I thought I'd blog on a topic few ever talk about, much less practice, but is incredibly important to our sense of peace and happiness. Let's talk about how to seek forgiveness when you have hurt someone. When we hurt someone, we undoubtedly cause a broken relationship. Broken relationships are not healed without someone seeking forgiveness.
Alex wrote me about a horrible situation she got into, one that leaves her craving forgiveness, even if she's not sure what will happen if she asks for it: "One night I made a mistake that I can never take back and it is killing me. I slept with my boyfriend's twin brother and I am now two months pregnant with his child. I don't know how to tell my boyfriend because I don't know if he will be able to forgive me and I love him so much and he means the world to me."
Most people never attempt to heal broken relationships because they refuse to take responsibility for their own actions, and it forces them to come face to face with their own pride. It's hard to admit you have done something wrong and put yourself at the mercy of others. We've all seen people try to squirm their way out of a difficult confrontation about something painful they've done. The most insecure people use denial or blaming others to escape from having to wake up to their own failure. Being humble is the key to experiencing forgiveness and healing.
Humble yourself; it's the first step toward being forgiven.
Vicki wrote this story about needing forgiveness: "Early in my relationship with my current boyfriend I cheated on him. I immediately felt awful about it and regretted doing it. Not too long after it happened, I told him what I had done and how I felt about it, and he was very understanding and he forgave me. Looking back on this two years later, I realize that we were (and are still in) a very loving relationship because forgiving someone after betraying them is VERY hard to do, but he was willing to do that for me and work on keeping our relationship strong."
SO HOW DO YOU SEEK FORGIVENESS FROM SOMEONE YOU HAVE HURT?
Four Steps to Seeking Forgiveness
STEP 1: Admit to yourself you have hurt another person. As painful as it is, you have to come to the place where you admit you're guilty, no excuses. Asking someone to forgive you requires a broken heart and a willingness to repair the damage you have done. It's not just saying, Forgive me if you think I happened to have done something wrong. You need to understand the amount of pain you have caused, and accept responsibility for it.
STEP 2: Talk to God. Ask him to forgive you for what you've done and to give you the strength to talk to the person you've hurt. God is very interested in you seeking forgiveness. Jesus said something very powerful about the urgency and the need to seek forgiveness: If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. (Matthew 5:24)
STEP 3: Ask for forgiveness from the person you hurt. If you are going to meet in person, you may want to write down your apology, and then practice saying it out loud until you are completely comfortable with it. What to say? Be honest. Don't apologize just to make an uncomfortable situation go away. You need to clearly explain what you are sorry for, without making any excuses. You might need to find a third party to help you, especially if it's difficult to talk face to face. You may need a peacemaker who can help bring some objectivity to the conversation. Don't expect him or her to immediately jump up with joy (or forgiveness) the moment you apologize.
STEP 4: Let the other person respond to you without getting defensive. You may need to give the other person time to sort out their feelings. Don't expect him or her to immediately jump up with joy (or forgiveness) the moment you apologize. It is important, if possible, to make sure the person you have hurt says Yes, I do forgive you. In so doing, they are saying, I'm not going to keep bringing it up or hold what you've done over your head. Sometimes when you seek forgiveness, a lot of people will then turn around and seek forgiveness from you.
Even if the other person refuses to forgive you, you've done your part to clear your conscience and show you want to change. In time, they may come around and forgive you. The best way for you to respond is to show yourself as continually trustworthy, avoiding opportunities to slip back into the wrongful behavior. But you did the right thing by seeking forgiveness, and your new attitude and actions will be the best way to prove you are truly sorry for what happened.
The best way for you to respond is to show yourself as continually trustworthy, avoiding opportunities to slip back into the wrongful behavior.
Let's go back to Vicki, who concludes this topic very well: "When I look back on how thankful and lucky I was to be with someone as thoughtful and caring and understanding as my boyfriend, who had the strength to look beyond my stupid mistake, it makes it easier to give other people a second chance if they hurt me because I want people to feel how I felt, because it feels wonderful to be forgiven."
For more help with forgiveness, read my blog on what happens when you don't forgive.
Check out this free eBook from TheHopeLine on Forgiveness!
Photo Credit: Alexandre Croussette