Let’s face it…forgiving others is hard…and yet it is central to the Christian life. Jesus even tells us that our own forgiveness hinges on our ability to forgive others.
That’s what makes this simple process from Fr. David Smith so attractive…it brings the power of prayer into the act of forgiveness.
Put yourself in Jesus Christ’s presence. This means to find a quiet place and put yourself into a state of prayer. Think about things like how much God loves you, that you can trust God to meet your needs, how much God loves sinners, how Jesus forgave those who crucified him, etc.
Choose the person or persons you want to forgive. This step is harder than it looks. A lot of people have convinced themselves that they aren’t angry at anyone. We feel we aren’t supposed to be angry, and so we look for other explanations for our feelings. (“I’m not angry. I’m righteously indignant. Besides, I’ve already forgiven her. I think.”)
So here’s a way to find out whether there is someone you resent who would be a good subject for forgiveness:
Imagine that you have found a little space in your busy day. It’s beautiful weather. You have time for a walk, or a snack in the local snack bar. Now, who is the last person in the world you would like to walk up or sit at your table? The person whose presence would make your blood run cold?
That’s the person you need to forgive.
Put those you want to forgive into God’s presence. This type of prayer makes use of imagination to engage our unconscious in the forgiveness. Our unconscious speaks to us in images (for example in dreams), so that’s the way we’re going to talk back to it. So close your eyes and visualize the person you have decided to forgive. Visualize them in God’s love and presence, for example by imagining Jesus standing by her side with his arm around her. Or imagining the person’s face beside Jesus’ face, and then imagining the two faces merging. Or choose some other image which reflects the reality that God loves this person and wishes to forgive and heal.
Remember what you are forgiving these people for. Remember step 2, where we were tempted to think that we had no resentments? Here we are tempted
to think that we have already forgiven the person. So it is important to remember concretely some of the ways the person has hurt us. Otherwise, we may forgive them for unimportant hurts while holding on to the really deep hurts. So what has he done or failed to do that hurt? What has she said or failed to say that hurt? It helps to imagine that the person has just received a revelation clarifying his life, so that he now knows just what he has done and how those actions have affected others, while at the same time he is being overwhelmed by God’s love and forgiveness. Then we can imagine ourselves talking to them about how they have hurt us without them becoming defensive.
Forgive them. Now that we understand what we are forgiving the person or persons for, it is time to decide that we want to forgive them. This is a moment of choice. We may feel incapable of forgiving. Don’t worry about that, because we are calling on God’s power here. All that is necessary is to want to be able to forgive. So imagine that you are talking to the person, that you have just reminded them how they have hurt you, and that you now are saying:
[The person’s name], I forgive you in the name of Jesus, and I thank God that you are being forgiven. Amen.
Because you are forgiving them in the name of Jesus, you need not feel that your own power is adequate. You are calling on a higher power.
It is important to thank God that the person is being forgiven. It doesn’t help much to pray, I forgive you in the name of Jesus, but just wait till God gets ahold of you! At the end of the prayer, think a moment to decide whether this is what you really want. Then if it is, confirm it by saying “Amen.”
(Note that “amen” is like the “enter” key on your computer. First you type the command into the computer. But it doesn’t do anything until you press the “amen” key.)
Thank God that they are being forgiven, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Once you have finished the prayer, you may well feel worse than ever. After all, you have just reminded yourself of a lot of hurt…concretely and in living color. So it is important to realize that our feelings may adjust slowly to the reality of the forgiveness. It’s like when we get a splinter. At first, we imagine it’s not really a splinter. Then we hope it will fall out by itself. Finally, when it begins to fester, we get out the sterilized needle or knife and begin to dig away. Hooray, (ow!) we got it! It still hurts because we’ve been jabbing around with that needle. It may even hurt worse than before we began. But we know from experience that once we have the splinter out, the wound will heal. It’s just a matter of waiting a little while.
Our pain is swallowed up by our joy that the splinter is out. So if you still feel bad even though you have really chosen to forgive, consider that these are just the leftover feelings that will soon heal up and keep thanking God for the gift of forgiveness.
Ask God to bless them. Over the next few days, think of nice things that God could do for the person or persons you have forgiven, and ask God to do them. You might also find God suggesting to you nice things that you could do to celebrate the forgiveness.