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5. Forgiveness

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A Time of Healing




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Ernest Hemingway tells the story of a Spanish father who decides to reconcile with his son, who had run away to Madrid after a misunderstanding. Remorseful for his part in the dispute, the father places a newspaper ad: “PACO, MEET ME AT HOTEL MONTAÑA NOON TUESDAY. ALL IS FORGIVEN—PAPA.” Now, Paco is a common name in Spain. The father arrives at the square to find eight hundred young men named Paco—each waiting for his father, each hoping for forgiveness.The bottom line is that a lot of young men and women are waiting to hear, “All is forgiven.”


What is forgiveness?



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Definitions of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is my willingness to release someone who has wronged me, and although the wrongdoer may still have to pay a debt to society, I leave them in the hands of God.



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  • True forgiveness is the beautiful fragrance that the flower sheds on the heel of the one who crushes it.





Why forgive?


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Forgiveness is the only prescription in the entire universe that is powerful enough to unlock the chemical bonds of hostility, resentment and bitterness.





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Why Forgive?


It is a powerful medicine. Forgiveness is essential for the healing of emotions.




Most of us have emotional hurts in our life that oftentimes cause anger and bitterness. This was the experience of Bonnie. After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, her doctor informed Bonniethat this type of cancer was stress related.She was dealing with stress linked to her husband’s unjust termination of employment. Bonnie replayed over and over in her mind events that had occurred. The stressful problem was not resolved. It filled her body with poisonous toxins, affecting her emotionally and physically.


Bonnie went to see her friend Amy.“I have not come just for prayer for physical healing,” Bonnie said to Amy, “but also for healing of my emotional stress.” Amy prayed for Bonnie and agreed to go with her to the people who had hurt her and her family so she could find closure to a painful chapter of her life. But that would have to be after the surgery.


The surgery proceeded well, and soon after the recovery, Amy volunteered to help Bonnie plan a strategy to visit the administrators who had terminated her husband unjustly. “You don’t have to come,” Bonnie replied. “I have handled the situation.” “How?” Amy inquired.“Oh, I prayed the Foot-of-the-Cross Prayer.”“And what is that?” Amy asked.


Joyfully Bonnie answered, “Forgive them, for they knew not what they did to me. When bad thoughts come, I just say, ‘I have forgiven them. It’s been taken care of, and I choose not to think about it.’”


Not only physical healing but also emotional healing had taken place. Forgiveness had set Bonnie free.


Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel Prize winner, discovered in her genetic research the enzyme telomerase that, if kept healthy, will reduce the chance of formation of cancer cells. She says, “Chronic severe psychologicalstress makes [the telomere and the enzyme telomerase] wear down.”[1] Stress was a factor in Bonnie’s health and contributed to her cancer.


Jesus came to this earth to heal the brokenhearted and free the captives, to help the blind to see, to heal the wounded. He too was hurt: rejected, accused falsely, treated unjustly, and abused physically and emotionally. Yet He forgave. He even died for His persecutors.


The effects of anger



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Effects of Anger

Adrenalin rush, Blood Pressure rises, Blood coagulates quickly, Ears ring, Increase in blood sugar, Rapid breathing, Stomach feels tied in knots



Anger is the inverse of forgiveness. It blocks forgiveness and is harmful to your health.


When you become angry, your heart beats faster, your ears may ring, your blood pressure increases, youmay have knots in your stomach, your blood coagulates more quickly, and your blood sugar levels increase. Other possible side effects include chronic pain, lowered immune-system function, tensing of muscles, dental and jaw problems, and an overall lack of mental concentration. You may even have an angry countenance.


Anger can have a profound effect on the way your body functions.Some individuals have actually died in the midst of an angry argument. When you live or relive negative, hostile moments without forgiveness, the body sends a rush of stress hormones, a reaction that vastly increases the risk of coronary heart disease.


Years ago on the floor of the British parliament, a member insulted another of the opposition party. The other jumped to his feet, angry, his face flushed, to defend himself—only to fall dead of a heart attack. Negative emotions can be detrimental to your health!





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To harbor resentment against someone is to allow a person you may not even like to live rent free in your mind.



