The four essential steps of forgiveness
The ball is passed to me.
I give a head fake, my man is up and I’m around him, I drive and another defender steps in front of me just as I pass the ball to the man he left, but it’s too fast — it’s always too fast — and a guaranteed two points bounces impotently on the sidelines.
He leaps up, venomous anger burning bright red in his face.
“STEPHEN!” he screams, spraying spittle. “What the hell kind of pass was that?!”
He stomps onto the court, his cowboy boots smacking the hardwood like I’m sure he would like to smack me.
“Get over here!” He points at the bench. “Siddown!” He thumbs a teammate to replace me.
I slump onto the all-too-familiar bench.
“So what do you need to forgive him for?” Jan Graf interrupts my reverie.
Jan, the creator of a unique stress management process to whom I will be forever grateful, is teaching me the four steps of forgiveness.
“Remember,” Jan says, “true health, happiness, and wellbeing come when we are at total peace with ourselves in all aspects of our life, both past and present.
“One of the greatest sources of stress is our unwillingness or inability to forgive.
“If we forgive, we don’t need to bottle the hurts up inside to fester, and we don’t need to retaliate and get even.
“Forgiveness is not approving or judging. It’s allowing the offender the free agency to be less than perfect and letting the Lord be his judge. Forgiveness releases us from the hurt, anger, or pain that is associated with the offense we feel.
“You can release this burden of stress by using these four steps:
Step 1: State your forgiveness out loud
“Don’t deceive yourself and think you can just think the words in your mind. Retire to a private place, if necessary, but do not underestimate the importance of this step. There is something powerful about hearing the words spoken out loud; it makes the forgiveness really come from the heart.
Step 2: Be specific
“You must be specific about who you’re forgiving and what you’re forgiving them for. The more specific your forgiveness statement, the greater release you’ll experience, the more peaceful you’ll feel.
Step 3: Use the present tense
“You must state your forgiveness in the present tense, as in ‘I forgive…’ ‘I will forgive,’ ‘I need to forgive,’ ‘I should forgive,’ are not forgiveness, but merely evidence of our inability to let go.
Step 4: The 490 principle
“When Peter asked Christ, ‘How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times?,’ Christ responded, ‘I say not unto thee, until seven times, but until seventy times seven.’
“490 times! Realize, this is not four hundred and ninety offenses, but rather one offense thought about 490 times.
“I believe Christ was telling Peter and us that if we could forgive and forget we could do it in one time, but he knows we have fantastic memories and we wouldn’t forget.
“We tend to think of offenses over and over again, even though we may have forgiven once, and each time we think of it, it festers deeper and deeper. Then we often become ill.
“Every time you think of someone who has hurt or offended you in the past and you feel negative feelings, state your forgiveness again. Some deep hurts may require hundreds of forgiveness statements before you finally purge all the anger and pain.”
“So, what do you need to forgive him for?” Jan gently asks me again.
“I forgive my high school basketball coach for yelling at me and embarrassing me.”
I feel a weight lift from me, which I’ve carried for almost two decades. Blessed relief. I don’t want to stop.
“I forgive him for not recognizing and developing my talent. I forgive him for destroying my confidence by how he treated me.”
I walk out Jan’s door feeling like I’m walking on air. It feels so good I spend the next several weeks digging through my past, eagerly searching for people to forgive. One by one, offenses are purged from my soul.
And I finally understand Lewis Smedes’ words,
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free, and discover that the prisoner was you.”