This is longer than my regular posts but I felt it should be quoted in its entirety. This is taken from Conformed to His Image – Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation by Kenneth Boa. I highly recommend this wonderful book on spiritual formation.
“When we forgive those who have hurt us, we acknowledge that we too have needed forgiveness and that we are not as different from the offender as we might like to think. There is a natural tendency in all of us to excuse our own faults and to blame others for their faults, an inclination to reach for grace and understanding in our own situation and to reach for justice and possibly revenge when the same wrong is committed by others. Instead, Scripture calls us, as people who have experienced God’s forgiveness, to take the place of the other person.
In Christ, we are to offer grace rather than justice to the wrongdoer (charizomai, one of the words used in the New Testament for forgiveness, means “to deal graciously with”; notice how it is used in 2 Corinthians 2:6–8). This is often a difficult and unnatural act, because it does not seem fair to those who have been wronged. To forgive others is to release them from any obligation to make up to you what they have taken from you. But as Lewis B. Smedes argues in Forgive and Forget, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.”
Thus to forgive as we have been forgiven by God is an act of faith, since it means that we are releasing the right to resentment and that we entrust justice to God rather than seek it ourselves (see Romans 12:19). To forgive is to act on the truth that it is only God and not we who can change another person.
It has been quipped that “there’s no point in burying a hatchet if you’re going to put a marker on the site.” But when we have been seriously injured by another, we want to put a marker on the site so that we can dig up our resentments from time to time. Because forgiveness can feel like outrageous injustice, it can be a lengthy process rather than a once-for-all event. This is evident in the painful process Joseph went through in forgiving his treacherous brothers (Genesis 42–45).
Long after you have forgiven, the wound can linger in your memory. As Smedes observes, forgiving is not the same as forgetting or excusing or smoothing things over. True forgiveness is costly, especially when there is no repentance on the part of the wrongdoer. But it is the only way to release us and others from the bondage of guilt (see Christ’s gracious restoration of Peter in John 21: 15–19) and to break the vicious cycle of blame. Part of the cost is letting loose of the pride that can allow trivial things to corrode a relationship for years or decades.
As an exercise before God, take a piece of paper and write down the names of those who have hurt you over the years through disloyalty and betrayal. Offer this list to God along with all the pain it rekindles, and make a choice through faith in Christ to forgive each person on the list. Then crumple the paper and burn it before the Lord who forgave you from the cross.”
Boa, Kenneth D. (2009-12-15). Conformed to His Image (Kindle Location 911). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.