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45 studies on hostility and physical health strongly indicate hostility as a risk factor for heart disease and premature death (Miller, Smith, Turner, Gujijarro,&Hallet, 1996).



Kathleen Lawler,[2] a University of Tennessee psychologist, tracked the heart rate and blood pressure of individuals who discussed being betrayed by friends, lovers, and parents. At the beginning of the interview, their blood pressures shot up, but for those who forgave, it soon returned to normal. In those who held on to their anger and grudges, the readings stayed high. She says, “Forgiveness is not only good for your mind, it also seems good for your body.” Learn to forgive for your heart’s sake.


Lack of forgiveness alters blood chemistry. Fight-or-flight hormones increase, and if this is prolonged, the immune system is affected negatively.


Forgiveness has been shown to benefit mental health. Those who forgive themselves experience less depression, anger, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Those who forgive others have lower depression, hostility-anger, and feelings of inadequacy or inferiority.[3]


From victimization to empowerment

How can we forgive when so many bad things continue to happen? How can we move from victimization to empowerment? Let’s look for an answer in the story of Edith Eva Eger, beginning at the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland.


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From Victimization to Empowerment

The Edith Eva Eger Story

Auschwitz Death Camp



During World War II, Edith Eva Eger, a teenager, was taken with her mother and sister to the Auschwitz camp in Poland. The guards separated the two sisters from their mother. They were told that their mother was going in for a shower. Later, Edith asked another prisoner, “Where is my mother?” The prisoner replied, “See the smoke coming out of that chimney over there? That is your mother.” Edith never saw her mother again.


At Auschwitz, the prisoners endured constant hunger, deplorable conditions, emotional and physical pain, and long, exhausting marches. If the weak lagged behind, they were shot. “In the concentration camp we were like animals,” Edith recalled years later. The Nazi guards treated the prisoners with contempt. One day, while the soldiers were tattooing prisoners, one told Edith he didn’t want to waste the ink on her—she was going to the gas chamber anyway.


By the time the war ended, Edith had been moved through several concentration camps, ending up finally in Austria in 1945. As an American soldier gazed on the bodies stacked like firewood, he noticed a brief flick of a wrist. He realized the emaciated figure was still alive and quickly took her to a hospital, where she was nursed back to health. When found,Edith weighed forty pounds.


After Edith’s recovery, she immigrated to the United States, where she studied to become a psychologist. In spite of her choice of career, she was unable to help herself. For forty years she could not talk about Auschwitz. “I was void of feelings. I checked out; I didn’t feel anything. I was emotionally paralyzed. It blocked intimacy in my marriage. I was trapped in chronic anger. After forty years I was still holding on to anger. I was protected by anger.”


Forty years after Edith had been a prisoner, she was asked to be a keynote speaker at Hitler’s bunker in Germany. During her travels, Edith returned to Auschwitz and faced her emotions. “I visited the place I had been . . . and reminisced.” At Auschwitz, Edith processed her pain. She decided to look the lion in the face. The time had come to release the past and make a choice to forgive.As she truly forgave, Edith was at last liberated. She was set free from her captivity—like an emerging butterfly. The following are Edith Eger’s words:


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“I refuse to be a hostage and prisoner of the past.”





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Photograph  of cremation ovens of Auschwitz

“It’s OK to go through anger about our past. It’s not OK to get stuck in anger.”

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“We create our own concentration camps.”



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Photograph of the survivor--Edith Eva Eger

“I have a choice of being a victim or a survivor.”




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“Go back to the lion’s den. Look the lion in the face and laugh.”




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“The concentration camp is in your own mind and the key is in your pocket.”



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“The captors are the real prisoners. If I would hate today, I would still be a prisoner.”



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 “Out of prison comes freedom, out of tragedy come triumph and victory.”



Yes, out of our self-imposed prison of unforgivenesswe escape to freedom, and out of tragedy come triumph and victory. That victory can be yours and mine as we choose to forgive.




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Forgiving our Parents

These days it is common for some children to blame parents for the way they were raised.



StormieOmartian[4] tells the story of how,in her childhood, she was disliked by her mother, who would frequently lock her up in a dark closet below the stairs for hours. Although her father knew of the abuse, he would not intervene. For years Stormie suffered emotional pain because of the abuse she received. She had to fight her own emotional battles for survival.


