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How to Forgive to Heal Your Heart and Relationships
by Wyatt Fisher Psy.D.
Forgiveness is one of the most misunderstood concepts both within and beyond the walls of the church. Therefore, it’s important to develop a well-rounded, thorough understanding of the term so we can apply it appropriately. Among all possible relationships, romantic ones tend to be ripest for offenses because of the continual close contact we have with our partner. Moreover, since we are all fallen by nature, we will eventually and inventible offend our partner and they will offend us. Some common examples could include using hurtful words during an argument, neglecting our partner’s needs, breaking a promise, etc. Therefore, those on Christian dating sites are wise to learn about forgiveness because it will most likely be relevant to their future romantic relationships.
1-Forgiveness is the cornerstone of our faith
Forgiveness is the cornerstone of our faith with Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross as the forgiveness of all sins. In addition, God tells us to, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, NIV). Forgiveness can be defined as no longer holding the offense against the offender. Our natural desire is to retaliate against someone who has hurt or offended us. However, forgiveness is letting go of that desire and placing it in God’s rightful hands.
2-What forgiveness is not
It is also important to clarify what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting. We can eventually forgive people of their offenses but it’s much more difficult to forget. Also, periodically remembering the pain someone has caused us does not mean we haven’t already forgiven them in our heart. Next, forgiveness is not a destination. Most people mistakenly believe forgiveness should happen once and the hurtful act should never bother them again. Instead, forgiveness is usually a process where we must continually choose to forgive someone as memories of their offensive behavior surfaces. Last, forgiveness is not permission. Many people worry that forgiving someone communicates that their hurtful behavior was acceptable, which is false. Forgiveness releases our desire to retaliate, but it does not release the perpetrator’s responsibility for what they have done.
Most people are familiar with the place in Scripture where “...Peter came to Jesus and asked, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Mathew 18: 21-22, NIV). Clearly, Jesus wants us to forgive others on a regular basis. He knows we will be hurt often in this fallen world and so we must also forgive often. However, forgiving someone does not mean making ourselves vulnerable to being hurt again. As many have heard “hurt me once shame on you, hurt me twice shame on me.” Therefore, when someone repeatedly hurts or offends us, it’s wise to set healthy boundaries to minimize our risk of being hurt again.
4-Empathy must come first
One of the most effective methods for facilitating forgiveness is empathy. Empathy is being able to see a situation from another person’s perspective. It’s being able to fully immerse ourselves in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Empathy is being able to feel the motives for their hurtful actions. Some helpful questions to foster empathy may include, “Were they getting triggered from ‘unfinished business’ from their upbringing? Were they reacting to something I said or did? Were they already distressed from something else?” etc. Unfortunately, most people are so consumed with their own pain they rarely listen to the reasons for the hurtful behavior. However, fully listening is critical for developing empathy. The more we listen, the more empathy will emerge, shifting our hearts automatically in the direction of forgiveness.
In sum, forgiveness is no longer holding the offense against the offender. It’s also not forgetting, not a destination, and not giving permission. In addition, we must establish healthy boundaries to minimize our risk of being hurt in the future. Lastly, developing empathy is one of the best ways to cultivate a forgiving heart.
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Wyatt Fisher, Psy.D. is a psychologist and faculty member at Liberty University. His blog can be found at /relationship/
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Dr. Wyatt Fisher is a faculty member at Liberty University and owner of ChristianCrush.com, which aims to be the most authentic platform on the web for believers to connect and develop God-honoring relationships.
What's the hardest part for you with forgiveness and why?