Allow me to get straight to the point: there is a lot of anger throughout our country. It is as if a light switch has been thrown after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Suddenly, my Facebook “friends” have become very anti-Christian, very violent and hateful in their talk. Meanwhile, many Christians are not acting much different. Like a Sith Lord, there is a lot of anger flowing through the country.
If there is going to be healing and restoration, there will need to be forgiveness (after all, forgiveness can be best defined as ‘lowering one’s anger toward someone’). Where does one start in the process of forgiveness?
Step #1: Valuing.
This is not forgiveness, it is not saying “I love the person” or even “I like the person.” This beginning stage is simply saying that the individual who hurt us has value as a human being. If nothing else, every person is made in the image of God, God loves them, Jesus died for them, therefore they have value.
Step #2: Canceling Demands.
In this stage, one must recognize that changing the unchangeable past is impossible. If someone stole something from you, even if they give it back, there is still the broken trust, the feelings of betrayal and violation. The past cannot be changed. While restitution can happen, it still does not change what took place. In this stage, we cancel the demand that the other person right the wrong they’ve done.
Step #3: Trusting.
There is a difference between forgiveness and trust. First, trust is an investment, one that has risk attached to it. Second, trust does not wait for one to produce “good will;” after all, God didn't. Third, trust can be built in small steps: starting with “I'm willing to talk to you,” or at least say “hi” and wave with all of my fingers extended. Simply talking to someone is trusting them (albeit small trust), because we are trusting they will say something back in a friendly, dignified, respectful manner.
Trust starts small and then advances to the point of no longer questioning the other person's motives (a more complete and deeper trust).
Step #4: Opening.
This stage (and in my opinion is the hardest stage) is about dropping the iron-clad guarantee of the other's person's future behavior. In other words, one gives the other person the freedom to fail again. This is what is being given in forgiving.
This stage is also more risky, because it also says, “I'm willing to be put into a position where you could hurt me again. I hope you don’t, but I’m opening myself to it.”
What makes this stage hard is that usually we want a guarantee of the other person’s behavior. However, we are all free to think, feel, and do as we want, so we cannot have a guarantee of another person’s future behavior…therefore don’t demand it. Thankfully, God didn’t demand it from us (I’ll only send Jesus to die on the cross as long as you give me a guarantee you’ll never sin again).
Step #5: Celebrating.
Once stages 1-4 have been reached and completed in full, the relationship between two people can be considered restored and one can celebrate the reconciliation. The re-found/reborn relationship is the celebration.
We are all broken…every person, regardless of their demographic, is broken (no one is perfect, therefore we all fail; everyone has shattered dreams; and everyone has alienated someone else whether by accident or by intention, etc.). If ever there is going to be the ability for the church and society to engage each other with dignity and respect, there must first be forgiveness on, from, and for all people.