A few years ago, a close friend of mine was having a knee replacement done. Before the surgery, the doctor realized that an infection had already attacked the knee. Instead of proceeding with the surgery, the doctor sent the patient home with a pump to allow the infection to drain and to heal. He understood that closing the wound and pretending that nothing was wrong would lead to greater pain instead of healing.
This illustration shows what often happens to those who do not have a good grasp of what forgiveness entails. Those who are hurt deeply wish to be free from their injury. They want to deal with it, move on, and get past the pain. In their rush to get over it, they heal too fast and trap the anger, bitterness, and hurt inside before it can drain out. And just like our bodies, our souls can get infected. If we fail to properly treat our wounds, the anger, embarrassment, and hurt will fester into bitterness and despair.
Let’s be honest. Most of us misunderstand biblical forgiveness. We’re told we have to forgive. Forgiving one other is a direct command of Jesus. So we someone wounds us, we say, “I forgive you,” and then we try to move on as if nothing has happened. When the injury is slight and we are not badly damaged, this quick method is often successful.
But quick, superficial ignoring of the problem is not real forgiveness. That’s evasion. That kind of superficial response doesn’t heal the wound and does not help the one who committed the offense. To act as if nothing happened doesn’t mean nothing did happen. Something did happen, and now we must deal with it. Forgiveness means dealing honestly, but redemptively, to injury. So how do we do that?
We begin with ruthless honesty. We confess that someone’s actions or words hurt us. We don’t brush it off. We don’t ignore it. This is our pain. We own it.
Secondly, we release the person who hurt us fro the expectation they can fix what they did. They can’t. As an example, think of the possibility of saying something that is very hurtful to someone. After you say such things, you may feel sorry for what you did. You may even wish you hadn’t said it or wish that you could take it back. Yet no matter what you do, that person you said hurtful things to will have to deal with what you’ve said. It’s now their pain and they will have to deal with it.
And we deal with our pain in prayer. This is not the simple peaceful prayer we say as we lay down to sleep or sit at the dinner table. These are prayers that are raw in their honesty. We tell the Lord we are hurt, we are angry, and when we open ourselves us to God, then he will heal us. Only Jesus can release the bitterness and anger in our wounded souls so they do not fester into a life threatening infection.
Of course this takes time. Forgiveness isn’t easy nor is it fast. Be very careful when someone tells you they’ve forgiven someone without being able to talk about the deep soul work that requires true forgiveness. When we forgive, we always learn something about ourselves. We find out truly what is important to ourselves as we ask question such as “What was at stake for me? What was threatened? Why did that remark hurt like it did?”
Jesus uses these times to expose our true selves. We find the things that perhaps we treasured more than God, and as we are healed we see the little idols that we’ve set up in the Lord’s place. What idols may these be? Well our own egos perhaps, false impressions of ourselves for one another, maybe our job or our family or our things. Our Savior is merciful and good. He uses the things that were meant to harm us for our good.
When you are hurt deeply, don’t rush through the process of forgiveness. But in prayer trust Jesus to do his work. Remember Jesus is working in your life and in the life of the person who hurt you. That’s why we love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Jesus is healing us, replacing our pain with his love, and in doing so, loving the person who hurt us through us.