4 Steps to Take When You Need to Forgive Someone

Clarence L. Haynes Jr.

Contributing Writer
Published Apr 12, 2023
4 Steps to Take When You Need to Forgive Someone

If you live long enough in this life – and trust me, you don’t need to live too long – at some point, you are going to get hurt by someone. They are going to say or do something that will be offensive to you and cause you pain. Sometimes you will be the one causing the pain, which means there will be moments where you will need to be forgiven.

Regardless of which side of forgiveness you are on, we must all deal with forgiveness. For today, I want to focus on forgiving others. How do you forgive others when they hurt you? I want to highlight four things for you to do that will aid you in this journey to forgiveness. These things stem from the lessons I learned in my struggle with unforgiveness.

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Distraught man having a conversation with friends

4 Steps to Help You Forgive Others 

1. Perspective

The journey to forgiveness begins with approaching it from the right perspective. Here is the first thing I want you to understand about forgiveness: forgiveness is a can’t not a won’t. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say I can’t forgive that person. I have even said it myself. This is not true. It is not that you can’t forgive someone; it is that you don’t want to. (If that stings a little, just let it rest there for a moment). 

We must stop telling ourselves that we can’t forgive. To say you can’t implies you don’t have the ability to forgive, when the truth is you don’t have the desire. Those are two different things. If you want to be brutally honest, when you say you can’t forgive, it means either you choose not to forgive or don’t want to forgive because forgiveness is a choice. The reason we know it is a choice is God commands us to do it. Here is one of many verses:

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Since God instructs us to forgive, that means we have a choice in the matter. Telling yourself you can’t forgive may soothe your conscience, but you are not being truthful. You are simply refusing to forgive, and that is a choice you make. I am not saying it is easy, but if you cooperate with the Holy Spirit who lives in you, he can give you the strength and will to forgive.

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An eraser erasing the word "DEBT" written in pencil

2. Remember

The next step on this journey is to remember. What you need to remember is how God has forgiven you. Think about all the sins you have ever committed in your life and how many times God has forgiven those sins. There is a one-to-one relationship between sins committed and God’s forgiveness. When you remember how much God has forgiven you, it should be easier to forgive others.

In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. In short, he owed a debt to the king that was equivalent to 3.8 billion dollars today and would have taken him 200,000 years to pay off. It didn’t matter how long he lived, he could never pay off that debt and the king knew it. The king forgave the entire amount. This same servant then goes to someone who owes him $200 and showed him no mercy and had him thrown in jail until they paid the debt off. He showed him no mercy. 

Can you take a wild guess who we are in the story? We owed a sin debt to God, which we could never repay. However, Jesus paid our sin debt and now we are forgiven and our debt is paid in full. When you remember this, then it does not matter how much someone has hurt you. It will never match the sin debt you owed God. If God can forgive you, then you can forgive others. If you are ever struggling with not wanting to forgive someone, just go back and remember how much God forgave you. In case you need further motivation, here is how Jesus summed up the story.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:32-35).

If this does not move you to forgive others, then possibly nothing will.

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man sitting on a beach thinking

3. Acknowledge

An important step on this road to forgiveness is acknowledging. Address your emotions and pain by acknowledging you have been hurt and wounded. This is not a sign of weakness, it is evidence that you are human.

In John 13, at the last supper, it was getting closer to the time when Judas was going to betray Jesus. The Bible says Jesus was troubled in his spirit (John 13:21). Why was he troubled? I believe he was dealing with the emotion of what was about to happen. His friend was about to betray him and because he loved Judas, that was going to hurt him. Jesus was not angry with Judas. I am certain Jesus wept over Judas.

If someone has hurt you, be honest about it. You should deal with those emotions prayerfully before the Lord, and if you need to get counseling to deal with them, then do it. It’s okay to tell God this person hurt me. It’s okay to say I know I should forgive, but I don’t really want to. It’s okay to be honest with God about how you feel about the situation.

At some point, you must address how you feel about the situation, because if you don’t address the pain the person caused you, then you will never forgive them. However, you must view the pain through the lens of the forgiveness you have received, or you will hold on to the pain and use it as validation to choose not to forgive.

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Adult son hugging father, forgiveness

4. Yes

The last step is to just say yes and forgive. As Nike would say, “just do it.” However, when you forgive, do it sincerely and completely. When you do this and you release the person who hurt you, you are actually releasing yourself.

Unforgiveness is a prison that you walk into and willingly lock the door behind you. It keeps you trapped in the past and hinders you from living fully and freely in the present. Therefore, it hurts your future. I am not saying this from a place of condemnation. I am saying this from a place of experience because I was the one who was trapped. When I came to the place where I forgave, the unnecessary weight I was carrying was gone and it made me wonder why I waited so long to do this.

How Do You Know When You Have Forgiven Someone?

As I wrap this up, there is this last question to address. How do you know when you have truly forgiven someone who hurt you? Here are two quick answers.

The first is when you remember the hurt, but the sting is gone. There really is no such thing as forgive and forget because our minds don’t work that way. Only God can forgive and forget. However, you can get to the place where, even though you remember the offense, it no longer hurts and you don’t hold it against that person.

The second way you know you have forgiven is when you can do something towards that person which you could not do before. This might be as simple as praying sincerely for them, having a conversation with them, sharing a meal, writing a letter, or sending a card for their birthday. Whatever the action is, it is one you could not do before, but you can do now.


Let me recap the 4 steps to help you forgive others.  

1. Perspective

2. Remember

3. Acknowledge

4. Yes

If you caught it the acronym is P.R.A.Y. When you are struggling with unforgiveness, then remember P.R.A.Y. and don’t just remember it as an acronym, but also as an action, because as you pray, God will empower you to help you choose to forgive.

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Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com

Originally published Thursday, 13 April 2023.