The process of forgiving others can be extremely difficult. However, holding onto unforgiveness can keep us stuck in a victim role. Finding a holistic balance to forgiveness—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—can make a huge difference as we continue on the path toward lifelong healing. When we forgive, it gives us the opportunity to imagine a brighter future, a future that is no longer based on the hurt we’ve experienced.122
I was blindsided by my husband’s resignation as lead pastor of our church. I was invited to a meeting he called with the board of elders. There, surrounded by friends who loved and believed in us, my husband confessed to crossing boundaries that put our family in a very vulnerable place. Though this confession would cost him dearly, he wanted to bring into the light what was hidden in the dark.
As the glass doors of our loving church closed behind us, I had no idea if our marriage could survive. Two bleeding and broken lives walked toward our car, the offender beside the offended. I felt as if I had been plunged into an inky blackness and couldn’t see my next step. I had no lofty prayer or theological explanation to bandage this mess. My soul was shattered. I doubted whether the pieces would ever be retrieved.
Over the next few months and years of our recovery, I saw evidence of Jesus’ involvement in the stench and slime of our mess. We began to experience peace that transcended our pain. We surrounded ourselves with counselors and friends who showed us how to press the full weight of our lives into the chest of Christ. We were given the courage to choose a daily walk of humility, repentance, and forgiveness. Although I didn’t see it at first, we were both in need of forgiveness.
I discovered that as long as I held on to unforgiveness toward my husband, I was bound with chains to a painful past. The wounds that initially tore into my soul, threatened to mutilate my life over time. I began to understand that if I didn’t learn how to release my pain to God, I would not only suffer from the original offense, I would also suffer from the continual pain of not releasing that offense to God.
It took years of deep soul-digging, a willingness to lay a new foundation, and a determination to build protective boundaries for our fractured souls. By His remarkable grace, God has used our experience to chisel us into who we are today. In our utter brokenness, God disclosed the richness of His character, His infinite care, and limitless power.
As we begin to develop new healthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, it is important that we recognize the truth of forgiveness. For example, forgiveness does not mean we have to stay in relationship with a person who continues to hurt us and doesn’t want to change. If married and in an abusive situation, we do not have to stay in an unsafe environment. If we choose to stay in relationship, forgiveness allows an opportunity to build a more solid foundation. If single and choose to leave the relationship, forgiveness allows us to be emotionally available and more healthy in our next relationship. 206 Lesson 3: Forgiveness Another thing to consider is that although many of us have experienced betrayal in relationship, it doesn’t mean we have to remain a victim. Forgiveness helps us understand that whatever happens, we have the power to heal.
“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive. We always have plenty of virtue when we don’t need it. It’s when we need it that we discover how little of the virtue we really have.
Forgiving others is a process—a process that cannot be rushed. If it is rushed, it may result in premature forgiveness, which is usually short-lived.
We can still forgive, even if we can’t forget. As we practice forgiveness, we will eventually be able to recall the experience without feeling triggered. When the painful memory resurfaces, we acknowledge the pain, remind ourselves that it happened in the past, and that we have forgiven the offender.
Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves. We do not forgive for the offender; instead, we forgive to free ourselves of the resentment, pain, and anger that we experience because of the offense.
God’s grace is so beyond what we can fathom or experience in our own strength. This is evident through Corrie ten Boom’s story—a holocaust survivor who faced unprecedented forgiveness.124 Years ago, on a radio program, she shared how God opened doors for her to spread the message of forgiveness all over the world. Yet, one evening she found herself unable to forgive. After listening to her compelling message on forgiveness, a German man stepped forward, asking for God’s forgiveness.
The man standing before her was the guard who abused both Corrie and her sister in the German concentration camp. Obviously, he didn’t recognize her. She thrust her hand deep within her pocket unable to respond. She prayed to God silently, “Oh God, you must recognize forgiveness has its limits.” It was at that moment the Holy Spirit reminded her of His promise in Romans, “God’s love has been poured into your heart, Corrie, through the Holy Spirit who has been given to you.” God’s voice thundered through her spirit, “My love in you is stronger than the hate in you. Offer your pain to Me and receive My love!” By faith, Corrie extended her hand toward her enemy.
The essence of her next words speak to the heart of forgiveness: “We never experience the endless depths of God’s love in greater measure than when we forgive. In that very moment when my hand clasped the hand of my enemy, an ocean of God’s love swept over me.”
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It may include forgiving ourselves, for any part we may have played in the offense.
Forgiveness does not mean:
• excusing a person’s deception.
• tolerating further betrayals.
• allowing someone to escape the consequences of their actions.
• looking the other way and pretending nothing happened.
• continuing to stand in the victim role.
