Want to be Happy? Forgive Your Enemies.

Donald Miller

I confess I’m the type of person to hold a grudge. It’s not that I want power over people, which is often the motive for holding a grudge, it’s just that I want all-due glory for my suffering. This is what I mean: if somebody is causing me some pain, I want them to know I am bearing it for them. For this reason, it’s hard for me to forgive my enemies. If people slam me on the internet, it’s hard to forgive. If people screw me in a business deal, it’s hard to forgive, too. And for so long it seemed there was nothing I could do about it.

I knew I’d be better off to forgive, but how?

What are the steps to controlling your uncontrollable emotions?

I don’t fully know the answer to that question. Part of the reason it’s so hard to forgive is pride. If I forgive someone, it feels like I’m also saying that the other person had the right to do me wrong. That doesn’t feel right. But it’s a real feeling.

*Photo by Wonderlane, Creative Commons

*Photo by Wonderlane, Creative Commons

Even more difficult is having to forgive someone who hasn’t even recognized they’ve done wrong.

So why forgive?

Before I say why, I should say how. Here’s how:

Go through the stages of grief. Let the offense shock you, then let it completely hurt you. Don’t avoid the pain. Sit with it and feel it no matter how unbearable it is.  Please know it will end in time. It will get 2% easier every day. Just feel it like a toothache and soon enough it will transition into something bearable.

Then let the offense make you angry. Don’t lash our or you’ll be guilty yourself. Talk about it with trusted friends but confess you’re angry and your emotions aren’t under control. And don’t feel bad for being angry. The last thing you need is anger and shame. Just punch a pillow and make it through. The anger, like the pain, will lessen over time.

Then after being angry, accept what has been done. Just accept it as a fact and don’t over analyze it. It happened. This will still be shocking at first, but in time, you will accept it as a fact that you can’t change.

From there, you’re at a place to forgive. It will be hard work, but it’s worth it. Sit and pray for the person you’ve been hating. Sit and imagine them with a good life, them coming to realize that what they did was wrong, maybe not to you, but to somebody, perhaps to God. Then be willing to love them in your heart. Want the best for them. Hope for the best for them. Stop praying for God to destroy them and pray for God to bless them. Pray for God to open up their hearts so they can receive the love that will stop them from hurting others. This is the only way I know how to forgive.

• • •

Why should we forgive?

Well, there are many reasons, but I’m only going to focus on a few.

The first is because, believe it or not, forgiveness is a pleasurable experience. No kidding, it feels much better than anger or hate. God has designed forgiveness as a powerful blessing for those who have been hurt. The experience of truly forgiving somebody can make you more happy than if you’d never been hurt in the first place.

The second reason for you to forgive is that it removes you from being entangled in the rather dark thing that hurt you in the first place. If it was a bad business deal, then you get to be free of it and maintain your integrity. If it was a family member talking behind your back, you get to remove yourself completely from all the complications of gossip. Forgiveness sets you free from being bogged down in knee-deep mud. Forgiveness gives you a taste of what it feels like to be God, and it’s a terrific feeling. God forgave us because it gave Him pleasure to do so. He was happy to do so. Love forgives, and so does God, and so can you.

The third reason to forgive is that you open yourself up to amazing possibilities for a happy life. When you don’t forgive, you draw the curtains in your soul and your life gets dark. When you forgive you let the light in again, and you go on about your life in peace. And don’t you want some peace? Isn’t it time for some peace?

The greatest thing about forgiveness is it will allow you to love again. It will allow you to love and be loved.

And believe me, it’s worth it.

Forgiveness is tough, for sure, but love is infinitely more valuable than the pain of forgiveness costs. No matter what you have to go through to forgive, you’re getting a steal of a deal to be able to love and be loved again. Pay the price and I promise you’ll be happy you did.

Donald Miller

Donald Miller

Donald Miller is all about story. He's helped thousands overcome a sense of meaninglessness by helping them create their Storyline life plan. If you're struggling with a sense of meaningless, pick up Storyline today. After studying story for years and successfully using the elements of story to engage customers, Don created StoryBrand, a process any business owner or marketing team can go through to create a communication script that will increase sales. Don is also the creator of the Storyline Productivity Schedule, a free daily schedule using modern psychology to increase a person's productivity. Don believes getting your story straight changes everything. Follow Don on Twitter (@donaldmiller). To read more of his posts on the Storyline Blog, click here.

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  • Bruce

    Some times I think that we feel we need to forgive someone because they have made us angry or hurt us. We then seek a pattern of “forgiving” so that we can let go of our anger. We come to believe that we have forgiven if we are no longer mad. I am not convinced that this is two sides of the same coin. Perhaps we are comparing apples and oranges. I am not sure that forgiveness can be given if it is not asked for. Certainly there is clear scriptural teaching that the forgiveness of sins comes after confession. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If the one who offends or hurts is either unaware of, or does not believe that they have done wrong to another, they are not in a place where they can or will seek forgiveness. In this sense forgiveness is a wondrous gift not asked for. I am concerned that we can not offer forgiveness to someone who has not asked for it. I do believe that we can let go of our anger towards the offending party though, whether our anger is justified or not. It is the living with persistent anger that destroys our communion with our fellow beings and with God. Giving our perceived “right to be angry” to God and yielding to His love and sovereign justice puts us in a spiritual place where we can offer forgiveness when it is asked for. I think in this I differ some with brother Miller, though I believe that our intent and goal is the same: unity with Christ and with our brothers and sisters. Respectfully.

  • CO Fines

    This is my first visit here, Don. Thank you for writing your journey.

