Forgiveness can be gut-wrenching, hard work. It’s also a process that can take time, especially if the wounds are deep. But forgiveness opens the way for you to be healed. Sometimes, it even restores the broken relationship.If you know you need to forgive, but you also know that your heart is not ready, start with step one and go from there.

1. Name the offense as clearly as possible. It’s hard for us to forgive something that isn’t clear to us.**

2. Find someone trustworthy and non-judgmental to listen to your story. Having someone listen and understand is a powerful part of healing. Journaling prayers to God, crying with a trusted friend, or seeking help from a qualified counselor are all effective ways to open up about your story.

3. Let yourself feel the pain. We all want to skip this part. Even Jesus prayed to the Father, asking to skip the cross (Matthew 26:39). Yet the pain Jesus endured because of our sin was part of God’s plan. Often, we’d prefer to be angry because we think it will hurt less. However, forgiveness requires allowing ourselves to feel and express the pain caused by others’ actions.

4. Know that some of your feelings will be ugly. It doesn’t help to tell yourself that you “shouldn’t feel that way.” The fact is you do feel that way. Facing the truth before God is the beginning of freedom (John 8:32).

5. Make an honest assessment of your reaction to the harm done to you. Often our reactions are as sinful as the offense against us. This awareness will help you keep a realistic perspective as you wade through your feelings and take responsibility for how you may have hurt others.

6. Decide whether you want to confront the offender. The rule of thumb I use is simple. If it’s a relationship I want to preserve, I make the effort. If not, I let it go. We all have finite amounts of emotional energy. It isn’t wise to spend it in unprofitable places. Prayer will help clarify your decision.

7. Understand that forgiveness takes time. Sometimes it takes years. Starting out, it may be a daily battle not to accuse the other person over and over in your mind, but as you persevere and seek God’s help, forgiveness will become easier and you will find joy and freedom.