How Can I Forgive?


by Sister Renee   (6/03)

     The path to forgiveness contains three main elements:

     1.FORGIVENESS DOES NOT MEAN RECONCILIATION.  We are often actually afraid to forgive because we feel that forgiveness means we must once again expose ourselves to more abuse.  Compare the definitions of ‘Forgive’ and ‘Reconcile’ on the Helpful Definitions page.  These two words have obviously different meanings and do not necessarily go together.  Neither do the words ‘Forgive’ and ‘Forget’ necessarily go hand-in-hand.

     In deciding whether to reconcile as we forgive, we need to consider several aspects concerning the offenses committed against us:


     The disciples Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter both betrayed Jesus.  Besides that Judas’ betrayal resulted in Jesus’ death (which was necessary to fulfill the scriptures and for the salvation of mankind), why was Judas eternally damned for his betrayal, while Peter was forgiven, completely reconciled to Jesus, and trusted by Jesus to take care of his people (John 21:15-25)?  Because Peter betrayed Jesus out of fear, while Judas intentionally betrayed Jesus out of greed and his own selfish motivations.  Judas knew his betrayal would have devastating consequences for Jesus, but he didn’t care!

     We should consider reconciling with someone who thoughtlessly sinned against us, not realizing their actions or words would be hurtful, but we should be wary of someone who knew we would be hurt and did it anyway!


     One or two nasty remarks  do not constitute a pattern of abuse.  By the same token, an insult is not on the same level as a serious betrayal.  If a parent or relative has an occasional lapse in judgment that results in your feelings being hurt, you must try to overlook it.  However, if he or she has been emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive toward you, you must protect yourself.  And certainly, if you have children, it is your duty as a parent to protect them from experiencing or witnessing abuse.

     When do hurt feelings and insults cross the line into abuse?  When they begin to undermine your self-esteem or cause you stress.  Pay attention to your physical symptoms.  When I was 11 years old, I had such bad diarrhea from stress that I was hospitalized.  Rather than stop their abuse, my parents had me put on Valium for three years- and even though I was drugged, I was still expected to get straight-A grades or face punishment.  Now that I am grown, I find it inconceivable that they would tranquilize a child rather than alleviate the source of her anxiety!

     As an adult, I had many symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially nightmares and flashbacks.  I would get a knot in my stomach and a headache just driving on a road near my parents’ neighborhood.

     My parents’ attempts at control and abuse intensified when I reached my 40’s, causing me to develop skin conditions (rosacea and psoriasis), migraines, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain, and a heart condition.  I was afraid I would not live long enough to finish raising my children!  My parents were completely unrepentant, so even though I was eventually able to forgive, I knew it was a matter of survival that I limit contact.  My parents responded by cutting me off, and I thank the Lord now for removing me from that terrible situation.


     When you rebuke someone who has sinned against you (Luke 17:3), if she loves you, cares for you, and truly didn’t mean any harm, her first response would be to apologize, and her second response would  be to make a committment to never do it again.  Abusive people, of course, will not react in this way.  An abuser may very well apologize, but it will not be from her heart and will not be sincere.  She is not sorry for hurting you, she is only sorry that she was caught and called on it!  Her apology will be self-serving, calculated to get you to drop the subject, or to deceive you into believing she has changed.  In truth, she has no intention of changing her ways, and no desire to. REPENT means ‘to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.’  In many cases, only time will tell if a person is truly repentant and you can trust her enough to consider reconciliation.

     After considering these aspects, we must understand that we can forgive and still give ourselves permission to protect ourselves.  We have a divine right to protect ourselves and a divine responsibility to protect our husbands and our children from abuse or its effects.

     Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing to do with him…..Titus 3:10

     I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.  Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.  By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people…Romans 16:17-18


     Although the goal is forgiveness, there is no set timetable.  In order to completely forgive, we need an understanding of what it is we’re forgiving.  This means taking the time to process our hurt, feel our anger, and grieve the way we have been treated by people we love.  Therapy can be very helpful, but even without therapy, as you start to process your grief and anger, you are likely to start remembering many other long-forgotten abuses, which you then, in turn, need time to process.  This is a necessary step on the road to healing.

     While forgiving means ceasing to feel resentment, it does not mean that we ‘forget’,  cease to talk about, or cover up our abuse.  We are scripturally ordained to rebuke and admonish those who do evil.  We must not protect them by our silence.  We must talk about evil deeds and bring them into the light (Matthew 10:26-27, John 3:19-21). 

     Knowing that their words and deeds will not remain hidden will make many abusers think twice before victimizing someone.  We must speak the truth! (John 8:32)  We must never, by failure to speak up, give the impression that we condone or approve of evil acts.  We need to reach a point where we can forgive without denying or hiding the truth of what was done to us, and that will take time.

     3. PRAY!

     Of course, we must pray for the courage and the peace to forgive.  We need the comfort of the Holy Spirit.  We need grace from our Savior Jesus.  And we need to be anchored in the love of our real Father.

     But now I am going to reveal to you the true secret of forgiveness:


     Every day, in addition to praying for all the great people in our lives, we must also pray for those who choose to be our enemies.  We must pray that their hard hearts will  be softened, that their minds will be opened, and that they will see the error of their ways and repent.

     Above all, we must pray for their salvation.  This is very hard at first and you may not feel as if you are being sincere, but it will get easier after a while.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to continue to feel unforgiveness toward someone you pray for.  Eventually, you will begin to feel forgiveness for that person.  We need to forgive for our own sakes, so that we can leave the past behind, move on, and live the rich and full lives God intended for us. 

     But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven……Matthew 5:44-45NIV

     Bless those who curse you, pray for those who  mistreat you…..Luke 6:28 

     Praying for our abuser is the key!