(Please note, if you are being hurt physically or abused, please seek professional help.)
Recently I received an email that asked this question:
“How do you forgive someone who has hurt you repeatedly?”
I could hear the hurt behind the question without even reading the rest of the email.
When we’ve been repeatedly offended or hurt by another, a war between forgiveness and unforgiveness ensues.
We want to forgive, because the Bible says we should. Yet the reality of facing the person, knowing that they will hurt us again seems unbearable.
While it seems we are struggling against the obedience of God’s Word (to forgive), what we’re really struggling with is how to avoid future hurt.
So how do you deal with this struggle?
How to Forgive Someone who has Hurt you Repeatedly
Know what it means to forgive
Often times we associate forgiveness with being sorry. If the offender apologizes (and really means it), only then do we think we are called to forgive.
Yet, Jesus says something quite different. He tells us to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 AMP
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:13 ESV
I believe one of the biggest problems we have with forgiveness is that we don’t completely understand what it means.
To forgive DOES NOT mean:
- Your pain is not legitimate
- Their behavior was appropriate
- You are ok with the way they treated you
- You are a “doormat” for others to walk all over
- You’re being weak minded
To forgive DOES mean:
- You release the offender of the offense
- You’re choosing to change your heart and mind towards the person
- You are giving up your need for revenge and placing the person in God’s hands
Why is it important to release the person who offended you?
I think this is the real reason Jesus calls us to forgive…..because unforgiveness affects us more than it does the other person. You may have heard me say before that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
When we harbor unforgiveness we are the ones that are actually being hurt. It affects us emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Most importantly it can hinder our relationship with God.
Unforgiveness starts in seed form and grows into bitterness, which begins to affect all of our relationships.
Holding on to an offense is a plan from the enemy to ultimately isolate us from others and God.
When we choose to forgive, we free ourselves from the bondage and open up the door for God to heal us and to act on our behalf.
Pray for them
But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, Matthew 5:44 NKJV
The easiest way I have found to release someone who repeatedly offends me is to pray for them.
Something happens in prayer.
Not only do we give God our worries, concerns and hurts, but He gives us something in return….
Peace of mind and a new perspective.
When we repeatedly feel hurt by someone, our flesh screams revenge.
We want to either attack back or dispose of the relationship, something to let them know we are hurt and they must pay.
If we allow ourselves to meditate on the hurt and how we should “attack back”, we are feeding the flesh.
We know from scripture that whatever we feed grows….
So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. Galatians 5:16-17 NLT
Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14 NLT
The Bible is clear about feeding our flesh….
Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Galatians 6:8 NIV
We often think that it will satisfy us if we “pay back” those who hurt us, but the truth is….it never does.
Only heartache and more pain come out of revenge and unforgiveness.
However, when we choose to be led by the Spirit, we reap the fruits of the Spirit.
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
Let’s take a brief look at one fruit in particular….kindness.
The word kindness is actually the word chrestotes, which means “goodness in action”. It’s dealing with others in a gentle, sweet, loving manner in the midst of them annoying or frustrating us.
Think about it….it’s easy to extend kindness to someone who is kind to us. That’s easy to do in our own strength. However, when someone has hurt us, we need the Holy Spirit’s power to respond in kindness.
When we choose to pray for the person, we start to see them how God sees them and allows us to begin healing.
So what do we pray?
Coming up with the words to pray for someone who has hurt you can be hard.
Here’s a sample prayer to help you get started:
Set up proper boundaries
It is perfectly fine and necessary at times to set up proper boundaries for a relationship where the other person repeatedly hurt us.
There have been many times in my life that I’ve had to establish proper boundaries with those who continued to break my trust or violated the relationship.
When someone continually crosses a line that hurts you and/or your loved ones, boundaries are a good way to protect the relationship and your heart!
What boundaries do I need to set?
Your boundaries will be determined by what you feel is necessary to protect you and the relationship.
I would encourage you to pray about what those are.
You can begin by:
Allowing God to speak to you.
His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are bigger than our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
He knows each of you perfectly.
He knows both of your struggles, your insecurities and the root cause of what’s damaging the relationship.
Allowing Him to guide your steps will ensure that you aren’t reacting to the hurt, but honestly seeking a peaceful solution.
Seeking godly counsel.
Do you have another person who you can confidentially speak to about the situation?
Getting outside perspective (after you’ve sought God) may be a good way to confirm what God’s speaking to you.
God uses other people in our lives to speak to us at times.
There are also times when we need to process out our feelings and concerns with another person.
When deciding on who to choose to process this with, it may be best to pick someone who isn’t closely involved.
Perhaps you have a pastor, a small group leader, someone in your small group or a godly friend who will give you non-bias godly feedback.
Allow them to give you input without getting defensive or shutting them down. They may have insight that you can’t see.
When dealing with someone who has hurt you repeatedly it may feel better to just give up and move on. And sometimes that is the best solution. But there are also many times when we can’t give up on the relationship or we shouldn’t. By understanding what forgiveness is, praying for the person and setting proper boundaries, you may be able to not just forgive them, but find healing in the relationship.