There was a face, a real person, and a boatload of stories behind Peter’s question. He’d been hurt too badly, too many times by someone. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).

Can you relate? “Lord, you know what I’ve been through. It’s not fair to let it go. Not after what they’ve done. Forgiveness is too much to ask from me. It’s too painful to even talk about.”

What if you tried to think of the “seventy-seven times”—not as an exact number to calculate, but as steps you can take toward healing?

Steps into LEVEL 1 FORGIVENESS: acknowledge the hurt. One guy really hurt Paul. Did Paul pretend that nothing happened? He doesn’t go into detail but simply states a fact: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm” (2 Timothy 4:14). He named him. He dared to call out the damage. This is where you start. You cannot forgive what you refuse to acknowledge.

Steps into LEVEL 2 FORGIVENESSbelieve that God’s grace is greater than any sin. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Grace is greater than fear, greater than bitterness, greater than manipulation. What Jesus has done for you is greater than anything that’s been done to you. Grace >                          .

Steps into LEVEL 3 FORGIVENESS: let grace flow by releasing the offender to God. Let’s go back to Paul. After acknowledging the harm done to him (Level 1), Paul released Alexander to God: “the Lord will judge him for what he has done” (2 Timothy 4:14). Releasing someone is not letting them off the hook; you are placing them in God’s hands. As God deals with them, Paul says to “beware of [that person]” (2 Timothy 4:15). In other words, releasing frees you to protect yourself and others from further harm.

Steps into LEVEL 4 FORGIVENESS: ask God to forgive them. Think about Stephen. People are stoning him to death (Acts 7:54-60). Did Stephen look his murderers in the eye and say, “I forgive you”? No, he looked to heaven and said, “Lord, forgive them.” Ask God to do what you haven’t been able to do (which is what they really need anyway)!

Gently ease into LEVEL 5 FORGIVENESS: full forgiveness. You’ll know. Along the “seventy-seven” step journey toward forgiveness, you’ll realize that Jesus is healing your heart.