“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.
I have touched on Forgiveness before (http://www.christiancounselingco.com/self-forgiveness/) but it is such an exceptionally important issue, we could use all of the blog-space discussing it.
Forgiveness is something that must become second-nature for us in order to live in healthy relationship with others and to love them well. Pastor Danny Silk once said: “You have two choices when you get offended or hurt- you can pull away from love, or you can choose to press into it.” What does “pressing into love mean?” Jesus gives us an answer in Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” What is the point? You can never reach a place of unforgiveness, and neither can anyone else. The Love that we press into is supernatural and unconditional. One of my friends recently said this to me about the subject: “We are now disqualified from it [unforgiveness]. Jesus declared forgiveness once and for all. If we “receive” it for ourselves but withhold from others, we condemn ourselves. You can’t have one without the other.” The family is a good place to be “hurt”; the enemy has been running this play for thousands of years. If he can divide a family, then the legacy is fractured. Ideally, God designed family to be a mini-version of His Bride- the church. It is, essentially, a place where love and faith can grow and be developed, so that it’s members go out into the world and proclaim the Good News of Christ. But, without relationship, unity, and a legacy of love- people end up feeling isolated, bitter, sick, and lacking in trust. So, why do we tend to see a greater degree of bitterness, divorce, and disunity instead of a vast array of “mini-churches?” There are so many choices that people make that seem “unforgivable” in our minds, but I’m here to tell you that the benefits of forgiving that person seriously outweighs any justified reasoning for hanging onto vengeance.
What are the benefits of unforgiveness?
There are none. Simply put- there is no comfort in retaliation.
Graduate Research Assistants, Trampas J. Rowden and Sean D. Davis at the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University conducted research regarding the issue of unforgiveness. Here are some of their findings: “Health professionals tell us that the body manufactures “high voltage” chemicals like adrenaline and cortisone when you don’t forgive. Too many of these chemicals can result in tension-related ills such as headaches and abdominal pains. Left unchecked, this can result in more serious problems such as ulcers, gastritis or irritable bowel syndrome. When couples and families fail to forgive, unequal relationships are created and maintained. True closeness is an impossibility because the “offended” is in a position of holding the “offender” in bondage, and the obsession with being wronged and seeking revenge holds the victim in bondage as well. The person who made the mistake or hurt the other is kept in a “one down” position of being indebted to the other. The following phrases are common to such a situation:
“I’m (the offended) going to make you (the offender) pay for what you did.”
“You’re (offender) never going to live this down.”
“You (offender) owe me. I’m (offended) going to get even with you.”
“I’ll (offended) hold this against you (offender) for the rest of your life.”
“I’ll (offended) get you (offender) for this.”
Proverbs 17: 9 states that “love prospers when a fault is forgiven.” This means that love suffers, or fails to thrive, when offense and unforgiveness are present.
I think that what stops many people from granting forgiveness is that they believe that if they forgive the person, they are condoning the “offender’s” sin. Holding grudges chains you to the past and causes a bitterness like a steady drip of toxin into your life.
So, how do you forgive?
What are the benefits of forgiveness?
Researchers Maio, Thomas, Fincham, & Carnelly studied the effects of forgiveness in families over a one year time period. Here is how they define “forgiveness” as it is used in their research:
“…a deliberative process that transforms a vengeful, negative response into a positive one… That is, the forgiver actively attempts to move from negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward the transgressor to more positive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.”
Here is a brief overview of their specific research and the results that they found:
“This study examined the role of forgiveness in different family relationships. In 2 laboratory sessions 1 year apart, 114 families (each including 2 parents and 1 child) completed a new measure of family forgiveness and many individual-level, relationship-level, and family-level variables that have been previously linked with forgiveness. After validating the measure of family forgiveness in cross-sectional analyses, investigators performed longitudinal analyses to examine the role of forgiveness in each family relationship over the 1-year interval. Results indicated many important positive consequences of forgiveness on individual traits, aspects of each family relationship, and general family environment.”
What this means is that across 114 families, the active pursuit of forgiveness led to healing and positive consequences within the family members themselves, and between their relationships. Even from a secular, non-Christian psychological journal, the effects of forgiveness are undeniable.
I must forgive because God forgave me- “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:31-32).
God is so good at this and gives us Grace that brings freedom! Micah 7:19 says, “God, you bury my sin in the deepest sea!” Psalm 103:12- says that “He removes my guilt as far as the East is from the West.” You can’t have forgiveness without Grace.
What are some steps to forgiveness in my family?
Marriage and family therapists James Harper and Mark Butler offer additional help in forgiving and seeking forgiveness from others.
Seeking forgiveness from others:
-Engage in self-confrontation – regularly examine your actions and motives. Ask “Is it I?” – be the first to confess and apologize, and, if appropriate, reconcile and restore your relationship.
-Self-disclose – share your feelings and story with family members or loved ones.
-Avoid confessions in which you blame or fail to accept responsibility (such as saying, “I’m sorry, but if you wouldn’t have said that . . . . ).Search for solutions instead of blame.
-Live your own forgiven-ness – we all have experiences where others have forgiven us.
-Remember that every person’s sense of worth is important – realize that by forgiving them you aid in their personal experience of forgiveness.
-Seek with all your heart and mind for anger to be lifted. This may often include prayer, meditation, or some other activity to rid yourself from anger’s poison.
-Develop empathy and emotional understanding for the situation of your offender. For example, do they have parents or children? What were the circumstances surrounding what they did?
-Avoid unnecessary retelling of the offense – dwelling on such reinforces an unforgiving heart as well as solidifying the event in your mind.
-Remember that forgiving rarely entails memory loss but freedom from preoccupation with the offense – do not let your thoughts, emotions, and reactions be consumed by the offense.
Boundaries may need to be set with family members who continue acting in ways that are destructive, abusive, and unhealthy. Remember that forgiveness often includes clearly-defined boundaries and that these two concepts are not opposites. Setting boundaries in order to bring reconciliation, relationship, and peace can be one of the most loving things you ever do. Forgiving yourself and/or members of your family leads to a restorative peace that could effect generations. At Cornerstone, we offer a variety of holistic services, including animal assisted therapy for all ages and play therapy for children.Choose forgiveness today. Choose to begin the process of releasing bitterness, anger, and toxic unforgiveness from your life and in your family, today.
Unraveling the role of forgiveness in family relationships. Maio, Gregory R.; Thomas, Geoff; Fincham, Frank D.; Carnelley, Katherine B. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 94(2), Feb 2008, 307-319.http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.117