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  • Melinda K. Bowens

Keeping It Simple: Forgiveness

Hi, my name is ___________________ and I’m an Unforgiver

So, if you know a little about my life, you know I spent about a year working with addiction. What I loved and remembered the most were people who wanted to be free of something they didn’t quite understand, but they for sure wanted freedom. They didn’t know how the process worked, but they needed it to work. They weren’t sure of what the outcome was going to be, but they knew they needed a different outcome.

This narrative reminded me of how we feel in the cycle of unforgiveness. We know we need to forgive, but we’re not sure how to forgive. We don’t know how the process works, but we need it to work (for real this time). We don’t know what the outcome is going to be, we just know we need a better outcome than the one we already have.

One of the cornerstones of addiction treatment is the 12-step program. Twelve-step programs provide guidance in this new strange world called “recovery.” The programs provide steps to go from “where I was” to “where I want to be.” But what if we had those same steps with forgiveness? Those steps taking us from being an “unforgiver” to being a “forgiver.”


The 12 Steps to Forgiveness

1. I admit that that I am powerless over unforgiveness and that my circumstances have become unmanageable.

a. Unforgiveness may have been something that we have struggled with for a loooooooong time and can’t seem to break free. In that time, we’ve noticed its effects start to seep into other areas of our lives.

b. …I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it…Romans 7:18a, MSG

2. I have come to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.

a. We have gotten to this point where we throw up our hands. We know something can be different and we need it to happen now!

b. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. Philippians 2:13, HCSB

3. I have made the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God.

a. So, we really begin to accept that God, not us, has the best plan for this whole forgiveness deal that needs to happen.

b. Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. May Your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground. Psalm 143: 10, HCSB

4. I have searched myself and completed a painstakingly honest unforgiveness inventory of myself.

a. We look at our hearts and our lives, HARD. We make a note of all the unforgiveness that lingers, whether it be from 20 minutes ago or 20 years ago. It doesn’t have to feel good, but it needs to be honest.

b. Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord.

Lamentations 3:40, NLT

5. I have admitted to God, to myself and to another human being the exact nature of my unforgiveness.

a. Share. This is where we share with God AND someone else the unforgivenss that had residence in our hearts.

b. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2. HCSB

c. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. James 5:18, HCSB

6. I am entirely ready to have God remove all unforgiveness from my heart.

a. Surrender. We have been in a fight with unforgiveness for way too long and now we’ve honestly and humbly called in for the only reinforcement that can win this fight. We have taken our hands off of it!

b. Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer,. Job 11:13, CEV

7. I humbly ask God to remove my shortcomings.

a. We ask God to remove those blocks in our hearts and lives that may keep us from forgiving completely.

b. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. Ezekiel 36:26, NLT

8. I have made a list of all persons who have harmed or offended me and became willing to forgive.

a. Think of this as spring cleaning for the soul. Some people, thoughts and ideas have to go. Be as detailed as possible in this list; names, locations, etc…

b. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. Matthew 6:14, NLT

c. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. Luke 6:31, NLT

9. I have directly forgiven others wherever possible, except when to do so would injure (physically or emotionally) them or others.

a. If at all possible, we extend this branch of forgiveness face-to-face. Not for anything in return, but for personal peace and growth in God. This isn’t always an option and sometimes isn’t a safe option, so discernment is key!

b. If anyone has caused pain, he has caused pain not so much to me but to some degree—not to exaggerate—to all of you. The punishment inflicted by the majority is sufficient for that person. As a result, you should instead forgive and comfort him. Otherwise, this one may be overwhelmed by excessive grief. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. I wrote for this purpose: to test your character to see if you are obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I do too. For what I have forgiven—if I have forgiven anything—it is for you in the presence of Christ. I have done this so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes. 2 Corinthians 5-11, HCSB

10. I continued to take personal inventory and when I was wronged, I promptly admitted it and forgave.

a. Being wronged and offended is not going to stop. But we protect our heart and relationship with God by mindfully forgiving continuously and quickly.

b. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32, NLT

11. I have sought through prayer to improve conscious contact with God, praying for knowledge of God’s will for myself and the power to carry that out.

a. Nothing about forgiving others is easy. It’s difficult and it test our faith, willpower and commitment to how steadfast we are in Christ. Forgiveness ultimately develops our character and frees our soul. God will strengthen us. He will also remain in us if we remain with Him.

b. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. John 15:4, NLT

12. I, having had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps, have tried to carry this message to others trapped in unforgiveness. And I have strived to practice these principles in all of my affairs.

a. When we learn something that helps us, we should share it with others who may be struggling as well. No point in being free by ourselves!

b. Iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.

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