“I’ll never forgive you for what you did to me!” Have you ever screamed that at someone or had it shrieked at you? Even now replaying the incident in your mind will send anger coursing through your veins. The scene is vivid and unforgivable. It should have never happened. The abuse. The affair. The betrayal. The loss.
I agree. It should have never happened.
Every week I hear stories of what should have never been. I work with clients sorting through the incomprehensible, the ridiculous, and the unbelievable in their lives. Trying to find sense and hope for broken dreams and shattered lives. Often in these early conversations, the topic of forgiveness is brought up by a client or their spouse. “I know I should forgive but it just hurts too badly. I don’t think I can ever do it.”
What about forgiveness? Where does it fit among the chaos of a shattered life?
It’s not the first thing on my mind as a therapist.First, I believe the story must be told and the heart tended to. What happened? Who did what to whom? The betrayed must have a full picture of the affair, the abuse or the loss so they can understand the magnitude of what it is that they are being asked to forgive. Forgive and forget is not an option. It doesn’t happen in the real world. After weeks or months of grieving often the injured party wonders about forgiveness and then we begin the sincere conversation of what forgiveness really entails.
Often the pain of a situation is so intense that individuals will only be able to think, “Please stop the pain. I’ll do whatever it takes to make it stop.” In their avoidance of pain, they blindly grant forgiveness before the offense is thoroughly uncovered and confessed. When this happens the process of healing is often short-circuited or even completely derailed. Bitterness and rage surface again when new details are uncovered.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a choice, a deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment, anger or revenge toward another who has harmed you. It is not a one-time event but rather a process lived out over time. Forgiveness is giving up your “right” to hurt the other person back. You might make a decision to forgive but still struggle for some time with feelings of unforgiveness. This is normal and to be expected. Feelings do not heal quickly.
- Is for you, NOT the person who hurt you
- Has the power to set you free to move on with your life
- Can often only be accomplished with God’s help
- Sets you free from being the judge and jury and places that responsibility in the correct hands—Gods’
- Brings a sense of freedom (eventually)!
- Is often difficult to grant and takes months or years to live out
- Is based on the amount we have been forgiven by God
- Is something we need from others
- Is what we need to grant to others at times
Myths about forgiveness
- Forgive and forget
- A grievous wrong done to you will never be forgotten but with forgiveness and time the pain of the memory will be less.
- If I forgive I have to stay in relationship with . . . (my spouse, child, boss, abuser)
- Forgiveness is NOT the same as reconciliation. No one should EVER stay in an abusive relationship.
- Often new boundaries need to be set. (i.e. not welcome in your house or blocked on social media )
- They will get off the hook for what they did. I need to be sure they are punished.
- It may appear for a time that they got away with hurting you but ask yourself, who am I really hurting by replaying these situations every day in my head?
- God says he will take vengeance for the wrongs done to me and I imagine he can do a better job than me. (Romans 12)
- Forgiveness is an act of trusting God and His word as it is filled with speaking of His bringing justice.
What does the Bible say about forgiveness?
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35)
Peter who was often quick-tempered and talked without thinking asked Jesus, “How many times do I have to forgive someone who wrongs me?” Jesus answered, “Seventy times seven.” I am sure Peter was taken back by that answer in which Jesus really indicated there was no limit to forgiveness.
In this parable, the King starts going through his books to see who owes him money. He realizes this guy owes him millions of dollars and calls in him to find out how he is going to pay it.
The man asks for mercy and tells him, “I promise I will pay you.” To which the King decides to release or FORGIVE the debt. He no longer owes anything! Wow…that was a great day! (I’d love to just have my mortgage forgiven!)
Then the very same man goes out and finds one of his fellow servants who owes him a few thousand dollars and demands the money. The man begs for mercy and says, “I promise I will pay you.” Instead of granting mercy as had just been granted to him the man throws his fellow servant in jail until he can pay it all back. WOW!! Shocking!
Of course, the other servants are angered and tell the King, at which point the King calls the man back in and reinstates his debt. Why did Jesus tell this story?
Lessons learned from the Parable
We need to have a full accounting of what is owed us or what we owe another. The King looked at the books before rendering a decision.
For example, after an affair has been disclosed or discovered, the injured party has the right to know appropriate details about the affair. Whom was it with? Was it sexualized? Is it ongoing? Etc. A mediated disclosure usually helps the process to go smoother for everyone involved.
As we have been forgiven “millions” we should forgive our “fellow servants” (friends, family, spouse) their “thousands”.
The Scripture is clear that we must forgive to truly be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15, Ephesians 4:32) That being said, if someone is pressuring you to forgive “because the Bible says you should” they probably still have their own repentance work to do. Someone who is truly sorry for the pain they have caused will give you space to grieve and struggle with the pain of the situation before demanding that you forgive them.
Forgiveness is a necessary part of the healing process but must be put in its proper place after the story is told and the heart is tended to. Forgiveness will flow out of a restored heart but never can be demanded before a person is ready.