What does forgiveness mean? A Christian counselor explains
We live in acrimonious days. Hate speech and behavior seems more common and publicized in American culture. Rife are the billions of personal public and private interactions which wound emotionally. This has always been true, regardless of cultural winds. It has been said that forgiving an offender is the only way which people can heal and move on from hurts caused by another. Forgiveness is the only thing which can break the cycle of hatred and retribution.
What does forgiveness mean?
To forgive is to cancel a debt owed. Financially and morally, forgiveness says, “You no longer owe me. I am no longer looking for you to pay me back. I free you from your indebtedness to me. I free you from my hatred, my needing to exact a cost for the cost you exacted from me.”In the realm of relationships, forgiveness is essential to restoring what we’ve broken. This article highlights a few observations about forgiveness. (I also encourage you to read my article, “Forgiveness in the Bible: What does Scripture say?”)
1. Forgiveness Does Not Equal Forgetting
Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. In fact, the act of forgiveness actually begins with remembering. It is the act of remembering what has happened to cause hurt, which begins the forgiveness process.
Forgiving is a practice that acknowledges wrongs done against us yet frees the offender from our hatred, and frees us from the cycle of revenge. Forgiveness begins with taking stock of our heart and how it has been injured. Whether or not we can forget the offense, forgiveness is dealing with the reality of hurt inflicted.
To forgive is not to deny or forget, but in recognition of hurt and a moral debt owed, to offer to cancel the debt. When we forgive we do not deny the reality of being wounded.
2. Forgiveness is a Process
Forgiveness is often a process which begins with acknowledging being sinned against, grieving the sin against us, and cancelling the debt owed. We often skip the grieving step. Grief involves feeling and expressing the pain of being hurt, which for many of us is a scary and uncomfortable proposition.If the offense was traumatic or shameful, whether public or private, we think it is a matter of survival to avoid grieving its effect. The undesirability of facing our pain is further reinforced if we are also isolated. Some people shame themselves over the fact that they are ‘not over this yet,’ or think they shouldn’t be as adversely affected.
Without support, understanding, and acknowledgement of our hurt by others, the forgiveness process may be slow. Relational wounds can cut deeply, depending upon the nature of the offense and of the relationship between parties. Many times the reality is that the greater the sense of betrayal, the greater the time needed to forgive. The greater the love shared, the deeper the wound, and potentially the longer the process of healing and forgiveness. When grief is processed, observed, shared, and affirmed in safe relationships, God can comfort broken hearts, clearing the way for forgiveness.
3. Forgiveness can be facilitated by the offender.
As a therapist I’ve often seen how acknowledging one’s impact on another, even if the result is unintended, will facilitate forgiveness on the part of the one injured. In loving relationships, when the offending party acknowledges his or her responsibility in causing hurt and how his or her choices have impacted the one hurt, forgiveness from the injured party often follows. While acknowledging one’s impact on another is not a guarantee that the injured party will forgive, nor is it always necessary in every case for forgiveness, it can be a significant step in the healing process of hearts and relationships.
How Christian Counseling Can Help
Christian counseling can help with the forgiving and healing process in hearts and relationships. A counselor can provide an objective, validating presence with whom feelings, thoughts, needs, and personal boundaries can be clarified and processed. The counselor can prepare you for a conversation which seeks forgiveness, possible reconciliation, or restoration.
A Christian counselor can affirm the reality of God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, and support efforts to be true to Jesus’ teaching to confess sin and own one’s impact on others, to forgive as often as one is offended, and to seek peace.
A Christian counselor also knows that forgiving is a unilateral decision which cannot be forced, but can flow out of one’s own relationship with God and experience of His forgiveness. If you would like support and help in your efforts to forgive others, please contact one of my colleagues or myself and we’d be happy to meet with you.
“Girl on a Beach,” courtesy of Zack Minorm, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Field,” courtesy of Karl Fredrickson, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reconciled,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, unsplash.com, CC0 License