How can a person know when they have truly forgiven someone else. What is the difference between true forgiveness and simply stuffing down or sweeping under the rug your feelings?
It is tempting for Christians to try to forgive quickly in order to ease their minds and resolve the conflict. How do you know if you are just sweeping more under the rug instead of truly letting it go?
Four signs that you have truly forgiven
1. Forgiveness Takes Time
Forgiveness is a process. Depending on the magnitude of the offense, it may take hours, days, months, or even years. It is hard to tolerate unresolved problems for a long time, so we are subconsciously motivated to find a way to stop the pain however we can.
Rushing into a feeling that you have forgiven is one sign that you have not forgiven. You might feel like you have moved on, but in an instant, your anger might come flooding back.
A repeated argument could trigger this, or hearing news about a person no longer in your life might bring back sadness or anger. These triggers are evidence that you have found a way to cope and function, but it is unlikely that you have truly gone through a process of forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness Involves Sadness
If you have moved straight from anger to “forgiveness,” then you have probably not actually forgiven and let go. Anger is a surface-level feeling that is often easier to deal with than sadness, which lies underneath.
When we are angry, we can blame others or ourselves. Directing our feelings somewhere makes us feel in control and gives us a sometimes false reassurance that we will not be hurt again. When we stuff our feelings, we often reflect a tough attitude: “I’m fine.”
We try to move on and say that we have forgiven because we no longer want the pain to affect us. Very few people actually want to move into a place of sadness for a while. But forgiveness requires a time of mourning for the wrong that has been done. Tweet “Stuffing minimizes the hurt, but true forgiveness allows the hurt to be felt all the way through. #forgiveness”]
Forgiveness lies on the other side of pain and there are no shortcuts. In my home, when someone says, “I’m sorry,” we are not allowed to respond with, “It’s okay.”
We force ourselves to use the words, “I forgive you” in order to acknowledge that wrong has been done.
It was not okay. However, when we truly forgive we release the person from having to pay for their wrong.
3. Forgiveness Reflects Learning
When we stuff our feelings and sweep them under the rug, we are very likely to re-enter the same relationship pattern with that person or someone new.
Maybe you have gotten into the same fight with your spouse for years. Over and over, same script, different day. I’ve also known many women who had painful relationships with their fathers and go on to have bad boyfriend after bad boyfriend.
Because forgiveness involves moving through sadness and pain, it allows us to learn from what happened. If we move quickly into toughening up and acting unaffected, we do not take the time to process where things went wrong and what we could do differently next time.
We just keep going with life, hoping to find different circumstances.
However, when we are stressed we tend to revert back to old patterns of relating to people. Without learning, we stay stuck in the same cycles and we don’t understand why.
Learning through forgiveness means that we set up new systems and boundaries. You do not do yourself or the other person any favors by allowing them to continue repeating the same offense in your life.
Forgiving “seventy times seven” as Jesus said does not mean that you are supposed to remain in a harmful or abusive cycle. Neither an abuser nor a victim is freely operating as Christ intended.
In our normal, everyday relationships, we keep getting hurt in various ways. And so we keep forgiving.
However, in a situation with a pattern (such as physical, verbal, or emotional abuse), true forgiveness means learning how to stop being victimized.
It is okay to defend and claim your identity in Christ and refuse to put yourself in relationships or positions that treat you any less than who God sees you to be.
Forgiveness waits with open arms in the event that the Holy Spirit transforms the abuser. Until that supernatural encounter, you can learn the lesson of the pain and choose not to return to the same relationship or pattern.
4. Forgiveness Comes From God
Most importantly, when we try to determine if we have forgiven or stuffed our feelings, we must remember that forgiveness comes from God. We cannot forgive on a supernatural level all by ourselves. We access this forgiveness by first connecting with our own brokenness.
We are all in need of forgiveness from God. Acknowledging our sinfulness and brokenness allows us to invite God into those places to forgive and heal us.
When we are set free from our bondage, we can ask God to help us understand the brokenness of others.
Seeing the humanity of those who have offended us is a key to forgiveness.
Again, this does not mean that we excuse the offense as if it was “okay” or understandable given the circumstances. Even when you can understand the pain from which another person treated you badly, they are still responsible for their sin against you.
In many cases, that person may never take responsibility or give you the satisfaction of an apology. They may never “get it.”
Forgiveness only requires you and God, because it does not demand reconciliation. Rather, forgiveness allows release.
You no longer have to be tied to a person who has harmed you.
If they are able to acknowledge and repent, truly turning from the way of offense, then reconciliation may be possible.
If they cannot take those steps, you can forgive as you and God interact about the pain you experienced. God alone can turn the hearts of men, and thus he is the author of both forgiveness and reconciliation.
No matter how deep the offenses or hurts you have faced, God desires to walk with you through all the hills and valleys to bring you to a place where you can forgive and be set free.
Stuffing our feelings makes us feel safe for a time, but the unresolved issues will keep being there.
Invite God to help you walk through the sadness you may have, and ask God to forgive you and enable you to forgive others no matter how long it takes
- The Upper Room: Visio Divina
- 7 Steps To Enable A Rhythm Of Rest
- The First Step for a Great Day Is To Fall Into Sleep
Quotes to Consider
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. C.S. Lewis
- There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love. Bryant H. McGill
- If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive. Mother Teresa
Questions to answer
- What are some reasons that you have gotten stuck in the forgiveness process?
- What lessons have you learned from mistakes or challenges in your past?
- What feelings or hurts have you swept under the carpet of your heart? What kind of support would you need to re-open those feelings? What might you gain from doing so? What would be the risks?
Kristen Kansiewicz, LMHC
Kristen Kansiewicz is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor on staff at her church in Lynn, Massachusetts. She blogs weekly about faith and mental health at ChurchTherapy.com and she writes free daily devotionals at FreedomForToday.com.
Kristen is on Twitter at @ChurchTherapist