How Do I Forgive: Write a Letter of Lament and Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something we all want to receive, and truly, we all wish to give. We all want to be the bigger person, a gracious person, the kind of person who forgives others as God has forgiven us. But it's not always that easy. Some of us have been hurt badly, abused in horrific ways. We bear not only scars, but bleeding wounds of fear, anger, and resentment towards those who have mistreated us. We want to forgive, but how?

Here's one idea: write a letter of lament and forgiveness to the person who hurt you. You may never send it, but you can write it down on paper so it's less on your heart.

State your intent

First, open the letter with your intention to name the hurt and desire to forgive. Include a prayer for the Holy Spirit to give strength to your voice and courage for your heart to forgive as you've been forgiven by God in Christ.

List your concerns

Second, name the offenses. List the abuses. Articulate in words the actions the offender did to hurt you. Put it all down on paper and give it full voice. Don't let the secrets hide in shadows and shine a light on deeds done in the dark. Evil things wither in the sunlight of truth, so let the truth be told. Writing them down remembers that these deeds were real, and truly painful. That is an important part of the journey.

Describe the impact

Third, describe the impact on you. How have these actions hurt you? How have they affected your life? What impact have they had on your heart, your relationships, your health, your family, your work? Give a lament for what was lost and and the results that followed in your life.

Offer forgiveness

Fourth, offer forgiveness. Release your right to revenge and vindication. Give their accountability to God so that he can enact justice in His time. Acknowledge the offender's humanness, smallness, and brokenness. Seek some pity and even sympathy for someone so broken, so hurt, so miserable that they would do these things, even when they probably knew better. Release them to become God's problem.

Establish healthy boundaries

Fifth, set boundaries. Point out that forgiveness is not reconciliation, and there may not be any restoration of the relationship. Forgiveness does not mean they get to return to a place where they can hurt you again. State what limits you will set around them in the future.

Offer it up in prayer

Sixth, write an honest prayer to God for the offender. Ask God to work in their lives as a blessing, not a curse. Try to see them as God does--a broken image-bearer of God desperately in need of a Savior. Truly wish them well within the boundaries you've set.

Record and release

Seventh, re-state your words of release and forgiveness, sign it, and date it. You've now lamented your pain, forgiven your perpetrator, and released them to God.

To send or not to send

Next, decide what to do with the letter. You might burn it. You might keep it safe as a token of your forgiveness. You might read it to someone, maybe someone who could bear witness to your story. You might even send it to the abuser. But now, at least, it's all on paper, not on your heart. This letter can be a visible reminder of pain that you have released to God that you no longer need to carry on your heart. God receives all these prayers of our hearts and longs to carry our burdens. Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

As you complete this exercise may you experience God's peace and feel the lifting of your burden. Remember that it is natural to try to carry this emotional weight and you may need to turn this over repeatedly before you can move on without bitterness and be able to pray for the person who has hurt you. Don't be hard on yourself, just turn that burden back into God's hands. Forgiving is painful and difficult , but God will equip you with the strength to do it and it will be worth the effort.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

Steven Koster is a writer, speaker, and producer with Family Fire. Formerly the Director of ReFrame Media, Family Fire's parent organization, Steven currently serves at Grace Church and consults on ministry through The Joshua Lab. He also leads a hospitality ministry at The Parsonage Inn and enjoys family tree research as time allows. Steven and his wife Deb enjoy leading marriage retreats and family seminars to encourage people in their most intimate relationships. The Kosters are the parents of three awesome young adults and reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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