Learning to Forgive

Spirituality often becomes more important to us in times of tragedy, loss, suffering and illness because it connects us to both our higher power and those around us, helps us to find meaning and purpose, and brings us hope and healing. Sometimes, these very same conditions can make us question ourselves, our spirituality and all we know. In our Spirituality and Emotional Health blog series, our clinicians and chaplains explore what it means to be spiritual beings, how it affects our interactions with the world and how we sometimes struggle with and question our own spirituality.

It is easy to recall when we were criticized for our parenting skills, sabotaged by colleagues at work, or cheated on by a spouse. As we remember, we often re-experience the intense hurt originally created by the offense. The wounds inflicted leave us sad, angry, bitter, and even vengeful. These emotions can consume our mind just like we fixate on physical pain when we break a limb. And, when we become fixated on our pain, we are unable to move on and enjoy life.

Moving past the emotions created when we experience hurt requires practicing forgiveness according to scripture. Research shows we are the ones who pay when we refuse to forgive. Individuals who practice forgiveness have lower stress levels, lower heart rates, less physical pain, lower blood pressure, and live longer. Refusing to practice forgiveness is like refusing to let go of a rattlesnake which is biting you and wondering why it keeps biting.

Churches frequently talk about forgiving. However, many Christians struggle to describe what the process of forgiveness entails. So, let’s look at what the process of forgiveness is NOT before exploring the steps involved in practicing forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not…

Minimizing or Justifying. God’s forgiveness never includes “it wasn’t that big of a deal” or “you had a rough day so I understand.” When God extends forgiveness, it includes fully acknowledging the awfulness of what was done. In Scripture, He is clear we have rebelled and our sins deserve death. True forgiveness only occurs after we acknowledge the full extent of the wrong done.

Rescuing from Consequences. Rescuing people from the natural and logical consequences of their behavior enables them to avoid taking responsibility and learning from their choices. If someone robs your house, it is important to forgive them but this doesn’t mean they don’t experience the legal consequences of breaking the law. God is a loving Father who forgives us while allowing us to learn by experiencing the consequences of our choices.

Forgetting. When God forgives, He forgets. However, we are not God and so we can’t always forget. This makes forgiveness an ongoing process for us instead of something we do once and for all (like God’s forgiveness). Each time the event comes to mind, we get to choose forgiveness again. The process of choosing repeatedly to forgive ultimately brings healing to the wounds the sin created.

Reconciliation. Forgiveness occurs between us and God and doesn’t require the one who hurt us to apologize or experience remorse. Reconciliation is the process of rebuilding relationship and trust with someone who hurts us. Reconciliation can only occur when both people own their part in the problem, ask forgiveness, and actively work to do things differently.

Practicing forgiveness involves…

Lament. The first step of practicing forgiveness is owning and releasing our pain to God. Scripture calls this a lament, and the Psalms are full of David’s laments. “I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears” (Psalm 6:6).

It’s important to pour out our pain to God rather than allowing our pain to harm others. God receives our uncensored pain without being hurt. He is the safe place for us to be totally honest about what happened and the impact it had upon us.

Letting Go. When we are sinned against or when we sin, it is natural to want to ensure the sin is paid for. In fact, it is one of the ways we are created in the image of God. However, unlike God, we can’t exact a punishment sufficient to truly pay for the sin. We can continue attempting to punish ourselves or others for the wrongs committed, but no punishment is ever enough.
Scripture is clear the punishment for sin is always death. Jesus chose to die for the sins of the world so that, by His stripes, we could be healed…the necessary punishment of death was paid. When we forgive, we choose to accept His death as payment for the wrong and give up attempting to get further payment for the sin.

Asking for Infilling. When we release our pain and accept Jesus’ death as payment, it is also important to ask Him to fill us with His presence. As we are filled with His healing presence, where we had pain we will experience healing, where we had anger we will experience peace, where we had hate we will experience love, and where we had sorrow we will experience joy.

Practicing forgiveness allows us to experience healthier relationships, spiritual growth, and emotional well-being.

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