Lecture 7 - The Process of Forgiveness
Lecture 7: The Process of Forgiveness
The process of forgiving someone follows a specific format, depending on whether they repent or not. But regardless of what the other person does, you can still forgive. But it may not mean the restoration of the relationship.
1. When Somebody Hurts You, You Can Choose to Forgive Them or Not to Forgive Them.
I would now like to take that forward and talk to you about what I think is a process for forgiveness. My opening comments I said that I wasn’t going to give certain steps. This next piece can imply that but there are some ways that we can participate to help with the forgiveness piece. So that hurt, fear and anger component can seem like a whole section on emotional hurt. This is about intensity of emotion over time in managing yourself. This is a summary piece. And then from my perspective you have a choice about direction. In other words, things have happened to you; the hurt is there; the pain is there. I think you have a choice in terms of what directions you can be committed to. This is in us; I am not talking about anybody else. In what direction, am I committed? Am I committed toward reconciliation; in other words, am I committed to working through this as best I can? Or I am just not going to forgive and just forget it. I am done with it! I want to remind you that I am not telling you that you need to forgive; I am telling you that this is how I think it works and you get to make the choices about how you want to live. If we head in the direction of un-forgiveness, there is a fairly distinctive kind of process. And the choice that you have about this commitment; personally, I don’t make that commitment at the time of whatever upset me happened because I know what my decision is. I hate it and I possibly hate you; I’m angry and you have it coming and I’m going to get at you somehow. But my automatic response can be vengeance. I don’t mean that it is like this a hundred percent of the time. But I don’t live by my automatic responses. I make a choice about how I want to live. The vengeance piece is simply a direction that I have chosen not to go in and I don’t go there. Do I always feel that way? No, and this is not about emotion; it is about how I am going to live.
1. Attitude: Vengeance
If we decide to move in the un-forgiveness side; in other words, I’m going to make you pay; this is going to take a while but I’m going to get you. I will do something; I will make you look bad or something. It will take time; I’m good and I’m okay, but you better watch your back. That is kind of what happened with Absalom.
2. Behavior: Revenge
If we choose that direction, we carry that attitude of vengeance and we watch. And the timing is simply when the behavior fits, depending on how assertive we are, we are going to make the revenge happen. This is what I’m going to do. You can watch the local news; you can read news stories where people find different ways to exercise their vengeance. And of course lots of vengeance that goes on, we don’t know that it’s happening as we don’t necessarily see it. It depends on the level of vengeance enacted.
3. Outcome: You choose bitterness as a way of life
The outcome is bitterness; bitter, anger and it turns into a way of looking at the world and it can be a place that you live in. It is a state of mind, it is a destination. And if we live in that spot, then that becomes the lens in which we look at the world. That is our vista and that is what informs us on how the world is and how the world works and what people are about and what they want. This becomes a way of life and so we lose an incredible opportunity on how we might otherwise live. There are people who are necessarily knowledgeable about this and would talk about health issues and how that affects people lives.
1. Attitude: Conciliation
If we choose the other direction and there is clearly a choice from my perspective. I don’t mean the emotions catch up immediately because they don’t. I think about my friend who was hiking the pacific crest trail. He didn’t always feel like hiking, things were always working, the weather was bad; there were all kinds of things like that. It keeps going in the same direction because that is how it works. It not so much about what I am feeling at this moment. It is important to be aware of what the feelings are, but they are not going to set the direction at that point. If the direction is forgiveness, I am going to work toward reconciliation. I am going to work toward sorting this thing out. But what does that mean I should do? There is not a direct answer to that question. It has lots of different shapes to it, but it is how I position myself in relation to what has happened or not happened. And somewhere along the way, there could be an opportunity to speak to the person. But there are a range of things that could prevent this. If a person says that they are moving towards a position or reconciliation and if the other person is willing and available; you may need some help in understanding how you are going to do this. There could be a range of contingencies.
2. Behavior: Forgiveness
But if you speak to the person from a Biblical aspect, then you can consider Matthew 18 as steps but you don’t have to take it literally. But this is one way to approach a person where you speak to someone about what is and describing this in regards to what is going on with me. Even on the first part, this is what I experienced, this is what you did, and this is what happened and those kinds of things. Where this goes is influenced hugely by the response of the person who has done the behavior. So, you can choose forgiveness and move in way regardless of the person response. But if you speak with the person, you interact with the person and using biblical language; if there is no repentance; the person acknowledges what you have said. Now what I get struck by is how smart and educated people can’t face simple words of explanation in these kinds of scenarios. It somehow get muddy and complex, etc. as compared to, I did this or I didn’t do this. But the person says, ‘what are you saying!’ Are you kidding! No! It is no big deal and that basically tells you that they think their behavior isn’t a problem. That is a problem.
