In Part 1 of this blog series we looked at Exodus 8 and how Pharaoh waited a day to have Moses ask God to get rid of the frogs. Carrying unforgiveness around in your heart is like carrying a bunch of frogs around with you. Forgiveness allows us to get rid of these frogs. If you did not read Part 1 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 2, I shared a bit about my personal story and my journey to learn what real forgiveness was. If you did not read Part 2 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 3, I discussed the ideas of admitting we need help, taking responsibility for our own happiness, stop putting it off, and turning your mess into your message. If you did not read Part 3 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 4, I discussed the two major turning points in my life and how one of those turning points involved true forgiveness. If you did not read Part 4 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 5, I discussed some reasons why we fake forgiveness. If you did not read Part 5 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 6, I discussed some of the things that forgiveness is not. If you did not read Part 6 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 7, I discussed what forgiveness is. If you did not read Part 7 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 8, I discussed some ways you can know that you have forgiven someone. If you did not read Part 8 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 9, we looked at the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and discussed the importance Jesus puts on forgiveness. If you did not read Part 9 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 10, we looked at the parable of the unmerciful servant, found in Matthew 18. We discussed the idea of how we should forgive others like God has forgiven us. If you did not read Part 10 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 11, we talked about how Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery, found in John 8. If you did not read Part 11 of this blog series, you can read it here.
In Part 12, we looked at Ephesians 4 and what Paul says about forgiveness. We also discussed the main topic of how do I forgive. If you did not read Part 12 of this blog series, you can read it here.
Forgiveness tends to run through a cycle. You can’t just instantly forgive your enemies and really mean it without going through some other steps in the cycle. As you work on your heart and align it to God’s you will find that forgiveness comes more and more easy to you. I have seen this reflected in my own life so I created this cycle from my own experience. If you can think of anything that needs to be added to the circle, please let me know. I am certainly open to adding things to this cycle. This is not scientific, but merely the forgiveness cycle as I see it.
Step over the faith line
Develop a relationship with God
Work on yourself (personal development)
Acknowledge your sins and repent
Accept God’s forgiveness
Accept the forgiveness of others
Forgive those who deserve your forgiveness
Forgive those who don’t deserve your forgiveness
The first step on the forgiveness cycle is stepping over the faith line. This is simply making the decision in your own life, to turn control of your life over to God and letting Him be in control. This is the decision you make to believe in Jesus and accept that He died for your sins so that you could have eternal life. Once you have made this decision and stepped over the faith line, you will feel the Holy Spirit fill your soul and you will begin to feel the presence of God wherever you go and in whatever you do. That is when you know that you have been born again. You can try to forgive people before you make this decision, but it has been my experience that you can’t really mean it with your whole heart until you have given your life to the Lord. I do not believe that we are able to truly forgive someone solely under our own power. We need help from God, in the form of the Holy Spirit that dwells inside all believers to bring ourselves to true forgiveness.
The next step in the forgiveness cycle is developing a relationship with God. Stepping over the faith line is like the grand introduction. It can happen in just seconds. It only requires a decision on your part. Developing a relationship with God is done slowly over time. It is something that you really work on for all the rest of your days on earth. Think about your closest friends. There was a day that you met them, but you were not best friends on the day you met them. You spent years doing things with them, talking to them, and doing life together before they really became your best friend. Close friendships can’t be manufactured. They have to be developed and nurtured over time. It is the same way with God. It takes years to develop your relationship with God before you really become close and become best friends. It amazes me the people who only think about God for one hour a week when they attend church and then wonder why they do not feel close to God. If you only talked to one of your friends for one hour a week, it would be really hard to develop a close relationship with them. So how do you develop a close relationship with God? You do it the same way that you do with any other friend. You talk to Him, you listen to Him, you spend time together, you learn what He likes and doesn’t like, you laugh together, you cry together. You do life together. We talk and listen to God through prayer. We learn about God and what He wants us to do and not to do through spending time reading our Bible. We hear God talking to us, instructing us, through meditating on what we read in the Bible. We do life together by including God in every aspect of your day, both the big things and the little things. You spend time with other people who have a relationship with God so that you can learn and grow through God’s influence on them. It is something that can’t be faked. You have to genuinely want to have a relationship with God to have one. God is so willing to be there for you. He wants to talk to you. He loves you so much and all He wants you to do is be willing to accept that love. As your relationship with God grows and deepens, God will change you from the inside out and you will find that you begin changing as a person. Your heart will get more in line with His and you will start living a life that is more in line with the life He had planned for you. Part of this plan is forgiveness so as your relationship with God grows, you will find that forgiveness starts becoming more important to you and the act of forgiving will become easier and easier.
