Summary: This sermon walks through the 5 steps toward actually forgiving someone.
Last week we spoke of why to forgive [see sermon “Why In The World Should I Forgive, Anyway?”]. Quickly on the heels of that question, though, comes the equally difficult question of how you forgive.
We all understand the general concept of forgiveness, but most of us are not especially proficient on the specifics on how to do it. So, this morning, we’re going to answer the questions: How do I forgive him? How do I forgive her? (As I said that you thought of who that ‘him’ or ‘her’ is in your life).
As we begin our study this morning, let me acknowledge my debt to the various writings of Lewis Smedes for many of the concepts that undergird this sermon.
How Do I Forgive Him? How Do I Forgive Her?
1. Acknowledge that you have been seriously hurt.
- The starting point for being pursuing forgiveness is to admit that you’ve really been hurt. We like to pretend like what he said didn’t really bother us or what she did didn’t even phase us, but until we are willing to admit that we were hurt by them, we’re not in a place where we can begin to pursue forgiveness.
- There are many incidents in life that are not candidates for forgiveness - things like minor
disappointments or passing slights. Situations that require forgiveness are ones where the pain inflicted is personal, unfair, and deep. Things like betrayal and brutality (physical or emotional) come to mind.
- At this point, as we hurt, we are likely to find some hatred in our heart. Hatred, of course, is never a good thing, but we must be careful that we don’t try to get rid of it by covering it up. When we find that hate in our heart, that’s simply a sign we’re going to need to forgive.
2. Surrender your right to get even.
- The mother ran into the bedroom when she heard her seven-year-old son scream. She found his two-year-old sister pulling his hair. She gently released the little girl’s grip and said comfortingly to the boy, "There, there. She didn’t mean it. She doesn’t know that hurts." He nodded his acknowledgement, and she left the room.
As she started down the hall the little girl screamed. Rushing back in, she asked, "What happened?"
The little boy replied, "She knows now."
- Few would dispute our right to get even. The rule of the world is ‘do unto others as they’ve done unto you.’
- When we choose to forgive, though, we choose to lay aside our right to extract our revenge. In the moment of making that decision, we are doing a couple of things: 1. We are leaving ultimate justice and vengeance to God, and 2. We are deliberately choosing for ourselves the path of forgiveness.
This is the first step down a different path.
Acknowledging that we have been hurt gets in the right place to begin, but surrendering our right to get even is the first step down the path.
- Some would argue that choosing such a path is inevitably going to make us a patsy - we’re yielding all our power and are going to end up as a doormat. I believe, though, that there is a power that is unleashed in this decision that cannot come from any other source. What does this power look like? Consider the following story:
- Albert Tomei is a justice of the New York State Supreme Court. A young defendant was convicted in Judge Tomei’s court of gunning down another person execution style. The murderer had a bad record, was no stranger to the system, and only stared in anger as the jury returned its guilty verdict.
The victim’s family had attended every day of the two-week trial. On the day of sentencing, the victim’s mother and grandmother addressed the court. When they spoke, neither addressed the jury. Both spoke directly to the murderer. They both forgave him.
"You broke the Golden Rule——loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You broke the law——loving your neighbor as yourself. I am your neighbor," the older of the two women told him, "so you have my address. If you want to write, I’ll write you back. I sat in this trial for two weeks, and for the last sixteen months I tried to hate you. But you know what? I could not hate
you. I feel sorry for you because you made a wrong choice."
Judge Tomei writes: "For the first time since the trial began, the defendant’s eyes lost their laser
force and appeared to surrender to a life force that only a mother can generate: nurturing, unconditional love. After the grandmother finished, I looked at the defendant. His head was hanging low. There was no more swagger, no more stare. The destructive and evil forces within him collapsed helplessly before this remarkable display of humaneness."