As an adult,Stormie accepted Jesus, and she was impressed that she had to forgive her mother for her childhood pain. She wanted to be set free of painful memories. It was not easy, but she knew Jesus had forgiven her, so she must forgive her mother. It was a gradual process, for there was much to forgive. Stormy shares some of her thoughts on forgiving our parents.




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Forgiving our Parents

There may be layers of unforgiveness and hurt that build up for years.  One needs to forgive every time the thoughts or feelings come to the surface.




Stormie persisted in the forgiveness process for years, and she continued to forgive. As Stormie’s mother grew older, instead of mellowing, she became more bitter toward her daughter. But Stormie had made her peace with God, and she left her mother in God’s hands.



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Not all stories have happy endings. Difficulties may persist during the life of the parent or even after the parent dies. It is a day-by-day or even a moment-by-moment choice to continue to harbor hate and resentment or to put these feelings behind us.



Forgiveness of a sex offender

Two women at a seminar shared how their fathers had sexually abused them. One woman said, “He ruined my life; I can never, ever forgive him!”


The other woman said, “That also happened to me, and I was extremely angry with my father. When driving to work, I would pretend he was sitting beside me in the car, and I would angrily tell him what I thought of him. But one day, I realized I had experienced enough of this and told God all about my feelings and released them to God. I forgave him, and told God I wanted to get on with my life.”


When she finished talking to God and had gone through her mental process of forgiving, she felt free. Jesus came to set the captives free, and she was no longer a slave of the past. She was free! To forgive a sexual abuser is extremely difficult, and for some, counseling is recommended. Holding anger in the mind can affect the emotions and the body. It is like poison and is dangerous to your health.


Forgiveness in a divorce

Brenda Hunter tells how, after many years of marriage, her husband asked for a divorce.[5] She went through all the stages of loss: shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, loneliness, depression, and fear.But as time passed, Brenda began her road to recovery. She began thinking about the steps she should take toward forgiveness. She realized that if she clung to her pain she would be a victim of her husband for life. Her husband had ruined her past, but Brenda decided she would not let him ruin her future. She could make some choices. Brenda began to realize that Christ had forgiven her sins, so she could forgive her husband for the devastating divorce that caused her such pain.


As she began to work through the pain, she prayed, “Lord, please give me a new attitude. Help me get rid of anger and resentment and give me a transformed spirit. Help me to forgive. I can’t do it myself. Please help me.” She needed to forgive her husband and then be healed herself. God’s healing therapy began to work.


Brenda picked up the telephone and called a number in Paris, France. Moments later she spoke with the other woman, the one who had robbed her of her husband. It was not a moment to rehash the past or cast blame. The past was past. From a sincere heart, Brenda was able to reestablish connection and wish her and her husband happiness.


Brenda Hunter says that in our journey through life we are like ships that have gathered barnacles on their hulls. From time to time they have to go into dry dock and have these heavy barnacles scraped off. Then they are light and free to continue with the voyage. This was true of Brenda. A great weight was lifted, and she was able to get on with her life.


Mark Rye and co-researchers at the University of Dayton, Ohio, studied 199 people who had experienced divorce and belonged to community singles organizations.[6] The study focused on the effect forgiveness of the ex-spouse had upon the mental wellbeing of these individuals. The results showed that those who forgave their former spouse enjoyed greater wellbeing than those who did not forgive. The study found that more forgiveness meant less depression and anger, and less forgiveness meant more depression and anger.








How do we forgive?



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How do we forgive?




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Exactly what does it mean when I forgive another?



First, we need to recognize that although we feel that someone has wronged us, others may feel that we have wronged them. Perhaps we have hurt others when we were not aware of it. We can’t change the past, but we can do something about the present.


Second, we can stop expecting the offender to apologize for the hurtful act. We are responsible for our own healing, and it doesn’t depend on anything the offender does or does not do.


Third, we can accept that reconciliation may or may not occur.


Now let’s look at six steps in the forgiveness process. When these steps are followed, a victim is no longer a captive but is now a survivor.


