Anger is a problem more dangerous than you might know. The fix is simple, but harder than you think.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31–32 (NIV)
Slaying Your Anger
Four phases must take place to complete the cycle of forgiveness. I hesitate to call them “steps.” They’re more like processes.
1. Identify who you’re angry with. I recommend that you make a list of the people who have mistreated or taken advantage of you. Go back as far as you like, but don’t assume you’ve forgiven someone just because you’ve “put it behind you.” This is an opportunity to purge your heart of the junk that has been hindering the relationships you value most. It’s worth the effort. Make a list.
2. Determine what they owe you. This is the step most of us skip. As a result, we forgive generally but not specifically. You know what the person who hurt you did, but what exactly did they take? What do the people on your list owe you? What did they take from you? What would they need to return in order to put things back the way there were? An apology? Money? Time? A marriage? A family? A job? A reputation? An opportunity? A promotion? A chapter of your life? Be specific.
3. Cancel the debt. After identifying exactly what was taken, you must cancel the debt. That means deciding that the offending party doesn’t owe you anything anymore. Just as Christ canceled your sin debt at Calvary, so you and I must cancel the debts that others have incurred against us. This may be as simple as a decision you make quietly in your heart. Or you may want to mark the decision with something more tangible. I’ve heard of people who listed what was owed them, then put the list in an envelope and burned it, and thus declared those debts canceled. I know a woman who buried her list in the backyard. I heard about another fellow who actually nailed his list to a cross as a reminder that Christ had suffered for those sins as well. There are advantages to physicalizing your decision to forgive. This can be especially helpful for those whose hurt has happened in the past. But for the daily offenses we incur, a quick, simple, but specific declaration is all it takes. Below is an example:
Heavenly Father, _________ has taken _________ from me. I have held on to this debt long enough. I choose to cancel this debt. _________ doesn’t owe me anymore. Just as you forgave me, I forgive _________.
4. Dismiss the case. The final process centers on a daily decision not to reopen your case. What makes this so difficult is that our feelings don’t automatically follow our decision to forgive. Besides, forgiving someone doesn’t erase our memories. If we could forgive and forget, this whole thing would be a lot easier. But in most cases, no sooner have we forgiven than something happens to remind us of the offense all over again. And when our memories are triggered, the old feelings come flooding back. When memories of past hurts flood your mind, go ahead and face them. Allow yourself to remember the incident. It’s even okay to feel the emotions those memories elicit. But instead of reopening the case against your offender, take this opportunity to restate your decision: “He/she doesn’t owe me.” Then thank your heavenly Father for giving you the grace and strength to forgive. Don’t accept the lie that you haven’t really forgiven. Focus on the truth that this debt has been canceled. How do you know? Because you decided, as an act of your will, to cancel it. Feelings come, feelings go. But the decision remains. He doesn’t owe you! She doesn’t owe you! The day will come when you’ll be able to respond to your offender in light of where he or she stands in relationship to Christ, rather than in light of how that person treated you.
– Andy Stanley