How do you hold out a precious gift to someone who doesn't deserve it? I'm no expert ... but I do have some experience on my side. And as always the Bible has a few things to say.
1. Start forgiving them in private. Alone with God.
In case you need any more "why's" ... remember that God tells us several times that the measure of forgiveness we use is what will be used for us. Yikes! It is a heavy gift, but God can give you the strength to lift it.
"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you."
- Matthew 6:14
"But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."
- Mark 11:26
Tell Him in prayer that you know you need to forgive ... that you desire His forgiveness for yourself ... but that it is hard. He knows what they have done. Walk through what needs to be forgiven. It is ok to feel it.
Forgiveness starts in the heart. Tim once had something to tell me, and I knew it wasn't going to be good. He wanted to tell me in person, and I had to wait until he was there. All I could do was pray. I will never forget ... God gave me a word. Mercy. God prepared my heart to forgive Tim before I even know what for.
"...If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him."
- Luke 17:3
2. Understand forgiveness, God's and our own, isn't an absolution from consequence.
In fact, sometimes part of the gift of forgiveness is honesty and safety.
Forgiveness doesn't mean "now I trust you."
Sometimes forgiveness has to be given from afar because to offer it up in person would be unsafe. In an abusive relationship it is both necessary to remove yourself from the abuse and forgive the abuser. Trust me ... as long as you hold on to that bitterness, you can't heal. You keep giving the abuse power over you.
Sometimes forgiveness has to be given from afar because the relationship is that broken. I've found it to be helpful to write a letter of forgiveness and then throw it away. It is a sense of release. You may have to do it over and over again.
"And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."
- Luke 17:4
3. Keep on forgiving.
Sometimes those ugly old feelings ... hurt, disgust, embarrassment, you name it ... come back. Something happens to remind you (some call these "triggers") ... you feel a sense of deja vu, or the consequences of someone else's actions continue to haunt you.
Forgive again. Don't resurrect that rotting dead corpse! Your enemy is the one who wants to remind you. Sometimes I find myself having to say "You know what, devil? In Jesus' name I already forgave that ... and Jesus died to pay the penalty for that ..."
But sometimes on those days, even after I do that, I have to forgive all over again. If it is honoring to God and helpful to a relationship ... I confess to them I'm hurting all over again. Forgiveness isn't some magic bandaid that makes the pain go away and never come back.
Sometimes you are in the process of forgiving someone and they are still doing that very thing you are trying to forgive them for. I find it helpful think to myself ... "I forgive you for what you did, what you are doing, and what you are going to do."
4. Accept that forgiving may not change anything.
But it changes you. When you forgive, (really forgive), you are releasing your control, your rights, your anger, your bitterness. When you forgive you lower the bar held up to determine your own forgiveness. When you forgive your improve your health.
You may need to forgive someone you've never met.
You may need to forgive someone for doing the wrong thing who is never, ever, EVER going to do the right thing.
5. Forgive yourself.
We're all sinners and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). Especially where relationships are concerned, we are rarely innocent. Don't forget to forgive yourself ... God already has.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
- Romans 5:8