This post rounds up the highlights of the last several posts about what forgiveness is and isn’t, and it outlines steps to release a stubborn case of resentment to clear a path to healing.
One: Name the Offense
Forgiving an offense does not suggest the offense is acceptable. It actually does the opposite. Naming an offense as worthy of forgiveness marks it as unacceptable, and that alone can be a powerful step towards validation, protection and healing.
In the process of naming the offense, we might realize what the offender did wasn’t really offensive at all, but that our reaction missed the mark. The offender may have made a harmless remark that triggered a harmful memory. Resentment might drain out of us immediately upon this realization. If it doesn’t, we have an opportunity to look deeper within for the true source of our resentment. It might be an older, deeper wound that we are reacting to.
Two: Name my Feelings
When my three tween-aged daughters feel wronged, I encourage using “When you X, I feel Y.” It prompts the first two steps of forgiveness: naming the offense and identifying feelings. In many cases, the offender was acting out of self-centeredness—pursuing his own desires without regard to the impact on others—rather than maliciousness. When confronted with the unintended consequences of his actions, the offender might feel genuine remorse for his choices. This sets the stage for the two parts of forgiveness—the offender’s remorse and victim’s release of resentment—to be complete.
If the offender’s genuine remorse doesn’t help pry the lid off of forgiveness, ask if fear of being hurt again is playing a role. If so, we can think about how to prevent future episodes. Forgiveness does not obligate the victim to return to the relationship with full trust or even to return to the relationship at all. If it is a valued relationship, a candid conversation with the offender about how to prevent repeat performances can mitigate fear. The offender might have good ideas for restoring trust.
Three: Own my Part
The absence of offender remorse makes forgiveness harder. The offender may lack the capacity for remorse or, in the case of long past childhood wounds, he might have died. The thing to do here is to take the offender out of the center of the matter and put God there instead.
We all experience wounding, and for all of us, injuries impair how we treat others. Taking an honest look at how the wounds we received played a role in the wounds we inflicted, and taking responsibility for the harm we caused others, is a step that is completely within our control. It is possible that my offender was reacting to some harm I had caused him in the first place. Or perhaps I turned around and treated someone else badly. Maybe I reacted to my husband’s self-centeredness with a short temper towards my step-daughter when she trustingly turned to me for help.
This is not victim blaming. It’s control claiming. When we turn to God and confess those things we did that harmed others, we come into the realization that we stand in need of mercy.
Four: Ask for Mercy
We act out our relationship with God in how we treat others. When I think about how I treat God and how God treats me, the chasm is so vast I fall to my knees. When I can honestly say I care about my own relationship with God more than I care about what my offender deserves, I’m on the home stretch.
This is true even if the person I’m struggling to forgive is me. When I assent to the idea that what God wants is more important that what I deserve, and if I can surrender to God’s unending desire for relationship with me, I’m on the path to healing and self-acceptance.
Five: Respond to God’s Grace
It is the ultimate liberation to see forgiveness not as a response to our offender but as a response to God’s mercy! If I am sufficiently focused on the abundance of God’s grace in life, I will drop the earthly resentment I’m clutching so I can stretch out my hands to receive more of his awesome grace.
The wall of resentment limits our vision, and without it we may come to see our offenders’ suffering in a detached way. I might even see some of myself in my offender’s impaired actions. Here, we can grow into compassion—not because the offender deserves it but because God has restored us—and pray for our offender to receive grace.
Join the conversation. Which step do you think is the hardest? Which helps the most?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.