The more we understand about the process of forgiveness, the more we recognize how much forgiveness has to do with our relationship with God.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
When we stay in relationship with our heavenly Father, He will guide our steps, directing the decisions and choices we make when it comes to forgiving others.
So often, our needs go unmet because our fear of asking for help, or fear of rejection, gets in the way—we keep trying to look like we have it all together. Not only is it awkward to ask for help, but it can feel uncomfortable accepting help.125 To make matters worse, we might not know the best person(s) to ask for help with a specific need.
I normally have no problem asking for help. I typically flaunt my “womanly wiles” and get whatever I want. It’s just part of my natural charm. I’ve been pulled over for speeding dozens of times and have never received a ticket.
When I need help around my apartment, I quickly find a suitable neighbor who will carry in a new piece of furniture or hang a picture. Sometimes, I don’t even have to ask for help. Every time I start to wash my car, in my shorts and tank top, several male tenants offer to help me. It’s so nice.
The only time I’ve struggled with finding help is when I need help from women. One time, I needed help in my biology class because I wasn’t sure how to get into a study group. When I approached some of the other female students in class, using my same natural charm, the women were dismissive and wouldn’t help me. They were so rude. I felt frustrated and embarrassed.
This was not the first time I experienced this response from women. In fact, this is most often the response I get from other women. I was never close to my mom and spent most of my childhood following my older brothers and their friends around. I never really learned how to develop a friendship with other girls. I would love help with this, but I’m not sure how or who to ask.
For many of us who have struggled with unhealthy relationships, this will be a huge area of growth. We cannot continue to use our sexuality as a means to get what we want. We can’t charm and manipulate others to get our way. We also cannot use previous patterns of passive-aggressive behaviors: sighing, avoiding eye contact, slamming doors, or giving others the silent treatment. We have to use our words. We have to figure out what healthy relationships look like. We have to be intentional.
The way we communicate with others is an essential part of managing relationships. Communication involves two distinct processes: sending and receiving information.126 We have to learn how to effectively speak in a way that is understandable, and also listen in a way that allows us to grasp the meaning of what others are saying. This can be challenging. So much of our communication process runs through our filter—our wounded, traumatized, victimized, emotional filter. This influences how we interpret what we hear others say and also the way we respond. It is difficult to communicate effectively when our emotions are on high alert.
When it comes to how we communicate and how we use our words, look at what Paul writes:
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
There are three basic communication styles: aggressive, assertive, and passive. Each communication style reflects attributes of personality, temperament, social development, and more. So much of who we are and where we’ve been is exhibited in our communication style. Gloria is aggressive in her communication style.
She reacts instantly and uses her words to dominate and intimidate others. She expects to get her way—she has no problem violating the rights of others or verbally “walking” on others to get what she wants. Gloria’s communication is often loud, bossy, and pushy.
Sarah is assertive in her communication style. She speaks clearly and concisely. She is respectful of the rights of others, allowing them to equally express their opinion. Sarah’s communication style reflects a confidence in herself and her life choices. Her communication is firm, direct, and honest.
Penny is passive in her communication style. She is unable to stand up for herself and is unclear about her personal rights. She is often taken advantage of and verbally “walked” on
Assertive communication is the goal. Working to create healthy communication takes time and practice. Set aside time this week to practice assertive communication with a 212 Lesson 3: Forgiveness trusted person in your life.
I will practice assertive communication with _______________________________________________.
We cannot develop lasting health on our own. We need others. We need community. God designed us for relationship: with Him and with others. This often requires asking for help.
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
GALATIANS 6:2 NLT
If we want to learn to manage relationships, we have to be willing to ask for and receive help from others. We have to recognize the areas in our life where we need help and who we should ask. Keep in mind, our areas of need change over time. Some of our needs may be practical and physical, while others may be emotional and spiritual. Some of our needs could be work-related, but others could be for entertainment and connection. Asking for help requires a delicate balance of recognizing when we honestly need help without imposing our needs and expectations on other people.
Raising an awareness to our own personal needs and figuring out healthy ways to get our needs met is foundational in finding health in all our relationships.
All of us need help. Sometimes that help comes from people we know, but often it comes from people God has not yet brought into our lives. Allow God to bless you and those around you by asking for help.
Forgiving those who have caused us pain takes time. As we continue to pursue healing and discover what healthy relationships look like—through effective communication and asking for help when needed—we are gaining a new perspective of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. As we grow in our relationship with Him, we will uncover the blessing that comes with forgiveness.
Forgiving those who have caused us pain takes time. As we continue to pursue healing and discover what healthy relationships look like—through effective communication and asking for help when needed—we are gaining a new perspective of God’s plan and purpose for our lives. As we grow in our relationship with Him, we will uncover the
blessing that comes with forgiveness.