Forgiveness is more than a decision — it’s a process of praying, sharing feelings with a confidante, and adjusting attitudes—and these 7 steps of forgiveness can help begin the process. It’s like peeling back the layers of an onion to go deeper in God’s mercy for others.
When we’re angry at an offender we need to realize that forgiveness is not only a gift of mercy for that person, but a healing process for our own self. Forgiveness can lift depression, calm anxiety, cure bitterness, and promote peace and health.
We teach the power of forgiveness in our Soul Shepherding Institute retreats. This article shares a taste of that teaching with you by exploring 7 specific steps you can take with Jesus to process emotions, seek empathy, and experience healing and freedom.
7 Steps of Forgiveness
These steps help us grow in healthy faith and loving relationships:
1. Look to God
Forgiveness starts with God’s mercy and grace through Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us to “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).
2. Take a step
Jesus taught that giving and receiving forgiveness are connected (Matt. 6:12). Receiving God’s forgiveness helps you to forgive others, and extending forgiveness to others helps you to ask for the forgiveness that you need. A simple prayer begins the journey.
3. Deal with your anger
Years ago I was angry at a neighbor who kept driving recklessly on our little street and parking in front of our garbage cans on trash day. If I repressed my anger, it’d be a depressant on my personality and smolder in resentment. If I judged myself, I’d go into shame. If I lost my temper at him or parked in front of his garbage cans, I’d offend him and Jesus — and I’d feel worse myself.
Instead, I listened to my anger like an alarm. I reflected on my emotions and prayed. Then I “spoke the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) by kindly asking my neighbor to watch for my children and to park somewhere else on garbage day.
4. Feel your hurt
Usually, when you’re angry you feel hurt, loss, disrespect, or rejection. For your emotional healing and to gain the insight and strength you need to forgive, it’s important to find someone safe to verbalize your pain with. As you do this, seek God’s comfort through your friend (Psalms 41:5-10).
5. Set boundaries
If you reflect on your relational history, you may find a pattern in which you keep getting mistreated in similar ways. You may have a blind spot or a way that you’re unwittingly enabling other people to disrespect or hurt you. It’s important to set wise boundaries on your expectations and interactions with other people. Sometimes you need to keep distance, say no, or hold back your vulnerable emotions and needs.
It’s always loving and personally healing to engage the process of forgiveness, but reconciliation depends on both people acting with honest and responsible love for one another (Matt. 18:19-22).
6. Entrust justice to God
Ultimately, forgiveness means letting God be the judge. Praying an angry Psalm can help you to feel your emotions, share with God, and leave justice in God’s hands (see Psalms 10:15, 18:6-15, 31:17, 35:1-28, 54:5, 56:5-7, 58:6-8, 69:19-28, 70:13).
7. Pray for your enemy
When I was angry at my neighbor, I remembered Jesus’ words to bless and pray for our enemies (Matt. 5:44-45). At first, this was hard, but then I found it softened my heart and helped me to forgive.
Continuing the Process of Forgiveness
As you process through these steps, each one can help you peel back a new layer on the onion we mentioned at the start —helping you experience deeper levels of healing as you extend God’s mercy to others. But forgiveness is not always a neat or linear experience.
As the time passes, you may find that new emotions surface. You can revisit these steps, and it may be helpful to share your feelings with a spiritual director or soul friend.
Praying God’s peace and presence as you take these 7 steps of forgiveness to begin your journey with Jesus to “forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).
Listen in as Bill and Kristi talk about forgiveness in this episode of SoulTalks:
What does forgiveness look like when you’ve been wounded? Bill and Kristi tackle the complexities of forgiveness by sharing their spiritual and emotional insights and personal stories. Forgiveness is a process that allows God to heal your soul. Learn ways to step towards forgiveness with boundaries, mercy, and ultimately greater intimacy with Jesus.