Forgiveness is the central principal discussed in Step 8 of the 12 Steps. All things are created spiritually before they are created physically. (See Moses 3:5–7; Genesis 2:4–5.) Step 8 is the spiritual creation of the reconciliation and restitution that will actually happen in Step 9. In order for me to accomplish this spiritual creation, I need to become intimately acquainted with forgiveness.
Step 8 asks me to consider two different aspects of forgiveness: asking others to forgive me, and forgiving those who have hurt me. In either case, sometimes the other person isn’t even aware that they need my forgiveness or that I need theirs. It is interesting to me to ponder how easily people give and take offense in this world, sometimes without even being aware of it. Sometimes people hold resentment in their hearts for years, sapping them of joy and preventing them from living in a state of peace.
When I hold resentment in my heart, I am the one who suffers. I have heard it said that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It tears me up inside, consumes my spiritual and emotional energy, and blocks me from feeling the Spirit. Some people think that we should only forgive someone if they apologize. If the offender doesn’t apologize they don’t deserve my forgiveness, they reason. We don’t forgive others because they deserve it. We forgive others because we deserve it! (shared at church recently by Deron Brent Horne). I hate living in a state of resentment! I owe it to myself to let go of those feelings and let them float out of my life like helium-filled balloons. I do it for myself, as a way of taking care of myself. I do it to get my life back, and my laugh back. How, you ask? Here are two methods that help me.
Tell Myself Another Story
When someone does something that makes me angry I learned from Kimberly Schneider to tell myself a different story. I ask myself this question: “Under what circumstance could this person’s actions have made sense?” Then I make up a story, which I know is probably not true, but makes me feel better and more able to blow off the perceived offense. Did someone cut me off in traffic? They might be worried about something that is going on at home, and I might have been in their blind spot. Did someone fail to deliver on a promise? Perhaps they got a bad night’s sleep or a call from someone with bad news or they were just having a senior moment. The story doesn’t matter! Just thinking about the incident in this way helps me to let go of it.
Detach with Love
I learned in Al Anon years ago about how to “detach with love.” It is a principle that enables me to not take offense, and to let go of resentment toward someone close to me who says or does something that hurts me. Rather than obsessing about what happened or what was said, I separate myself from the offense without separating myself from the person. For me it works like this. I have an imaginary bubble that I can deploy at a moment’s notice. It surrounds me and a little bit of personal space. The person on the outside of the bubble may be lashing out at me, hurling hurtful words in my direction, and my bubble allows the message in without the hurt. If there is any truth in the message that I need to consider and respond to, I can do so, without getting caught up in the delivery method. The negative aspects stay on the outside of the bubble, with the person they come from. I can still love them, but I don’t have to allow their words to hurt me.
Asking for Forgiveness
When I make a list of people who have hurt me and forgive them, as Step 8 asks me to do, I am having a very personal and meaningful experience with forgiveness. What better way to prepare myself to ask others for their forgiveness?! If I have done things that were harmful towards someone else, who might be hurting inside because of my actions, even if I make amends, or restitution, it might be very difficult for them to forgive me. When I, myself, have recently gone through the process of forgiving others, I am in a better position to understand how difficult it may be for someone to forgive me, even if they are willing to do it. In Step 8 I am not actually asking anyone for forgiveness; I am becoming willing to make amends and to be reconciled to those I have hurt. I won’t actually figure out exactly how I will approach the other person until Step 9, and I certainly will not be actually making the amends or making restitution until I get to Step 9. But until I truly become willing to do it, and let the Lord heal my heart, I will never be ready to do it, and will live with broken relationships indefinitely.
- What resentments are you holding in your heart?
- What are you willing to do to let go of them so that you can progress?
- Are you willing to do whatever it takes to be reconciled to those you have hurt? If not, what can you do to help you become willing?