5 Tips on How to Move Towards Forgiveness: Anger and Forgiveness Part I

Image courtesy of sumetho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of sumetho at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Forgiveness is the glue that holds commitment together. Without forgiveness, commitment will unravel and relationships will come apart. The central day-to-day skill of surviving and growing in relationships is reconciliation, and that starts by giving people the benefit of the doubt BEFORE I get offended.

This means if someone ticks me off I have an obligation first to stop, think, and consider if perhaps I am missing one crucial factor. It’s like the woman who was upset at not being invited to her friend’s wedding, and held a grudge for 20 years…until the invitation finally arrived in the mail accompanied by an apology from the Post Office.

More often than not we feel there could not possibly be any excuse or justification for certain behavior and we choose NOT to give the benefit of the doubt. It’s simply easier to become and to stay offended.

But we can grow in our ability. Here are five tips for growing in the grace of giving people the benefit of the doubt:

1.      Assess the irritating situation and your reaction to it. Are you mildly annoyed? Frustrated? Angry? Full of rage? What is really sparking this emotional reaction?

2.      Take a deep breath and do not indulge in your initial reaction. You cannot help your instinctual emotions, but by feeding into them you are escalating the situation and it will be difficult to follow the next steps in giving a person the benefit of the doubt.

3.      Recognize that the person behind the situation is human (just as you are). As humbling as it is, we have all been a cause of annoyance to someone else, we have all had our bad days and we all have our quirks.

4.      Put a story with the person. The story can be as ridiculous or as practical as you want. Are you being tailgated? Maybe the driver is late for his daughter’s first ballet recital. Is the waitress extremely rude? Maybe her boyfriend just broke up with her, her rent is past due, and she has been working doubles for the last three days. These probably won’t be the real triggers of their behavior but the point is we never know what is truly going on in someone’s life. I have found it helpful and it distracts me from my emotional reaction. It can be a useful tool or even turned into a game (Are you children in the car? Have them help you come up with possible scenarios for the cause of the offending party’s behavior).

5.      Be patient and kind, regardless of the real story behind the behavior. Is a coworker complaining and snapping at everyone? Try bringing her a card, flowers, or chocolate. In my own experience this goes much further than getting mad at them or gossiping about them. Once again, you never know what is going on in their lives to cause the behavior, even if it’s as little as not getting very much sleep.

If you use kindness instead of retaliating, the situation will not ruin your day or give you a bad attitude. Even if the person does not appreciate your patience right away they very well might in the long-run (and you’ll be one less person getting mad at them, which is always helpful when someone is already having a bad day).

Tomorrow in Part II we’ll look at forgiveness through the eyes of a famous biblical character who experienced extreme betrayal and hurt and look at how we can begin to heal and extend forgiveness to those who have actually damaged us.

Related Posts:
Learning How to Forgive
Muslims, Murder, and Forgiveness

May I Ask Who’s Calling?


I’ve picked up a pet peeve from my father. At least I think I got it from him. Let’s just say that it’s an annoyance we share. It really aggravates me when people call me and, as soon as I pick up the phone, launch into conversation without ever identifying themselves. I like people. I really do. But I find it impossible to memorize the voice of everyone I know. Actually, sometimes I even have trouble telling which of my brothers is calling me if he doesn’t identify himself.

But I don’t have any trouble identifying the voices of my wife or my parents. They are probably the three people I have spent the most time with and have the most intimate relationships with. In fact, I can hear my English professor mother’s voice correcting the previous sentence because I ended it with a preposition!

And that’s how intimate relationships work. Not only do you recognize the voice of the one talking to you but you get to the point where you can hear the other person’s voice commenting and talking to you without them even having to be around you.

Recently someone asked me how she could know the will of God for her life and how she could be sure that she was doing the right things to be in the will of God. I understand the difficulty of what she’s asking. Very few people I know have burning bush experience like Moses where God tells us unequivocally what he wants us to do. It seems that many of us have to go through life practicing discernment when it comes to God’s will. And sometimes it’s just plain tough to figure out.

We want the “Wizard of Oz” experience – Dorothy is given only one road to follow (the yellow brick one, of course). But I think the key is not in finding the one road God would have us take but in developing the intimate relationship with him that allows us to recognize his voice and to be able to hear his voice in our circumstances, know what he would say to us, even before he says it. This is the kind of relationship I envision the Apostle Paul is talking about in Romans 12:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The more we allow God to transform us, and the more we are like him and the less we are like the world, we are better able actually to recognize his voice and to know what he would say. But such intimacy only happens over time. Not just quality but quantity as well. Do you want to know God’s will for your life? Do you want to hear his voice and understand his direction? Have you put in the time and effort to build an intimate relationship with him?

Because when he calls, it’s not so great to stop him mid-sentence and ask, “May I ask who’s calling?”