An example: A person has been doing your books and they have been doing them for about two years. Some things are not making sense: line 27 and 37 should equal but they don’t. You don’t quite understand and you are a little embarrassed but finally you ask the person to explain it to you. I don’t understand this. They are a little quiet and clear their throat and admit that they have been taking three hundred dollars a month out of your account and that is why these don’t equal. He or she explains that you understand that nobody gets this kind of an opportunity. We have sort of been friends. So, they are giving a great justification for guilt. So, what are you going to do? They have been taking three hundred dollars a month and they don’t think it is a problem. So, what do you do with your books? Of course, you take them home. There is the behavior and the justification. In biblical language, there is no repentance. The person doesn’t acknowledge wrong. I see the person at the store; am I to react somehow to that person when I see him or here? The bookkeeper doesn’t have a problem it, so to speak. So I have to set a boundary; they are no longer part of my life, especially in doing my books. And our relationship as to that part of our lives is finished. The bookkeeper is telling me that their behavior was okay because of the lack of repentance. I don’t need to do all kinds of crazy things, but I need to set a boundary. There is no repentance.
2. Forgiveness is Hard Work – It is like Grieving
A. Aim in the same direction
Okay, now, let’s go down the other side in regards to the bookkeeper. So the person said that he has been taking three hundred dollars a month from you for the last thirty six months. So then they say I want you to know that by the end of the week, you will have a check for the full amount plus interest. I can tell you why I did it but it doesn’t make sense. And I know that this isn’t the way to do business. So, what do you do with this? You got the repentance and restitution. You may end up taking the books home with you or you might leave them there. If you leave your books there, what do you think he will do when the monthly statements come out? You rush to see the numbers! What has happened to your trust? It is gone! What do you mean? The person repented, don’t you trust them? What is your problem? But that is not how it works. Someone might say to you, ‘but I thought you forgave them.’ It just doesn’t work that way. You make a decision about direction, but the relationship is damaged. The second month you check the numbers again. It takes a substantial amount of time for you to actually trust them again.
B. Be patient with yourself
Coming back to the confrontation piece, if there is no repentance, you set boundaries to your relationship because you will simply get violated and re-violated. Now, do you decide on vengeance and then go down the bitterness side? You don’t need to go there. You have set the boundaries so you are not being re-violated or offended. If there is repentance, there is a possibility of re-establishing that trust. But that is going to take some time, some behavior and some consistent behavior. It starts with acknowledgement, with repentance and it moves forward from there. The idea that if I forgive the person, I’m going to acknowledge their stuff; So. We are all good now, right? And sometimes there is a hug or an arm around the shoulder. It’s not all good! Even though you have forgiven them; there is no trust. It will take time to trust them again. And if there is a re-violation, it doesn’t mean you can’t keep working at it. But it works that way. If you say to me; this happened to me, describing such a scenario; I forgave the person and we are just right back to where we were before the behavioral incident. If that happened; praise God because that is a miracle. Don’t show the person this material and tell them that they have to do something else. God intervenes in our lives and I don’t know why and what causes him to do this. I’m talking about prayer and its nature and the impact of prayer that happens at time. I truly believe that because I have been there. I celebrate that and I rally around that. But the way that our day to day lives works, it normally doesn’t look like that.
C. Pray for a community of slow forgivers
So, whether you are thinking about decision making but you can’t figure it out, and then God impacts your life and you see clarity and know that this is how it’s supposed to be. That is great! Praise God! But that is not a model for every decision. I don’t know why God doesn’t do it this way all the time but I’m all for it. And in the forgiveness side, I have had people tell me that God has so intervened that they were able to pick up at the point where everything went wrong. God has intervened in your life and I cerebrate that. But I don’t think that is usually how it works and if I knew why, I would become really excited about it want to know more about it. But I don’t have any idea about that because I don’t know Why God does what it does at the time he does it. So that repentance process and then the possibility of rebuilding and this depends on what our histories are around trust and those areas can be difficult. Forgiveness is hard work. It is not dissimilar from grieving; it is simply hard work.
D. Develop the capacity to hold these things as you face forward
But, yet, it is a direction that you must go in; it is a decision. It has plodding in it and big time regression. There are also triggers associated with it that often pull us back into it. But you keep moving in the same direction of forgiveness, setting boundaries, not seeking vengeance and rejoicing when God works a miracle. And you need to be patient with yourself and pray for and rest with a community of slow forgivers. I don’t mean people who are slow to forgive, but who allow that forgiving process to move forward at the pace it goes. For me, it is not so much, have I forgiven. On one hand, yes this is important because I think that is a decision. I am more interested more in the direction I’m facing, because if I face in that direction and keep moving, I’m going to get there. If we can keep facing that direction and be patient with ourselves, I think we can get there. This also means having a capacity to hold these things as we face forward.
E. Trust is both a decision and an emotion
This includes having the capacity to carry forward the process of forgiveness; to rest with the lack of trust. This is not to be untrusting as trust is also an emotion and at the same time trust is also a decision. On one hand, we trust that as we decide in the direction we are headed. For some of us, this is all very difficult; you simply don’t feel like trusting anything, while for others, it isn’t as difficult. Yet, even if it is difficult we must do it. And as you head in the forgiveness direction, the trust increases and then you realize that it isn’t as difficult as you first thought. You can work at it a piece at a time and allow it to come.