I Know I’m Supposed to Forgive, but I Don’t Know How!

Could I get your help/guidance in some scripture suggestions? I am struggling with a very difficult situation and trying to find guidance in forgiving someone for something that they have done that is extremely hurtful. It is so challenging because this person will not accept the mistake that they have made and I doubt ever will, but I also know that it is not helpful for me to hold onto this anger/resentment/pain.

Dear Theo,

Could I get your help/guidance in some scripture suggestions?  I am struggling with a very difficult situation and trying to find guidance in forgiving someone for something that they have done that is extremely hurtful.  It is so challenging because this person will not accept the mistake that they have made and I doubt ever will, but I also know that it is not helpful for me to hold onto this anger/resentment/pain. 

But I’m having a hard time forgiving and moving on…. especially when I know I will never hear the words “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.” 

I have read like 4 books on forgiveness now and it doesn’t help! I know I’m supposed to do it and I don’t know how!

I’m trying… but would appreciate any suggestions you have on scripture to read, to help me think things through and also to pray about.

Thank you!

Learning to Forgive


Oh Learning! This is such a hard one.

The Bible is very clear about not judging, and also about doing a ton of unfair forgiving. In the gospel of Matthew Chapter 18, when Peter the disciple asked Jesus how many times to forgive someone who had sinned against him, when they were clearly unrepentant, maybe seven times? and then no more? Peter asked hopefully. Jesus said nope: not seven times but (there is a dispute about the translation here): either seven times seven, or seven times seventy time: 490 times! Which is to say: don’t ever stop forgiving them.

And then Jesus never even says how to do it!

Then in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15 there is the story we call the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a parable in forgiving in lieu of making sure people get their due when they have wronged us. Frankly, it’s a terrible story, a very frustrating story, for those of us who feel we have been wronged.

But you rightly suspect that (as Bishop Anne Lamott put it): that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.

You know that old saying “love is a verb”? As in, it’s not a feeling so much as something you just do whether or not you feel it, some days? I think forgiving is the same thing.

We hope to feel forgiveness genuinely someday, we hope to feel that we have our adversary’s best interests at heart, to feel love and tenderness for them come rushing into our hearts, or at hopefully not feel the hurt they have done unto us, or at the very least not want to drive over them with the car anymore. We want to be able to go our own way and live into the fullness of the life God intends for us.

Maybe we will and maybe we won’t get that kind of total release, not anytime soon. In the meantime, we can forgive 490 times—that is, we can say the words aloud to ourselves, or in prayer to God, over and over, and hope they take. A prayer to feel forgiveness is a bit of an incantation, I think. We practice forgiving and one of these days, as we pray for that person and their well-being, as we accumulate grace and call it into ourselves, we might actually begin to feel what we hope for.

The hardest part (for me anyhow) is to really,  really pray for our adversary’s well-being and not to pray for them to wake up and realize what they did was WRONG and mean and come rushing with tear-stained cheeks and snot running from their noses to beg our forgiveness. And, ironically, praying the first prayer is what might get us the answer to the second prayer.

A couple of other things: it’s important, in trying to be a Christian, not to be a dupe or a pushover. Practicing being loving and forgiving doesn’t mean letting our boundaries get trampled. I don’t know what your situation is, but it’s important, for your adversary’s sake as well as your own, that you have clear boundaries to protect yourself and that you train your adversary not to take advantage of or further hurt you or others.

Also, I don’t know quite how this fits with Christian theology yet, but in my life when someone has come up against me in what I think is a really unfair way, and I have tried to stay on the high ground, and things have come out more or less all right but they are still REALLY mad at me and maybe even telling lies about me to others, and I feel really hurt about this, my partner says, “Theo, you won. Let it go. You can afford to be generous.” It sounds a little bit like schadenfreude or pity or self-righteousness but I don’t really mean it that way. I think it’s more about grace and gratitude and bigness.

And finally, it can also help to think and pray about who your adversary is, to try to understand their motives (however misdirected), and their disabilities. Then you can piece out what parts are for you to own (that is, how did you contribute, intentionally or unintentionally, to the dynamic in play?) and what is them, their projection or low-functioning or even mental illness.

Here’s the thing:  good begets good. If you stay on the high ground—not gossiping, setting good boundaries, communicating clearly, not fuelling the fire of your anger, etc—good will follow you. But as the letter to the Romans put it, “the wages of sin is death,” and even though it doesn’t always move in a straight line, when people behave badly, it catches up with them.

Does that last bit make sense and not sound like I am being mean? We do the right thing not to get a pat on the head from God but because doing the right thing lets grace into our lives, which is its own reward. Forgiving your adversary will heap blessing upon you, even if they never acknowledge it or even behave better.

Bless you, and may you be a blessing!


Who is Theo?

“Dear Theo” is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds – one main writer and two respite writers. We’re hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

Categories: Dear Theo

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