Forgiveness Requires Grieving What We Experienced

February 10, 2016 (Updated Jul 9, 2016) by — Intended Audience: , .

Series: Forgiveness: One of the Hardest (And Most Important) Things We Can Do for Ourselves and Our Relationships
  1. Why God Calls Us to Remember and Forgive
  2. Forgiveness Requires Grieving What We Experienced
  3. Working Through Grief and Forgiveness
  4. Forgiveness Is the Foundation for Reconciliation
Video Forgiveness Requires Grieving What We Experienced

Video: 4 Minutes

Forgiveness necessitates our remembering and grieving our pain. Fortunately, this remembering is not contingent on our remembering perfectly. To put it differently: In order to forgive we must grieve what we experienced, letting our pain matter to us, even though we know that our memory is imperfect.

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The emphasis here is on letting our pain matter (without judgement or evaluation), and not getting distracted by trying to somehow know with certainty who said or did what. Our tendency is to want to make the validity of our pain contingent on what “actually” happened.1 But when we approach our pain this way we inadvertently set up a hierarchy that some pain is more or less valid than other pain, and I don’t believe that’s true (or helpful). At the most basic level, emotional pain is neurochemical responses in our brain (often coupled with various physical sensations in our body), and telling our emotions that they aren’t valid is never an effective way of working through them. Instead, we need to learn to let our pain matter as-is, because we matter, as we are (imperfect memory and all).2

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  1. I say “actually” in quotes here because in most of life we’re never going to know with certainty what happened in a given interaction, because memory is imperfect and malleable by nature. 
  2. The above is more-so speaking to a common tendency for us to invalidate ourselves by overly focusing on the details of what we think happened, to the detriment of our actually working through our pain. However, it is worth noting here that we can also err on the other side–we can become so disconnected from what happened (even from own imperfect memories) that we start to invalidate ourselves (and potentially others) by ignoring information that would actually be comforting. Additionally, letting our pain matter is not the same thing as allowing ourself to be ruled by our pain (which is another way we can get off track in these areas). Unpacking all this further is beyond the scope of this particular blog post, but I wanted to acknowledge that there is more complexity here than what I covered in the video (where I am only speaking to one common dynamic). 
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