
Credits to Those Who Have Helped Me Learn to Forgive
Jesus Christ, for making forgiveness possible, and putting the means within our reach.
John Regier, for his materials and effective teaching. (See his site, Caring For the Heart, above.)
Heather Dee, for her counseling expertise and her willingness to share the wisdom she's gained.
© 2015 Joilene Rasmussen