Holden Village Staff Experience August, 2003

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How to forgive (Now that you've read this far)

You must own your pain.


Forgiving is a remedy for our own pain, and we have to make it just that: our own.  So, how does one own pain?  Smedes suggests that ownership goes beyond mere possession: ownership represents taking personal responsibility for something.  It is not enough to simply feel our pain.


We need to appropriate the pain we feel: Be conscious of it, take it on, and take it in.  We need to acknowledge our pain, admit that we feel it, admit it to ourselves and to anyone else who wants to know.  We need to name the pain we feel: Identify it for what it is and what it is not.  We need to evaluate the pain we feel: As ourselves whether it matches the kind of wrong we were done.  Finally, we need to take responsibility for the pain: Decide what we are going to do with it hold on to it, get even for it, or heal it.


Once we have owned our pain, we are ready to do something else with it.


Take your time; dont rush into it.


For forgiving serious wounds, we need to take our time.  We all suffer smaller hurts that can be forgiven quickly, but forgiving serious wounds quickly often makes things worse.  Believing that anger is evil, some people forgive quickly to stifle it.  Others forgive too quickly to avoid confrontation and not make a scene.  Still others (and these may be the worst) resort to fast forgiving to gain advantage over another, placing the forgiven person at obligation to them.


People who have been wronged and wounded badly should give themselves time and space before they forgive.  It would help to follow these five steps:


Think: Come to as much clarity as you can about what went on.

Evaluate: Were you truly wronged?  Was it an accident, or did he know what he was doing?

Talk: Consult with a friend or counselor.

Feel: Be alone with yourself so you can get in touch with what you feel.  Name it.

Pray: Be honest to God.  Tell God how much you hurt, how full of hate you are.  Ask for help, and use it when it comes.


Finally, wait for the situation to be ripe before you forgive.  Nelson Mandela said from prison, "Ah, yes, forgiving.  It will have to come to that sometime, but not yet, not while the boot is still on our neck."


But don't wait too long.  Don't let your rage settle in and claim a right to your soul.  Do not become your bitterness and the poison within you.  There is a right moment to forgive, but we cannot predict it.  We can only get ready for it.  Only the hurting person can know when the time has come.  The wise person will act when it has.


You don't have to say so.


When we believe we've finally forgiven the person who wronged us, we may want to tell them.  We might feel that we haven't completed the process until we have done so.  However, we need to discern whether or not this is the right thing to do.  Smedes suggests taking our time, sizing up the risk of telling, waiting until the person youve forgiven gives a small sign that he is ready to hear from you, being oblique in telling, beginning by wishing good things for the person you've forgiven (out loud), keeping it short and light, and giving the other person time.


If the other person comes to you and begs your forgiveness, then simply follow your heart and say what you feel. 


Spoken forgiving works best when we do not demand the response we want.  We must leave people free to respond however they are inclined.  If it's not what we hoped for, we then continue our healing in private.