A big part of inner healing work is forgiveness. Frequently I’ll have a client say, “Oh, I’ve already forgiven them,” when forgiving a certain person comes up in session. Sometimes this is a resistance to really forgiving — trying to avoid dealing with their feelings towards that person. But often it comes from a genuine place of having already done a lot of forgiveness work around that person and feeling like we are beating a dead horse to forgive them again.
Forgiving the Offense
What we fail to realize about forgiveness is that we are forgiving an offense more than a person. You may have already forgiven your dad for a lot of things, but there still may be some offenses that need forgiving.
No matter how thoroughly you’ve forgiven him for those other things, the offenses left unforgiven will hurt you and the relationship.
People that have deeply hurt us will likely need to be forgiven multiple times and for multiple things. Not because we didn’t do a good job forgiving them the first time, but because forgiveness is a process and a continual choice to release the offenses.
The legal system is a helpful way to think about offenses. The courts don’t charge a person and find them guilty or not guilty in general. They charge a person with a specific offense or list of offenses. When we forgive it is the same way. We are releasing each individual offense over to a higher court – where God is judge and jury instead of us.
When there’s someone you’ve already forgiven you may wonder when you’ll ever be done forgiving them. The need to continually forgive someone may never end, but your experience of needing to forgive them will change over time. Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22 how many times he must forgive someone, and Jesus’ response was, “Seventy times seven.” Meaning, that we must forgive repeatedly, as many times as it takes.
People that we have spent a lot of time with or who have hurt us in very violating ways, will have many offenses we need to forgive. Much like soul ties, time + vulnerability is a recipe for lots opportunities for hurts that need to be forgiven.
If you find yourself asking, “do I really have to forgive them again?” It’s a good sign there are still more offenses that need releasing. When you truly are living with a heart of forgiveness towards someone you won’t have to wonder if you need to forgive them again; any inkling of offense will be met with a swift desire to forgive rather than questioning if forgiveness is necessary.
Taking Steps Towards Forgiveness
When forgiveness is a struggle, it can help to start with smaller offenses that you can forgive. As you take those steps of forgiveness you remove some fuel from the fire to allow yourself to be able to forgive bigger offenses.
Often when a client has been deeply hurt and is unwilling to forgive, I’ll ask if there is anything they can forgive that person for. It may take a few minutes of thought and prayer, but they usually can think of something small to forgive, which opens up a heart of forgiveness towards that person.
If you’re struggling to forgive someone it may help to start with forgiving perceived offenses before real offenses. It’s not about what the other person actually did or didn’t do.
Offenses are about the resentments we’ve held in our own hearts –the ways we’ve felt hurt. You may need to forgive someone for an offense they didn’t actually commit, but because you perceived it that way you need to release the resentment.
Since forgiveness is needed even for perceived offenses, we sometimes need to forgive God as well, although he is holy and has done nothing wrong. In our woundedness we believe lies about who God is and his heart towards us, and through these lies we hold offense towards him.
It may sound strange to say something like, “I forgive God for not protecting me.” But if in your heart you believe the lie that he doesn’t protect you, it doesn’t help to piously cling to the truth that he always protects us when the offense you’re holding onto says otherwise.
Pretending the offense isn’t there doesn’t help you heal. It’s worth the risk of sounding unorthodox to be honest about the offenses you need to forgive. God already knows your heart, he knows the offense and resentment you hold towards him, and he’s just waiting for you to forgive him so there’s nothing between you anymore.