The next step in the forgiveness cycle is acknowledging your sins and repenting. There are two different parts here. Let’s talk about acknowledging your sins first. The reality is that all of us sin. None of us are without sin. Sometimes when we do commit a sin we try to justify it in our own minds. We tell ourselves that it is not as serious of a sin or it is not as “bad” of a sin as someone else has committed. We try to grade our sins on the curve in hopes that in comparison to the sins of others, our sin won’t seem as bad. The reality is that all sin is bad and no one sin is better or worse than another sin. You can throw our worldly grading scale out the window because God does not use it. We either get an F if we sin or an A if we do not sin. Well, we all sin so every one of us has an F. No one has an A. When we choose to believe in Jesus, God takes away our F and gives us an A. Pretty cool huh? God sees and knows everything we do. There is nothing that we can keep hidden from Him. We can put on a good exterior and fool our family and friends, but God sees us for who we are. He sees us for who we really are. When you look at it like that, it seems pretty silly to try to hide your sins from God because He already knows about them. We need to stop fooling ourselves and acknowledge that we have committed the sins that we have committed. We first have to acknowledge them to ourselves. We need to stop trying to justify our sins and admit to ourselves that we are not as good as we think we are. The next step is to acknowledge our sins to God. Since He already knows them, this really shouldn’t be too hard. Sometimes we make this harder than it really is. A third acknowledgement would be to admit your sins to others. Based on the sin and circumstances, this may or may not be necessary. If not telling someone your sin is weighing on your heart, then it is better to just acknowledge your sin to them. It is also important to acknowledge your sin to the person that you have sinned against.
The next step in the process after acknowledging your sin is to repent of your sins. Once you have acknowledged your sin and realized it was wrong, you need to come to the point in your own heart where you realize that the sin was wrong. I know that it seems that it is a given that all sin is wrong, but we justify our sins so much that we might convince ourselves that the sin is not wrong. Once you realize that your sin was wrong, you need to come to a point in your heart where you feel remorse for committing the sin. If you do not feel remorse for the sin, it does no good to go any further because God knows if you mean it or not. Once you have reached a point where you feel remorse, you then need to repent of your sin. This is where you ask God for forgiveness for your sin. The process is to acknowledge that you sinned, then come to the realization that the sin was wrong, then reach a point where you feel remorse for committing that sin, and finally, ask God to forgive that sin.
The next step on the forgiveness cycle is accepting God’s forgiveness. God loves us more than we can even comprehend. Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we can be forgiven for our sins. God will forgive us if we ask Him for forgiveness with a true heart. It is not a question. God forgives us. He will never not forgive us. God does not work like other people we know. He does not hold grudges. God will forgive us and then it is done and God moves past it. The question becomes will we accept God’s forgiveness. Sometimes we get the mindset that we do not deserve God’s forgiveness so we are not willing to accept it. Let me let you in on a little secret. You don’t deserve God’s forgiveness, none of us do. We could be the nicest person on earth and we still wouldn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. Because God’s love is so immense, He chooses to forgive us anyway. Now just accept it. Don’t be so full of yourself that you think you need to earn it because you can’t and you won’t. Just be thankful for God’s forgiveness and accept it graciously.
The next step on the forgiveness cycle is forgiving yourself. I was amazed to discover when I went through the Ultimate Journey experience, writing letters to myself, how many things I had locked away inside. There were so many things that I had not forgiven myself for. There was a whole bagful of frogs that I was carrying around with me for so many years and I discovered that I had actually given them to myself. It was crazy. When I was able to come to terms with them and finally forgive myself, it was like I was seeing the world through different eyes. I began seeing things more positively. Even the bad days did not seem as bad anymore. It was an amazing transformation. We all carry things around that we think are no big deal. We just stuff them in our sack and go on with our days. When we take the time to face these things and deal with them, we see that we can forgive ourselves and we can let them go. We don’t have to let these frogs affect how we live our lives anymore. I did not say it would be easy. It isn’t easy. I know going through this process was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but looking back on the experience, it is one of the best and most life-changing things I have ever done. Today, I don’t know where I would be if I had not gone through this process of forgiving myself. You can do that too. Expose yourself to yourself. See the mistakes you have made and really look at them. When you do that, then and only then, can you actually forgive yourself and let them go. The other side of this forgiveness is so much better than carrying them around. Make the decision to forgive yourself.
