Forgiveness isn’t typically our favorite word when others need it from us. Yet, a critical aspect of healing from the wounds of the past is forgiveness. Depending on who or what needs to be forgiven, the prospect can seem impossible.
There is much that can be said about forgiveness, but let’s focus on two important aspects of forgiveness. Forgiveness involves: (1) letting go of the expectation that those involved will ever acknowledge that they have hurt you, and (2) letting go of the expectation that one day they will make it right.
This brings us to why forgiveness is so difficult. Forgiveness offends our sense of justice. It seems as though we are letting the offender off the hook. They’re getting away scot-free, and that just isn’t right. It isn’t fair.
It can be extremely difficult to reconcile issues of the past. In fact, we sometimes don’t even realize that it’s the past that is stopping us from embracing and enjoying the present. But in reality, that anxiety, that sadness, that catastrophic thinking, that pessimism, they sometimes all have their roots in unresolved pain from the past.
To truly grow and thrive, we must make peace with our past. In fact, we rob ourselves of the nourishment to grow when we resist the necessary work of facing the painful aspects of our personal history. It is the sorrow of the grief process that waters and nourishes important aspects of healing, growth, and fruitful living.
So what can you do to make peace with your past? Below is an abbreviated version of some of the helpful steps toward reconciling painful experiences. Many of the steps can be difficult to do alone. Reach out to a capable friend, pastor, mentor, or professional who can help you navigate through the difficult parts of your life story. Also, see our Coaching Plus! experience, Making Peace with Your Past.
Seven Steps to Help You Make Peace with Your Past (Abbreviated)
1. Acknowledge Your Losses
What happened to you? What are your painful memories that you do not like to think about, so you push them away? Bring them to the forefront and allow yourself to name them.
2. Grieve Your Losses
What have your actions, the actions of others, or life’s circumstances cost you? Take the time to really answer this question. It’s a painful question to answer, but it is unavoidable if you want to heal. This is the process that will breathe new life into you. Grief work is hard, but profoundly healing. Grief work is also difficult to do alone. Get the right help where necessary.
3. Give Voice to the Should Haves and Shouldn’t Haves
What are you protesting about the loss? Protest is a normal part of loss and grief. It is our brain’s way of trying to make sense of something that we did not want to happen. Allow yourself the protests. Protests can come in the form of "if only." ("If only I had listened," "If only I had not gone," "If only he had been honest with me.") Protests also come in the form of disbelief. ("No, this couldn’t have really happened. I just want to wake up from this bad dream.") They come in other forms as well. Look out for the ways you are protesting, and give voice to those protests.
4. Answer the Protests
Acknowledge that it did happen. Voice the disappointment that the loss has created. Express the things in your life that might now never be. Express the difficult things that are now a part of your life because that thing did happen.
5. Capture the Good
Sorrow and loss have redemptive qualities to them. Identify the treasures (big or small) that have come as a result of your losses.
6. Forgive Those Involved.
This is a difficult step for many, and it can take time. An important aspect of forgiveness involves letting go of the expectation that those involved will ever acknowledge how they have hurt you. Forgiveness also involves a determination to do the work necessary to not be bitter or vengeful.
7. Live in Your New Normal
Loss means that something has changed. Things will not be the same as they were. But that does not mean things cannot be good, or even great! Embrace the life you have. Dream new dreams. Aspire to new goals. Practice gratitude on a daily basis.
Healing from your past can take time and targeted effort. But it is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give to yourself, and to those who love you and want the best for you. Begin. Get help. Stay the course. Reap the joyous rewards!
This morning when I shared the message Faith to Forgive, I said that I would post some “prayer steps” so you can continue praying your way through the process of forgiving another. Here they are.
Forgiving Others: Prayer Steps
Pray this through as many times as you need to on your journey of forgiving another … even if you need to pray seventy times seven.
Dr. Dawn-Marie shares a refreshing blend of professional insights and personal stories in this encouraging blog.