Six steps in the forgiveness process


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  1. Sort out the hurts and identify the negative feelings of bitterness and anger which could have a paralyzing grip on your life.




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2. Decide if you want to have freedom from these negative emotional hurts. This is a choice.




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3. Tell God that you surrender your hurts to Him. Say, “I have decided to be free of the past and get on with my life.” I choose to forgive _____________. This is my choice!


  1. Tell God that you surrender your hurts to Him. Say, “I have decided to be free of the past and get on with my life.”

      I am choosing to forgive ______________.

      This is my choice.




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  1. Pray, “I forgive him/her. I am no longer a captive. Lord, You have set me free.”






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5. If appropriate, think of loving acts that you can do to restore the relationship with the one who offended you.







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But, exactly what does it mean when I forgive another?







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  1. Pray, “Lord, I have made mistakes. Reveal to me those whom I have hurt.Help me to ask them to forgive me.”





Post-forgiveness freedom

What exactly does it mean when I forgive another? When you forgive, you are liberated. You let go of anger, bitterness, and hatred. You are free.When the forgiveness process takes place, it does not mean that what was done was justified or right. Youare only releasing theoffender’s wrong from your condemnation.





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  • I no longer blame or accuse them.
  • I let bygones be bygones.
  • I no longer desire to have payback or to get even.
  • I am lifting the dark cloud that has been over me.
  • I show mercy.






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  • I do not condone what was done, but I forgive and overlook the hurt. I move from emotional captivity to freedom. My offenders are pardoned.
  • When I realize how much Jesus Christ has forgiven me, then I can begin to have a desire to also forgive those who have wronged me.
  • I forgive. Jesus is my example.





After reflecting on this topic, one person remarked, “I now have forgiven the man in my village who killed my father twenty-five years ago. I am no longer a captive of the past.”


How do you know when you have forgiven? When you think of the offender, you wish them good things.


Asking forgiveness of others

It is God who leads us to repentance. He gives it to us as a free gift. Then with that godly sorrow in our hearts we are anxious to confess our past sins, which have separated us from relatives and acquaintances. It may not be easy, but we feel so much better after confession. Then we ask for forgiveness. God leads us at each step.


Have you ever asked forgiveness from someone you hurt? It isn’t easy. Before doing this, you may not sleep or eat well and your blood pressure may go up. Yet, when the conviction becomes strong, you know you must ask for forgiveness. You are repentant, and you desire to confess the things that you’ve done wrong.


Often we fail to take advantage of the opportunities to make things right. All too often, some extraordinary circumstances are needed to shake us from our complacency.


If God convinces you to ask forgiveness, just do it! You may be 97–99 percent right and only 1–3 percent wrong, but even so, take the step. “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”[7]


How does this apply to families? Malachi 4:5–6 describes a time just before Christ returns in the clouds of heaven when the hearts of parents will be turned to their children, and the hearts of children will be turned to their parents. With tender hearts, fathers, mothers, and children will put away their differences, and they will repent, confess, and ask for forgiveness. This will mean restored family relations and real family unity.


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Photo of Millie Youngberg


Millie had lymphoma. Knowing the seriousness of this life-threatening cancer, she asked to have an anointing—a Bible-based ceremony[8] requesting healing from God—and accepted her responsibility to make things right in her life before this sacred service. Millie said, “I looked into my life and saw many things I regretted. I knew I needed to ask forgiveness of people I’d wronged in various ways.”


Millie started by asking her husband for forgiveness for not being as good a wife as she could have been. She asked forgiveness of her sons for mistakes she’d made in raising them—things she knew had hurt them. She spoke to friends and acquaintances, making things right with them. After she was healed of cancer, she wondered why she had waited so long to ask forgiveness of those she had hurt in some way. Millie says, “The truth is, I should have spoken to these people earlier.” When we go through the forgiveness process, there is greater emotional healing, and there can be greater physical healing.


Forgiveness on Palau


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Photo of the RuimarDePaiva family taken by Wes Youngberg about a month before the tragedy



It was near the end of the year on the Pacific island of Palau. The DePaiva family—Ruimar, Margareth, and two children—were anticipating the holiday season with excitement, looking forward to having friends and other visitors stay at their house. On the night of December 22, the missionary family went to bed for a peaceful night of rest after a busy time preparing for the holidays.


