Episode 1. Forgiving is Forgetting
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When someone does something wrong – something that hurts us, it’s easy to say “I forgive you”. But actually living out that forgiveness – what does that look like?
Join Berni Dymet – as he takes a look at some forgiveness, from A Different Perspective.
When someone does something wrong – something that hurts us, it’s easy to say, “I forgive you”. But actually living out that forgiveness – what does that look like?
In a recent edition, the magazine, Psychology Today, carried an article on forgiveness. In part, the article reports that until recently psychologists regarded forgiveness as the business of the clergy and theologians. But now, mental health experts are subjecting forgiveness to the microscope of scientific scrutiny with no apologies.
It goes on to tell of 2 psychologists, Drs. Robert Enright and Suzanne Freedman, working with people who have been sexually abused, found that none expressed any desire to forgive their perpetrator. So in a controlled study, they selected 50 percent of the group to participate in a series of workshops on forgiveness. So, 12 months down the track, what were the findings of the study?
What happened with the 50 percent who attended the forgiveness workshops? Not only did all eventually forgive, but a year later they reported far less anxiety and depression than the non forgiving control group. Researchers concluded that they had never seen such a strong result with incest survivors. They go on to say that “forgiving is giving up the resentment that you are entitled to.” “The paradox,” says psychologists Enright, Friedman, “is that by giving this gift to the other, it’s the gift giver who ends up being healed.”
You know, I wonder whether in our society today whether for too long we’ve treated forgiveness as something that’s fluff. It’s one of those “touchy-feely” emotions. Oh well, yeah, I should forgive someone, but it’s not really important. But in reality, forgiveness is a really hard thing to do.
For those who dare to take that high path, I wonder whether there’s something better along that path, something that we could maybe never imagine. It doesn’t matter how we look at life. Everyday, everywhere people do things that either hurt us or offend us or threaten us. Sometimes it’s people we love. It’s the people who are the closest to us. Sometimes it’s people we work with. And sometimes it’s people that we don’t even know.
That person behind us in the car that just beeps the horn at us, because maybe we’re just going a little bit too slow for them. And the things that hurt us, or offend us, or threaten us, sometimes they’re small things. Sometimes, they’re things that are quite important to us. Sometimes, they’re really really big things.
You might have heard me say once before that as a kid at school, I was never one of the beautiful people. I had snide remarks. I was ignored. I was left off the team. Sometimes at work a bunch of people go out for a drink after work and no one thinks to invite you or me. Those things can really hurt and when we feel the pain, we want to retaliate. We want to lash out. We want to pay them back. We want to get our pound of flesh from these people.
“Well, if they ignored me, you know something, I can ignore them, too. Maybe those people who went out after that drink last night at work and they didn’t invite us. Maybe when they send me an email today at work or need something from me at work, I might just ignore them. I might just frustrate them. I might just play hard to get. I might just completely block them from getting what they want to do.” And before you know it, something small, something that somebody did that they may not have met anything by it. It was just an oversight. All of a sudden, something small escalates just like that into something significant in an instant. You know what I mean.
Then sometimes we’re dealing with significant hurts. With hurts, you know, an ingrained problem with your boss at work. For some reason, the boss just doesn’t want to be fair. For some reason, every time there’s a promotion, he or she overlooks you and me. Maybe you feel they’re lying about you or maybe there’s a real problem in our marriage. Maybe the relationship between husband and wife just, you know, over the years, it’s tired. Haven’t you heard people say “we’ve grown apart”?
These are significant problems, they really get us down. And sometimes we have to deal with major hurts. You know, when people really, really hurt us. Later this week we’re going to be talking to Lorraine Watson, we are going to be talking about abuse as a child, about our own children being killed by a hit and run driver. People go through divorce. You know, every now and then in life we have to suffer really major losses. We all deal with these things. Everyday. Whether they’re small, significant or major. Whether it is with people we love, we work with, or people we don’t know. And it turns out how we respond has a huge bearing on the quality of our life.
Lets go back to that study that I mentioned at the outset, of the sexually abused women. The 50% who forgave, remember what the report said, they experienced far less anxiety and depression 12months down the track. In fact that startled the psychologists doing the research. They were surprised. They thought, we have never seen such amazing results with people who have been through abuse.
But you know, it’s no surprise to God. The apostle Paul, a couple of thousand years ago wrote this, “Never avenge yourselves, leave that bit to God. No, no. If your enemies are hungry feed them. If they are thirsty give them something to drink, don’t be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good.”
You know, this guy Paul has the habit of putting such profound truths into such a small number of words. Psychologists maybe have just figured out that God has known all along. That avenging yourself, getting revenge, something that we mostly do by living out an active resentment towards someone, you know the sort of thing. The silent treatment. We just ignore them. We just “Deal” with them. And we push them away. It’s not the answer. True forgiveness is laying down for good our right to punish someone. And that is really hard.
Whether it is being ignored by someone or whether it is something as big as sexual abuse, hurt, hurts. And when we are feeling hurt, when we are experiencing the pain of rejection or pain of abuse or something really little, all we really experience is that pain, right then and there.
And to forgive someone, to lay down our right to hurt them back. To ignore them back, to punish them back, my experience is that when I have done that, when I have made a real decision that this person who has just ignored me, I am not going to punish them. I am not going to hurt them back. When I’ve made those decisions in life, you know something, it has never felt good at the time.
It has never been a fun thing to do. You know, the cupboard doesn’t open and the orchestra starts playing when I forgive someone. For me it never feels like that.
And yet the paradox is that it is the only thing that really sets us free. But wait there is more… you see what Paul wrote there… he said, “Look don’t avenge yourselves, don’t try and punish people. That’s much better left to God, He is a much better judge of character, He is a much better judge of what is going to work and what is not going to work. No, no. If you have an enemy someone that is hurting you, if they are hungry feed them. If they are thirsty give them something to drink. Overcome their evil by blessing them.”
99.9% of people respond to being blessed. Maybe not straight away, but eventually they do. And when they do, a whole new world of relationship opens up for us. Not only do we feel better because we have been set free from the pain of what after all, they did wrong. But we have this relationship there to explore. People say, “Forgive and forget.” But what Paul is saying here, what I believe God is saying here is, there is a step in the middle… Forgive, it is a decision it is tough… But it is the only way to set us free. Then bless them.
And I reckon that is even harder. But it is the action that reinforces the decision in our hearts. Bless them, deliberately step out and support this person when someone is stabbing them behind their back.
And then forget. We never forget the thing that they did. What we end up forgetting by blessing them is the pain and the resentment, that we would carry round in our hearts like a cancer.