Forgive and Set Your Soul Free!
"Forgive and forget," some say. "Just let it go to God and move on," urge others. Often it's not that easy. Maybe you grew up in a family in which it wasn't okay to express anger. Or the pain and violation seem too great. Or you're not sure how to forgive. Read on and you'll see that you can forgive and set your soul free!
They Needed to Forgive
Similarly, Mike's wife had an affair with her old boyfriend. Then she ended their marriage and took their three kids with her. Mike was stunned. Then he was enraged. He lost his family, his home, his dreams, his life as he knew it. He knew the Bible said he needed to forgive her, but he didn't know if he could do it.
day people like JoAnne and Mike dealing with forgiveness issues
talk to me as a Christian Psychologist. And not just from painful
childhoods and devastating betrayals. Usually, they're less dramatic,
but difficult nonetheless.
Recently I had an issue like this with a neighbor who was driving recklessly when my kids were playing nearby and kept parking in front of my garbage cans so that the garbage wasn't being hauled away. Maybe you too hve some forgiveness issues. How do we deal with these issues? How do people like JoAnne and Mike forgive those who have wronged them?
What Forgiveness is Not
Forgiveness is not excusing. Abuse, child neglect (physical or emotional), manipulation, betrayal, slander, rage, and the like are sins. When you've been violated like this it isn't excusable. "He did the best he could," "She didn't know any better," "She was just having a bad day," or "He was just reacting to his own hurt" are excuses that don't change the reality of an injustice. The only real solution is forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. The old adage, "Forgive and forget" sounds nice, but it's misleading. Forgiveness and forgetfulness are not related. In many cases, forgetting a hurt or injustice is harmful. For instance, if a friend has a habit of gossiping about you then you're best to remember that and be careful what you share. By remembering when you've been violated you can guard against additional injuries or mistakes. "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly." (Proverbs 26:11) Remembering helps us not to repeat pain.
Forgiveness is not overlooking. There is a time to overlook an offense. If a stranger cuts you off on the freeway or your spouse is having a hard day and is snippy with you then it's best not to worry about it. "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense." (Proverbs 19:11) On the other hand, it wouldn't be healthy for JoAnne to overlook the years of rage and abuse she experienced from her father. She needs to heal and to protect herself from further abuse. She needs to forgive.
Forgiveness is not easy. Hurts like JoAnne being abused by her alcoholic father and Mike being betrayed by his unfaithful wife take time to forgive. It's just a matter of making a decision and saying a quick prayer. It's a process and it may be a struggle in which you'll need God's help. (Matthew 18:20-22).
Forgiveness may not include reconciliation. Some think that forgiving someone means you must reconcile your relationship with that person. Whenever you've been violated you need to forgive. But you only reconcile if and when it's safe and wise to do so. For a battered wife, reconciling before her husband has gotten help means being abused again. That wouldn't be right. First, she needs to get help for herself to heal and to set some boundaries with him. Then she needs to see that he's changed. Then, and only then is the time for her to reconcile. (Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the reconciliation process.)
Forgiveness is not deserved. No one "deserves" to be forgiven. Forgiveness isn't something that we can earn. An injustice has been done and God and the person wronged can choose to give the gift of forgiveness or not. Of course, God always chooses to give this gift to us because He loves us and because we're valuable! And when we pass on God's gift to others then we're able to appreciate God's forgiveness for our sins. "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." (Matthew 6:14)
The cause of victims cries out for justice. Instinctively we want perpetrators of abuse to pay a price. So it is natural to be angry when you've been violated and it is tempting to seek revenge. And yet "with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). Refuse to forgive and you will pay a heavy price, perhaps more than the one who violated you.
People like JoAnne have to discover the tragic irony of withholding forgiveness: it was hurting her! Whether in the form of repressed anger or seeking to hurt back, resentment or revenge, the pain is kept alive and worsened by not forgiving. And accompanying the pain are guilt, negativity, anxiety, conflicts in relationships, stress-induced illness, and even disease. Worst of all, if you don't forgive then you block yourself off from appreciating God's forgiveness for yourself! (Matthew 6:15) Is your anger and desire for justice worth that? Is the person who violated you worth that price? Of course not!
So, if nothing else, we want to forgive to experience the peace and healing and freedom that come when we do. Also, we want to forgive to honor God and to bless others. When we forgive we are like God. Jesus taught us: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45)
How to Forgive
I find it helpful to think of forgiveness as including seven essential steps in a healing, character-building journey. It's a process in which you're likely to take two steps forward and one step backward as you proceed toward resolution. Here are the steps that I teach people like JoAnne and Mike.
William Gaultiere, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the New Hope Crisis Counseling Center at the Crystal Cathedral and a Clinical Psychologist with a part time private practice in Irvine, California. You can read Dr. Bill's encouraging self-help articles on www.ChristianSoulCare.com.