What to Do When Forgiveness Seems Impossible

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young christian woman praying seeking restoration when  forgiveness seems impossible

By Leslie Jones

Shuffling through my “people to pray for” notecards one morning, I sensed God’s holy invitation to add the name of a woman who’d deeply wounded me. 

“How can I pray for her,” I questioned, “when it’s impossible to forgive what she did to my family?”

Offering forgiveness felt unreasonable. I’d harbored hatred toward this woman for more than two decades and felt justified in my unforgiveness.

I felt just fine shouldering my backpack of bitterness, thank you very much.

Yet the Holy Spirit’s unmistakable prompting tugged at my heart. As I contemplated the idea of praying for her on a regular basis when forgiveness seems impossible, my mind settled on a statement straight from the mouth of the One who died for my forgiveness:

“For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Matthew 6:14-15 HCSB

As Jesus’ words sank deep into my soul, I whispered, “God, please forgive me for not forgiving her.”

It was then I realized not only was my unforgiveness a sin, but my heart had become so hardened by hatred.

I didn’t want to forgive, but I knew I should. 

two women walking arm in arm

Why Should We Forgive?

“Make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you.” Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

It’s simple: we must forgive others because God commands it. When we refuse to forgive, we are stuck in the sin of disobedience.  

Unforgiveness does more than keep us bound to sin.

When we don’t (or won’t) forgive, our hearts become rock-hard, restraining us from walking fully in relationship with God, and making us believe we’re justified in our unforgiveness. 

The whole reason we’re given specific instruction in forgiveness is to get rid of what stands between God and us.

If we want to mature in our spiritual walk, we must root out the unforgiveness that keeps us from experiencing the close relationship with God that we seek. 

Whatever we’ve done and whatever our motivation was, He forgives us.

And He expects us to do the same, even when forgiveness seems impossible.

When we don’t forgive, our hearts become rock-hard, restraining us from walking fully in relationship with God, and making us believe we’re justified in our unforgiveness.Click to Tweet

How Forgiveness Transforms Us

Many think that forgiveness only benefits the person who wronged us; however, the main beneficiary is us. When we choose to forgive, we undergo a radical transformation from the inside out.  

Here’s how forgiveness transforms us:

  • We are spared the consequences of living with an unforgiving, hardened heart.
  • We feel our hearts soften and expand with compassion for our enemies. 
  • We experience God’s forgiveness more fully.
  • We receive the healing and wholeness that comes when we extend forgiveness. 
  • We are freed from the burden of hatred and anger that weigh us down. 

Doesn’t this kind of transformation sound good to you? If so, there are six steps you can take to practice forgiveness.

four Christian women seeking restoration when  forgiveness seems impossible

How to Forgive God’s Way

In our own strength, we can’t truly forgive our enemies. However, we have the power of the Holy Spirit inside us, strengthening us to do what seems impossible.  

Let’s look at six steps we can take to forgive God’s way.

1. When forgiveness seems impossible, remember God’s forgiveness.

“But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” Matthew 6:15 HCSB

God has forgiven us without hesitation or exception, and not just for the small, insignificant things; He forgave every offense we’ve ever committed or will commit against Him and others. 

Reminding ourselves that God forgave us can help us forgive others. If we have been forgiven much, how can we do any less to those who have hurt us?

2. When forgiveness seems impossible, confess your unforgiveness.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  – 1 John 1:9 HCSB

It’s necessary to confess our unforgiveness and lay down our anger, bitterness, and hatred at the foot of the cross. Only then can we receive the power to forgive others.

Our enemies may not ask for or even care if we forgive them. But when we confess our unforgiveness, God will soften our hearts and make room for compassion. 

When we confess our unforgiveness, God will soften our hearts and make room for compassion.Click to Tweet

3. When forgiveness seems impossible, make the decision to forgive.

“And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”Luke 17:4 HCSB

Forgiveness is more than just saying a quick prayer and moving on. It’s a decision we will need to make over and over again.

The power of forgiveness releases us from a burden we were never meant to shoulder.

When we decide to partner with the Holy Spirit, the process, though likely uncomfortable and painful, will usher in healing, peace, and potential restoration of a damaged relationship. 

One caveat: not all relationships can, or should, be repaired. Though we forgive someone who has wronged us, it doesn’t mean their actions are justified.

We can still extend forgiveness without restoration of a relationship. 

two christian women walking in a park

4. When forgiveness seems impossible, extend forgiveness first.

When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins too.” Mark 11:25 NLT, emphasis by the author

Jesus reminds us that we should extend forgiveness even before we go to God in prayer.

This is a clear instruction. It’s difficult to apply, but it’s so important that it is in Scripture for us.

As C.S. Lewis once boldly proclaimed: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” 

You can extend forgiveness first by asking the Holy Spirit to help you.

5. When forgiveness seems impossible, forgive repeatedly.

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.” – Matthew 18:22 HCSB

We learn in the gospel of Matthew that forgiveness must be repeated when Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone who sinned against him. 

It’s so easy for us to hold grudges, especially against people who sin against us again and again.

No matter how often someone hurts us, God expects us to forgive.

We are not necessarily required to stay in relationship with them, but we are required by God to keep forgiving them.

No matter how often someone hurts us, God expects us to forgive.Click to Tweet

6. When forgiveness seems impossible, pray for your enemies. 

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44 HCSB

While it may take weeks, months, or even years before we feel anything resembling love for our enemies, remember that it’s hard to hate someone we actively lift up in prayer.

As you keep praying for your enemy, God will soften your heart and help you extend genuine love and kindness to them. 

This is never easy, but it does get easier with practice. God will be faithful to you as you are faithful to Him in praying for those who persecute you.

Two women seeking restoration when  forgiveness seems impossible

Forgiveness is Possible, Even when it Seems Impossible

The morning I made a commitment to pray for my enemy, I felt God chipping away at the crusty parts of my heart, creating space for compassion.

Although I knew my anger wouldn’t vanish right away, as I confessed my unforgiveness and began to pray for her, my heart felt lighter. 

I realized forgiveness now seemed possible. 

God knows how impossible it looks to forgive someone who has deeply wounded us, but the One who forgives the unforgivable in us not only makes it possible, He also grants us freedom and restoration when we partner with Him.

– Leslie Jones

A lover of words, running, and Jesus, Leslie Jones believes a strong faith is built one intentional step at a time. Her work has been featured in The Joyful Life magazine, ‘Hope for the Heavy Heart’ devotional from Proverbs 31 Ministries, and Awake Our Hearts online magazine. In her downtime, she can be found training for her next long-distance race, sipping strong hot tea, and designing Lego creations with her husband and son. She makes her home in the wild desert of Las Vegas. Leslie can be found on Instagram and Facebook

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