At a seminar we attended recently on trauma healing, one of the topics we addressed was forgiveness. Participants in the seminar came from 6 continents (all but Antartica!), with exposure to a rich diversity of cultures and experiences. Different voices in the room contributed suggestions as to what forgiveness is, or is not. For example, forgiveness IS:
- a choice; an act of the will
- An ongoing process – sometimes it requires repeating
- Acknowledging the wrong that was done
- Not holding the wrong against the person who did it, but rather hoping for their good!
And forgiveness is NOT:
- Saying the right words
- Brushing it off (e.g. “it was nothing, don’t worry about it.”)
- Forgetting (we can forgive some things that are impossible to forget)
- Without Consequence
- Necessarily reconciliation or restored trust
Sharing the results of our small group discussion about the impact of trauma
We looked together at several Bible passages that discuss forgiveness, and the rich discusssion through our diverse cultural lenses converged on recognizing our natural resistence to forgiveness. When something bad happens to us or we are hurt, we not only have that pain to deal with, but often also resentment, anger, guilt, and bitterness. We look to God for the gift of being able to forgive (Matt. 6: 14-15), and choosing to forgive thwarts Satan’s plans to divide and corrupt us (2 Cor. 2: 10-11). One participant from India shared the quote “unforgiveness is a poisonous pill that we take hoping the other person will die.” Think about that – amazing how twisted our thinking can become and the negative impacts that we inflict on ourselves when we are not able to be free of unforgiveness.
Bob and another participant (face blurred to protect identity) demonstrate how hard
life can be when we are ‘tied’ to another person through unforgiveness
Just a few days after the seminar, I experienced the ‘poison’ that unforgiveness can be. We were travelling in the car, tired and getting on each others nerves. Bob said something that struck me wrong, and I retreated into silence and hurt, an angry and defensive argument raging in my head. While I prayed and deliberated how to share with Bob how I was feeling, the frustration and hurt continued to stew. Bob opted to take a nap while I drove, and normally when that happens my introverted self is more than happy to be quiet with my own thoughts. But this time I could not be at peace, and found the hurt and frustration to be rather unpleasant company. After Bob woke up, I finally pulled over, shared how I was feeling, and we apologized and forgave each other. The words “I forgive you” are not magic, but they symbolize that concious choice to release the hard feelings, the responsibility we place on the other person for our hurt and pain…and the emotional release is significant. I am grateful that in this example that I only struggled with that pain for a matter of minutes, and not days or years, as some people have to do!
We are excited to see how God has been using the healing and reconciliation seminars in Congo. We are hopeful that this seminar we attended on trauma healing will deepen the ways that we can engage with people in those seminars and also broaden how we can minister to people who have experienced trauma. Specifically, we hope that the caretakers in the Ditkemena (Hope) program for street children could be equipped further in how they minister to children who have all gone through painful experiences of abuse or rejection. Pray with us for wisdom and the right opportunities as we return to Congo in January.