The son, age 11, awoke to the strange sounds of an intruder in his room. He thought perhaps the burglar was stealing his precious electronic equipment. When he tried to stop the intruder, he was bludgeoned to death with a tree limb. After his father and mother entered the room, the intruder also clubbed them to death.


The perpetrator looked for the ten-year-old and abducted her. After a traumatic twenty hours as a captive, he strangled her twice and left her seemingly lifeless body in a ditch. Regaining consciousness, she crawled up to the roadside in the darkness of night and flagged down an approaching car. She was taken to the police station. Within a few hours the perpetrator was apprehended. The nation of Palau was in shock at the dreadfulness and brutality of the crime.


RuimarDePaiva’s mother, Ruth, arrived from Mexico, brokenhearted. As she prepared for the funeral of three beloved family members, she asked to visit the perpetrator who had murdered her son, daughter-in-law, and only grandson. She walked into the cell and said two things: “You need Jesus,” and “You are forgiven.” In disbelief, he heard the words, “You are forgiven.” When the accompanying pastor asked if he accepted Christ, he raised both arms. The pastor prayed for him. How could anyone, any mother, be so incredibly forgiving of him and his heinous crime?




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Funeral of Ruimar, Margareth, and LarissonDePaiva

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At the funeral for the DePaiva family in an indoor stadium, another remarkable thing happened. After four hours of tributes by dignitaries, Ruimar’s mother learned the assailant’s mother was in the crowd. She invited the mother to come forward. The assailant’s mother, unable to walk on her own, had to be assisted by three people to the podium. Ruimar’s mother hugged her warmly and said, “We are two mothers grieving for lost sons. The DePaiva family does not blame the Justin family for the tragedy. We raise our children; we educate them. We teach them right from wrong. That is all we, as mothers, can do.”


The audience watched, with tears and disbelief, what transpired before their eyes. Although she forgave, this mother’s heart was crushed with sadness for her dear family she loved so much. They lay in the three caskets before her.


What a remarkable story of forgiveness! If you are anything like most people, you are likely shaking your head in disbelief, wondering how Ruth DePaiva and her husband Itamar summoned the strength to offer such grace in a time of their own unspeakable grief and suffering. Could that be what Christ meant when He said, “Love your enemies . . . pray for those . . . who persecute you”[9]?


A thumbnail sketch: What the Bible teaches about forgiveness[10]



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Principles of Forgiveness in the Bible

  1. Forgiveness is to be continuous. Luke 17:4




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2.   Little forgiveness leads to little love. Much forgiveness leads to much love. Luke 7:47




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3.   Forgiveness is present and freely offered in love before the offender asks for it. Luke 23:34




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4.   God’s forgiving mercy is to be the measure of our own. Matthew 18:21-35



And He puts up a sign that says, “No fishing allowed here!”



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5.   If we confess our sins, God will abundantly pardonand cast our sins into the depths of the sea. Isaiah 55:7; Micah 7:19.




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A Forgiveness Prayer

Lord, You are the great Forgiver. This is a time for healing. Help me to be a forgiving person. If I have any bitterness or an unforgiving spirit within me, remove it from me.




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A Forgiveness Prayer

I choose to forgive those who hurt me so that I may be free.

Help me also to forgive myself for my foolish ways.




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A Forgiveness Prayer.And for those who do not feel forgiving toward me, I pray that You will soften their hearts. Show me how to handle unresolved problems. Thank You for Your healing power.  In thename of Jesus, Amen.








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  1. 1.What does this chapter on forgiveness say to you?
  2. Remember a time when you chose to forgive someone or someone forgave you. How did it make you feel when you forgave or were forgiven?






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  1. Recall a time when forgiveness brought healing to your damaged emotions.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer says, “Forgive us as we have forgiven others.” What is this text saying to you? Read Matthew 6:14–15 and reflect on these verses.





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If we confess our sins to others, do we also need to ask God to forgive us for hurting that person who is God’s property and whom God loves dearly? How important is this?





