How to Forgive When You Can’t
"Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'"1
"Dear Dick," a Daily Encounter reader writes, "I currently have a very bad relationship with my half-sister who blames my mother for taking my father away from her. I know I should forgive her, but I cannot. My dad died many years ago and my mother (also no longer living) was all I had for so long. How do I forgive someone who has said such vile and unforgiving things about her? I want to improve my relationship with God, and I know that this is preventing me from doing so. Please help me."
Dear Sharon (name changed), no matter what others do to us and how bad and hurtful those things may be, in the long run failing to forgive hurts us more than it hurts the other person. It's like "drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
Reconciliation with loved ones should be our goal but that isn't always possible because that takes both parties. Forgiveness, however, is only dependent on one party. Forgiving a person doesn't mean we allow him or her to continue to hurt us, and we may need to distance ourselves from them if they insist on being hurtful. But it is essential for our own well-being that we forgive any and all who have ever hurt us, and leave the door open should they ever desire reconciliation. This is much more likely to happen if we graciously forgive them for what they have done to us and ask for their forgiveness for any hurtful words or actions we may have said or done to them in return.
To forgive, it is imperative that we resolve our hurt and angry feelings first, as these are the emotions that block our forgiving. The resentment we carry in our heart is our problem—and that's always self-destructive. What your sister has done is her issue. What you have done and are still doing by failing to forgive—is your issue and that's what you need to resolve if you are going to regain a warm loving relationship with others and with God and—hopefully in time—with your sister; although, sadly, there is no guarantee of that.
Not easy, I know, but it is essential. If you don't know how to resolve your resentment, I encourage you to seek the help of a qualified Christian counselor who can guide you through the steps to resolution so that you can truly forgive your sister and put your relationship to God back in harmony.*
Also, try not to beat yourself up because of your negative feelings … we all experience situations that hurt and make us angry … but we can resolve our feelings.**
Suggested prayer: "Thank you, God, that no matter how I feel you are always with me and that you know, understand, and care. Please help me to find the help I need so I can resolve my hurt and resentment and freely forgive any and all who have ever hurt me. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."
*For helpful counseling resources go to: http://www.actsweb.org/counseling_resources.php.
**For additional help read the article: "Forgiveness: The Power to Heal" at http://tinyurl.com/aa4qf and also "Taming Your Anger" at http://tinyurl.com/b439f.
1. Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV).