In a previous post I mentioned the Six Steps for Granting Forgiveness, from the PREPARE/ENRICH marriage system by LifeInnovations. This is the first in a series explaining each of those steps in greater detail.
Have you ever had this happen to you? You did something wrong, you know it was wrong, you go to the person and apologize, and they say, “That’s alright.” Or, “It’s okay.” Well, if it was “alright” and “okay”, then why did I need to apologize? In fact, I’m probably apologizing because you were the one who let me know it was wrong in the first place!
I think we say “It’s okay” and “That’s alright” because we want to let the person know that we are not holding it against them, that everything will be alright. Perhaps we even want to feel like we’re really good at letting things go, so we are trying to minimize the issue. It’s almost become a colloquialism to mean “I forgive you”, but we don’t want to come right out and say “I forgive you.” Maybe it’s because we feel weird saying it. Maybe it’s because we forget how important the word “forgive” is. Maybe it’s because if we said “I forgive you”, we’d have to acknowledge that we were actually hurt.
We need to learn how to do that.
There is a reason this is the first step in the Six Steps to Granting Forgiveness:
1. Acknowledge your pain and anger. Allow yourself to feel disrespected.
Here are some of the negative results of skipping this step:
- You feel the pain and anger, you feel disrespected, but you start telling yourself that you shouldn’t. You mentally have to stuff that pain and anger somewhere, but just like stuffing a garbage can with more garbage, eventually you won’t be able to stuff it anymore. At some point, it’s going to overflow, or the bag is going to break, and all you’re left with is a stinking mess. How does that look in your relationships?
- The person who caused you the pain isn’t going to learn from the situation. They’re going to be able to soothe themselves with the thought that their actions weren’t so bad. In a good hearted person this might just result in ignorantly making the same mistake and hurting you again. And again. And again. In a selfish hearted person, this could easily lead to abuse. Then again, we’re all a bit selfish hearted, so where does that leave you?
- The power of your forgiveness is reduced, because you’ve used words that imply that it really isn’t a big deal. If the hurt is little, then the forgiveness is minor. But with all the power that forgiveness has to offer toward enhancing intimacy and friendship between two people, do you really want to diminish it?
If that isn’t reason enough to pay attention to this step, here are some positive things that can come from making sure you work through it:
- You experience the release of negative emotions. While there’s a lot of drivel in pop psychology about why you need to express negative emotions, they do have one thing right – bottling up negative emotions never works! They need to be dealt with. We simply weren’t made to hold that in. However, if you can peacefully aknowledge that you have experienced pain, it is a step toward healing.
- You send a powerful message to the person who hurt you. Hopefully, they will begin to recognize that their actions have consequences, and will think twice the next time they have the chance to hurt you or someone else. By allowing the person to experience this, you are actually showing a lot of love – you are giving the person the opportunity to grow.
- As I mentioned above, forgiveness is a powerful way to grow in relationship with someone. Think about our relationship with our Heavenly Father. On what is that relationship based? Nothing less than the awesome grace he shows us in Christ. If forgiveness is powerful enough to bring sinful man into relationship with Holy God, what can it do between two people? But forgiveness works when it is in the context of the real pain that has been caused.
Sometimes people choose not to acknoweldge their pain and anger because they don’t like confrontation, and they feel that the easiest way to avoid it is to not express how someone else has hurt them. Other times it might be that it actually makes us feel weak; we want to convince ourselves and others that people just can’t affect us that much. Still other times it might be that we don’t want to make someone else feel guilty. Maybe it’s that we don’t feel safe to do so (if that’s the case, it may mean you need to do some real work on that relationship!). Whatever the reason, it isn’t good enough to justify hiding the hurt. Just like a bad scrape might need to be aired out to start healing, so emotional hurts have to see the light of day.
It could be that we don’t want to feel selfish, like somehow we’re afraid that if we acknowledge our hurt then the other person will think we’re too focused on ourselves. What that person thinks isn’t in your control, but please understand, it is not selfish to let someone know they hurt you. If anything, it is selfish not to, because you’re closing off a part of yourself from that person.
As a final illustration, consider how our God deals with us. He forgives us, yes, but he begins the process by confronting us with the Law. He says, “I have a holy will. You have broken it. Your transgressions anger me and hurt me.” If it’s right for God to do, maybe it’s okay for us to do as well.
But keep in mind that an important part of being “God-like” in this is following Paul’s advice, “In your anger do not sin.” Be careful that as you express your hurt, you do not in turn cause hurt by careless words. Some ideas for how to approach this carefully:
- Set aside a time to talk about it with the person when other distractions and pressures won’t make it more stressful.
- Begin the conversation with a prayer (together or silently to yourself) asking God to help you handle it well.
- Look the person in the eye, and maintain open body posture. Hold hands if the relationship warrants (if it’s your spouse make sure you hold hands… hard to say hurtful things when you’re holding hands!)
- Try to be gentle, but firm and clear about your feelings.
- Say things like, “What you did really hurt me. It was not okay. I feel bad.” And be specific about what hurt.
- Focus on the issue, not on the person. Don’t attack character, just express hurt over actions and words.
- Make sure you have a plan in mind how you will progress beyond this step.
It’s not okay to just say, “It’s okay”. Sometimes you have to be open about how you were hurt. But the healing that can come from it is worth it.