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When confessing our wrongdoings to others, why is it so important that we not try to justify our behavior or words, or blame others, or make excuses for our actions?





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            When we recognize and confess our sins, we take back any grounds that were given to Satan in those areas, freeing us from his rights to control us in those areas. What is this saying to you?






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Group Discussion

Once we have asked forgiveness of God and the offended party, do we need to ask forgiveness again and again? If God has cast that sin into the depths of the sea, do I need to keep bringing it up? What do Christ’s words, “Go and sin no more” mean to me?









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Group Discussion

  1. Which of these are the hardest to do in the forgiveness process?

            __ No longer blame them

            __ Let them off and let bygones be                 bygones

            __ Drop the charges

            __ Decide to forgive and overlook the hurt

            __ Release them into the hands of a                merciful God







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Personal Reflections

  1. Is there someone from whom you need to seek forgiveness?
  2. Is there someone in your life whom you need to forgive?
  3. What wrongs do you need to confess to God?





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I have decided to intentionally take steps to forgive those who have hurt me.

 rI have decided to ask forgiveness of those I have hurt.





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I am asking God to forgive me for specific sins and

forwhat I’ve done that displeased Him.





Permission is granted to make a handout of Steps Along the Pathway to Forgiveness (below) to be given to friends, small group members, or seminar participants.



Steps Along the Pathway of Forgiveness

The emotional stress of hurt can produce harmful toxins or poisons in your body. If you do not confront the hurt and move along the pathway of forgiveness, these poisons can seriously affect your health. Get rid of them—the sooner the better! If you know you have emotional pain-pockets in your life, here are some practical steps along the pathway of forgiveness:


  • Recognize that in this sinful world, many things are not fair.
  • Forget about what might have been, and refuse to hash over the “If only . . .” statements.
  • Realize that in this life you may never understand why bad things happened to you.
  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Refuse to be a victim of someone else.
  • Make a choice to be emotionally healed and be free.
  • Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Make the choice.
  • God has a plan for you and will fight for you. God will bring justice in His own way and time.
  • You are willing to absorb the cost, the pain, the consequences of the wrongdoer. You desire to forgive those who brought you pain.
  • Ask God to bring to your mind those who hurt you in the past. Start forgiving those who have hurt you until you are emotionally healed of your hurts!
  • When the forgiveness process takes place, it does not mean that what was done to you was justified or right. You are only releasing that person to God and releasing them from your condemnation.
  • Continue to refuse to go back to thinking of the past hurts. Remember that you gave the hurts to the Lord, and He will take care of things.
  • Pray for the one who hurt you, and be nice to that person.
  • Realize that you are no longer a bitter person but a better person.
  • Smell the roses and see the beauty around you. Now you are free. You have forgiven!





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[1]. “The Pioneer: Elizabeth Blackburn,” Good Housekeeping, May 2011,

[2]. Kathleen A. Lawler, Jarred W. Younger, Rachel L. Piferi, Rebecca L. Jobe, Kimberley A. Edmondson, and Warren H. Jones, “The Unique Effects of Forgiveness on Health: An Exploration of Pathways,” Journal of Behavioral Medicine 28, no. 2 (2005): 157–167.

[3]. Michael E. McCullough and Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, “The Psychology of Forgiveness,” in Handbook of Positive Psychology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 451.

[4]. Stormie Omartian, The Power of a Praying Woman (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2002), 45–52.

[5]. Brenda Hunter, Beyond Divorce (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1978).

[6]. Mark S. Rye, Chad D. Folck, Todd A. Heim, Brandon T. Olszewski, Elizabeth Traina, “Forgiveness of an Ex-Spouse: How Does It Relate to Mental Health Following Divorce?” Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 41, no. 3-4 (2004): 31–51.

[7]. Romans 12:18.

[8]. James 5:13–16.

[9]. Matthew 5:44.

[10]. Points one to four are from Ron and Karen Flowers. Flowers, K. & R. “Forgiveness.” In K. Flowers, R. Flowers, B. Holbrook, & D. Holbrook (Eds.), Caring for Marriage: Materials and Leadership Resources for Marriage Strengthening and Care Groups (Silver Spring, MD: Department of Church Ministries, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 1988), pp. K31-L35.



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