Can you remember the last time someone hurt you? It probably will not take long to answer that question, because all of us have been hurt at one time or another. An unfortunate part of our human experience is that we hurt people and are hurt by people. Each of us can remember this particular pain.
But what comes after the hurt? Can we ever move beyond feelings of betrayal and desires for revenge? Is it possible to put our lives back together? Will we ever have good feelings toward the one who hurt us? These are difficult questions. Fortunately, they have an answer.
Forgiveness is the one of the great gifts offered to us in the Christian faith. With Gods help and the resources of loving friends to help us, we can move beyond feelings of hurt and betrayal. Forgiveness comes as we release angry or hurt feelings toward someone who has wronged us, and recognize the possibility of a new future with them. This definition contains three important parts. While none of them are easy, together they provide a path out of the pain and into an emotionally healthy future.
The first step on the path to forgiveness is to admit that we have been wronged, both to ourselves and to the one who wronged us. Naming something as wrong is important because it helps us understand exactly what happened. When you name something as wrong, you move beyond both excusing someone’s behavior and tolerating their hurtful act. Instead, you are protecting your own self and calling the wrong act for what it is.
The New Testament supports this naming of wrong. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus guidance on this point in Matthew 18:15: If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. The first step toward healing of any kind is to admit that we have been hurt. Then we can seek relief.
The second step on the path to forgiveness is to release our hurt feelings. We could avoid this difficult step and choose to hold on to the pain and desire for revenge for a very long time. Many people do, and remain emotionally stuck in their pain. Do you know anyone like this? They were legitimately hurt years ago, but they have never moved on. The old hurt becomes their life story.
If we will continue down the path, we can begin to release the hurt. This release involves humility on our part. Haven’t we all hurt other people, and been forgiven? Doesn’t the one who hurt us deserve the same consideration and compassion that others have given to us? Thinking about the one who hurt us in this way does not excuse their behavior; instead, it gives us a chance to recognize our common humanity. All of us are guilty of hurting others. We have all been forgiven; hopefully we can all forgive. Recognizing our common need to forgive others may be what Jesus had in mind when he told his followers to “forgive Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22 NRSV).
Finally, on the last step on the path to forgiveness we recognize the possibility of a new future with the one who hurt us. This step depends on several factors. Did we have a relationship with them before the hurt? If not, we try to forgive and move on. But what if we have been hurt by someone close to us? Can the old relationship be restored?
Yes, it can. The process is difficult and depends on the first two steps. If, however, we have named the wrong, received an apology, considered our own failings, and understood our shared humanity, then we are a long way down the road toward healing. We have done a lot of rehab for our soul, and may just find that we can move forward with the one who hurt us. Jesus offers some perspective here, again in Matthew 18:15, when he says If the [church] member listens to you, you have regained that one. In place of church member, insert the name of the one who hurt you. Have you regained that one?
One last word. If you have been hurt, you will never forget what happened. Decide now to not get hung up on trying to forget, because it is an impossible goal. In forgiving, we do not forget; instead, we choose to remember differently. We will always remember what was done. But if we properly forgive, we choose to remember the work done to restore the relationship more than the actions that threatened to tear it down.
Pastor Tim Harvey Central Church of the Brethren [email protected]