‘I Want to Show People How to Forgive’: Pastor, Chaplain and Author Releases Book on How to Forgive and What That Looks Like

By Nancy Flory Published on April 1, 2023

“I don’t just want to [write] one of those books that says, ‘Oh, well you have to forgive.’ I wanted to show people how to forgive. And that’s what I’m finding. I’m hearing folks who are finding that they’re being set free.”

Pastor, chaplain and author David Peterson has recently written a book called Journey To Forgiveness: 21 Milestones to Freedom. In the short, practical book Peterson answers why we should forgive others and provides steps for prayer and meditation. Peterson, who has suffered from Essential Tremors his whole life — and was bullied because of it — was also sexually abused as a child. Because of his past, he is able to provide expert advice on forgiveness through a biblical lens.

‘Have You Learned to Forgive?’

Peterson has been a hospice chaplain for over two decades. He once worked with a patient who struggled with unforgiveness. “The odds of death are one inone,” said Peterson. “But how we finish our journey and how healed we can be in the process — that’s really where the rubber hits the road.” His patient acknowledged that she had some anger issues and unforgiveness issues. One day she asked him point blank, “Well, have you learned to forgive?” “And that’s where it got real,” said Peterson. 

“I’ve had my own brokenness as a kid, and I went to my pastor because I had a hard time and I had the same question: How do I forgive?” Peterson’s pastor gave him some tools, which he now calls “milestones.” Over time, Peterson added more milestones. He wanted to write them down, but never did. Then his patient encouraged him to write them all down in a book. For the next 15 weeks or so, he and his patient worked together and came up with 21 milestones to forgiveness. After they finished, his patient passed away. 

He Still Struggled

After his pastor passed on some tips to help forgive, Peterson struggled. He realized that he had a problem. “I have this in my life — how do I cope? How do I deal with it? Because I want real, authentic, transparent relationships that are open, honest, genuinely caring, even if it does make us a little bit more vulnerable. And out of that, it became realizing, ‘Well, how do I work through this?'” 

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One day Peterson attended a lunch that he thought was a pastor’s conference. It turned out to be a lecture on brain science. They talked about biochemistry, serotonin levels, dopamine, oxytocin and others, the ability to make memories, why some memories get stuck and how we allow Jesus to bring healing for those painful memories. “And so one of the exciting things that I’ve been able to see is, rebuilding memories and Christ bringing healing.”

Everything is Not Okay

To dispel any myths about forgiveness, Peterson points out that forgiveness does NOT mean saying everything is okay. He explained:

When we’ve been hurt over and over, forgiveness doesn’t mean that we can’t claim our boundaries and say ‘no more.’ Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we are a doormat. There are times when we have been hurt, and I know that Jesus talked to Peter [when Peter asked] ‘How many times do I have to forgive?’ And he does the whole 70 times seven in a day. 

Pretty mind blowing. There are such implications, but too many folks have stayed in abusive relationships that should have ended or should have been called into accountability. And [some] heap guilt and shame on people who stay in those relationships. But you know, when Jesus says, ‘Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as you love yourself,’ [He] never said that we weren’t at least as important as our neighbor.

The whole idea of forgiveness has to do with trespasses. And Jesus said, when he taught us, he taught us forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And I think that’s a really good, that’s an outstanding term. Of course it is. All of his ideas are brilliant. But see, there are going to be folks who will trespass. What’s that? It’s a boundary violation. And, you know, we don’t have to stay in abusive relationships. God can call us to something much healthier.

It’s For Us

Peterson says that forgiveness is often more for us than the offender. “We don’t feel like we are as tied to them and they’re not taking up all the rent-free space in our brains. We find ourselves being able to walk in greater degrees of freedom.”

“One of the milestones is surround yourself with incredible stories of forgiveness. I have a huge belief that I’m constantly on the prowl for those stories because they bring me encouragement and strength in my journey. Also the Scriptures. I encourage folks, get those Scriptures in front of your eyes. Have access to them. Because you’re going into battle. You have to have an arsenal ready to go because you know you’re going to be tempted in a particular area. Get your battle gear together, get your arsenal in order.”

 

Nancy Flory, Ph.D., is a senior editor at The Stream. You can follow her @NancyFlory3, and follow The Stream @Streamdotorg.

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