The next step on the forgiveness cycle is accepting the forgiveness of others. This forgiveness cycle is progressive. If you have not come to the point that you can let God forgive you and you can’t forgive yourself for something you have done, you will not be able to accept the forgiveness of others. You can tell people you accept their forgiveness and pretend that you have and move on with life. You may even convince yourself that you have accepted their forgiveness, but you have not really accepted their forgiveness. It will still be a frog that you carry around with you. Understand that sometimes it takes time to really accept a person’s forgiveness. If a person tries to ask for your forgiveness, but you are not at a point of being able to accept it, be honest with that person. Tell them that it will take you more time. Then when you reach the point where you are able to accept their forgiveness, tell them so they know that it is a done deal. It may be messier going through this process, but after you go through it, you will be free of it for good.
The next step on the forgiveness cycle is forgiving those who deserve your forgiveness. I define this as a person who realizes that they have done something wrong and are sorry they did this to you. They truly desire to be forgiven by you. The fact that the person is sorry and is seeking your forgiveness does not make what they did to you less wrong, but the fact they are genuinely sorry for what they did makes it a little easier to forgive the person. The person may come to you seeking forgiveness, but you may not be at a point yet where you are ready to forgive them. It takes time to get to the point that you are ready to truly forgive someone. If this is the case, tell the person that you appreciate their remorse, but you are not at a point you can truly forgive them yet. Honesty is always the best policy. Once you have reached a point that you can truly forgive that person, let them know that you have forgiven them.
The next step on the forgiveness cycle is forgiving those who don’t deserve your forgiveness. I define this as a person who may not see anything wrong with what they did to you that hurt you or even if they do think what they did was wrong, they are not sorry they did it and have no interest in seeking your forgiveness. This is the top of the forgiveness cycle and this is the most difficult person to forgive. It is one thing to forgive someone when they are seeking your forgiveness, but what do you do with someone who is not sorry and isn’t interested in your forgiveness? Please understand that whether you do or do not forgive this type of person, it will not be of any real benefit to the person you are forgiving. They will go on with their life whether you forgive them or not. By forgiving this type of person, you are benefiting yourself not them. You are letting go of the frog that would linger on your soul if you chose not to forgive them. You are freeing up your own heart and moving past the pain. You are making the decision to not let what they did to you define you or how you live your life. You are choosing to not let this hurt affect your relationships with others or how you view yourself. This is the very hardest forgiveness that you will ever give, but when you come to the point that you are able to truly forgive this type of person you will have achieved the ultimate freedom from your frogs. You will have truly mastered the art of forgiveness once you have been able to do this. After you forgive in this capacity for the first time, your life will never be the same. Forgiveness never really becomes an easy thing to do, but once you start truly forgiving more and more, it does become easier.
I personally had a great deal of trouble getting past this hurdle. The person I had to forgive was my ex-wife, who had hurt me so badly that I found it very hard to function as a normal human being. The hardest part during all of this was that she appeared entirely unaffected by the pain she was causing me. She was busy living her life with a new love and I was left sitting in the ashes of what used to be our marriage. I had to get through pain, hurt, despair, agony, anger, and even rage before I could come to a point that I could forgive her and move on with my life. My life with her was over forever so for me it was like a death and I had to go through the stages of grief the same as a person who had lost a loved one to death. It took me years to cycle through the stages. During Ultimate Journey, the scab of the wound was ripped off and I was forced to face the pain. It was so hard. I wrote a letter to her that was about 10 pages long and I just ripped into her. I called her every name in the book and even told her how much I hated her, but still loved her at the same time. I was surprised at how much came out of my pen unto those pages. After I had written that letter, I had to write her another letter and tell her I forgave her. It was so hard to do. It took me a week to write those two letters and I can say it was one of the hardest weeks of my life. I did not find true forgiveness in the act of writing that forgiveness letter that week, but it started the process and it was the first time I made real progress in forgiving her. I cried, shouted, screamed, sobbed and hit the whole range of emotions that week. It was a real breakthrough for me and I felt a great weight lifted off of my heart. Over time, the pain continued to diminish at an accelerated rate because I had faced my emotions. To this day, I am not sure that I have forgiven her 100%. I am thinking about 98% forgiven. She still haunts my dreams and thoughts from time to time, but not like she used to. This process of forgiving her has given me a freedom that I have never known before.