Forgiveness (and the underlying grieving required) is one of the hardest (and most important) things we can aspire to do, in part because of how it touches so many vulnerable places within us. Whether a relational infraction is little or big, the work of forgiveness (of working through our pain) is the same: We have to learn how to let our self matter, without trying to make the other person matter less. This distinction is both a hallmark of real forgiveness1 and a necessary prerequisite to reconciliation. In essence, we cannot healthily move towards reconciliation until we have worked through (or at least begun working through) the pain and grief of forgiveness.
When we feel slighted by another (whether in big or little ways) this often triggers our own struggle with shame. And the degree to which we are unaware of this and/or unable to effectively2 combat our feelings of shame we will often resort to trying to make ourselves feel better by shaming the other person.3 Instead, we need to learn to acknowledge what we’re feeling (e.g., “I’m feeling uncared about in a particular way.”) and take ownership of working through that pain (e.g., entering into our pain and comforting our self there) without attacking the other person’s value.4
This doesn’t mean we let the other person off the hook regarding their behavior–on the contrary, it is only when we are healthily valuing ourselves without devaluing the other that we can begin to respectfully hold them accountable for their behavior. As soon as we slip into attacking the other person’s value we are rapidly destroying the possibility of actually addressing and resolving the problematic relational behaviors. But when we are doing our part by dealing with our pain (and thereby healthily valuing ourselves) we can approach the other out of a more grounded place wherein we are connected to our having value, the other person having value, and the relationship having value. And then on that foundation we can respectfully and firmly bring our complaints and concerns to the other person regarding their behavior (not their worth). And in so doing we invite them to find the courage to face their own struggles in order that they might grow as an individual and work with us to repair whatever relational breach has occurred.
In this way our failures of one another (which are inevitable in all close relationships) become not just reminders of our mutual brokenness, but even more so of our great capacity for healing, change and deepening connection. The pain of relational breaches, and especially the shame that is often triggered, threatens to cut us off from one another. But the courageous facing of our pain and laboring to accept one another in our failures while simultaneously calling each other to further growth is one of the most redemptive works that God has created us for–moving us from shame to connection, from fear to courage, from feeling less than to becoming more the people we were created to be.
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- in contrast to the various forms of counterfeit forgiveness we are all prone too, which devalue self, the other, or both ↩
- i.e., healthily ↩
- In essence, we’re trying to “shift” our shame onto them. This doesn’t actually work in that we still feel shame (and shame can’t be resolved or combated by pushing it onto others), but it gives the illusion of working because of how it shifts our focus from how bad we feel we are to how bad we feel that the other person is (so basically everyone loses in this common scenario). ↩
- Which again, is an attempted shortcut that doesn’t work. ↩
Forgiveness Requires Grieving What We Experienced (video)Audience: Christians, General
Working Through Grief and Forgiveness (video)Audience: Christians, General