Forgiveness is Harder Than You Think
In counseling, the client said that she thought she had forgiven him. She said that she had confessed her unforgiveness and sought God’s help, but the anger and resentment seemed to keep returning and she would try again to forgive. She said that she felt guilty for harboring these feelings and had finally decided that forgiveness was just not possible for her. The despair in her voice was obvious.
It is not unusual for someone to come to counseling with a presenting issue of forgiveness. The previous example is a fictional account, but the illustration is very typical. A lack of forgiveness can result in emotional distress, dysfunctional behaviors, health difficulties, ruined relationships, and a loss of spiritual vitality. It is important that we learn how to forgive.
Unfortunately, forgiveness is harder than you might think. The apostle Paul encouraged us to forgive as we have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). That sounds very good and noble and we can all agree that it is desirable. But the question is how do we do it?
Many start the process of forgiveness, but get discouraged. Many start with the assumption that if they are just able to say, “I forgive you,” then the issue of forgiveness will be resolved. They fail to realize that forgiveness is a process that involves many steps.
Perhaps the most difficult step in the forgiveness process is to identify what exactly needs to be forgiven. Most emotional wounds involve more than one hurt. For example, a wife may want to forgive her husband for his adulterous affair. But the forgiveness process is complicated because the affair resulted in multiple wounds, all of which will require forgiveness: the loss of trust through lies and deceit, the loss of the marriage, the loss of reputation, the loss of the wife’s lifestyle and financial security, the loss of their couple friends, the emotional hurt to the children, the embarrassment caused to the family. Each of these wounds may require their own forgiveness process.
The first step then in the forgiveness process is to identify each of the losses and decide which one to forgive first. Each step along the way will require time and effort. There is no easy or quick solution to the struggle towards forgiveness.