    I believe that Jesus gave us the option of forgiving or not forgiving. I think of it as the authority to either keep offenses written in the Book that is opened on the other side or to erase those offenses.

    The relief I felt when my father died is just as strong today as it was fifteen years ago. Under the authority I believe given to me I wanted him to experience the pain he had caused me, my mother, and my brother and sister so he would understand it first hand and not be able to sluff it off with his narcissistic justification. I believe that happened. It was probably devastating.

    Given that, I have erased my debt. I believe he was doing the best he knew how to do, God bless him. He has a lot of catching up to do. He doesn’t need to carry my load. If the books are opened, there may be debts he owes elsewhere but not to me. That is irrevocable in case I should change my mind. It’s gone.

    Probably the hardest commandment is to love your neighbors. My neighbors, who I still refer to as my neighbors from hell, did me a grievous wrong to further their self-interest. That has been eight years. It took me five years to get out of the pit they threw me into. I have slowly come to regard it as water over the dam out of my own self-interest, but I have not erased their offense from the Book. I want them to experience my pain on the other side and most of them are still here, fat and sassy.

    Am I carrying an unecessary load? Maybe. I no longer long to see them hanging from a tree. If I run into them I will be polite, tho not cordial. This is my right, this is my authority, it is still on the Book of Accounts.

    Once they feel my pain, I am done with it. They need to understand what they have done to further their own growth and apiritual evolution. I feel like I would be doing them a wrong if I let this slide. They have attained their favored position in life by doing to many people what they have done to me. It is wrong. They need to know that, because if you spoke with them today they would justify themselves as right and righteous.

    Will I gain a better understanding of this whole process of forgiveness? I hope so. I expect that those who crucified God and those who engineered it and the one who betrayed him will all find the Way sooner or later. I’m not excluding anyone from that healing. But part of the healing process may be realizing just exactly what it is that you need forgiving for.

    I acknowledge that I may need a bunch of that awareness myself. Bring it on!

    • undi

      The problem is that the people that hurt you don’t agree that they have caused you pain and are wrong. Therefore we will never get a plea for forgiveness. What do we do then?

      • CO Fines

        My thoughts above are based on Jesus’ words at John 20:23, “. . . if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.” It may well take until people are on the other side for them to get to walk a mile in your shoes.

        This doesn’t change the Way of loving our neighbor and even our enemy. We can withhold forgiveness as an act of judgment in someone’s best interest. Not our job to make someone sorry, only to give them the opportunity.

        Is this too complex? Maybe, but I think we can gain better understanding thru the doing. What we really need to watch out for is hanging on to resentment, anger, and bitterness. That just hurts ourself.

        • K8

          I think if you closely examine the parable Christ told in Matthew 18:21-33 you will see that we are to forgive. We obviously have the freedom to forgive as you are referring to but are we to make the other person feel bad as you are suggesting? No. We are not. We are to forgive and treat others just as we would ask God to treat and forgive us.

          Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!”

      • emma

        You can still forgive them in your heart. This forgiveness may not be a conversation that you have with the “offender” but something that you proclaim to yourself or another. It helps me to say it out loud. And usually it takes more than just saying it out loud one time. If those thoughts of anger and hatred start to appear, I forgive them again. It’s definitely a process but I hope you will find the same peace that I have found by forgiving.

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  • http://www.peacedreams-firefly.blogspot.com Dr. Nancy

    So well said! Often, we try to forgive, because we know it’s what we are “supposed” to do but we try to fast forward the process and skip the feeling part. All of our emotions serve a purpose and are God given. We label them “good” or “bad” when in reality, there is no good or bad, they just ARE. It’s how we express them (or not) that makes them constructive or destructive. So, we have to go through that process of feeling the anger and sadness and come through to the other side. Then we can FORGIVE. Otherwise, we say we have forgiven and wonder why we can’t forgive and continue to hold on, despite our intentions not to. The prize at then end of the painful process is indeed freedom and peace in our spirits. :)

  • Hil

    I loooved this post. It fits nicely with The Art of Forgiving by Lewis Smedes. We never have to say an offender’s actions were okay, and we don’t have to pretend we aren’t angry or hurt. But yes, like a grief process, we can move through it and finally accept and forgive, not always with a reunion.

    For me, it was very humbling to admit someone I labeled a stupid jerk had the power to hurt me. I thought I was just mad, but underneath my anger I was hurt by the disrespect. But if I firmly believe I deserve respect and kind treatment, I can refuse the negative messages from the offender and they don’t have so much power. This helps me forgive–by not agreeing with his actions or messages about me, I am free to say “That sucked. But at least his thoughts toward me aren’t true…” Without realizing I was sad underneath my anger, I really would not have been able to have these realizations and forgive, or even understand why I was so upset to begin with.

  • Kyle

    thank you.
    question: would you use the same forgiveness journey to forgive oneself? that is what i struggle with. forgiving myself. having that anger and shame boulder on my back.

  • Ali

    Thanks, I needed to read this tonight. Well said.

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  • Elvera Lapage

    Maybe for you, but not for him. He’s the genius.

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  • Anna Schoon

    Mmmm. This is good stuff. I had the privilege of reconnecting with my Dad in the weeks before he died. During that time, I was able to say the words “I forgive you.” In the moment that I set him free from the debt he owed me, I was immediately aware of how wrong my hatred and mistreatment of him over the years had been. That’s when I learned that harboring unforgiveness prevents God from dealing with issues in my heart. Since then I’ve been much more willing to do the work and move to forgiveness quickly.

  • Sam Halverson

    I really had no idea that so many people were still so confused about forgiveness.

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