This is part three in a blog series on the topic of Forgiveness. In the last post I described the first of three steps I recommend to people looking for a helpful, practical tool to help them with the art of Forgiveness. That step was GIVING UP. The words themselves are a little deceptive, so if you haven’t read that one yet…be sure to go back to the last post to get caught up and understand the context. It is really about giving up the right to be angry… for the sake of the relationship.
As I mentioned in my last two blogs, this 3-Step tool on forgivness, a helpful memory device, comes from a book titled, “As For Me and My House” written by Walter Wangerin, Jr.. It’s a book that Jana and I were given for our wedding that we used a LOT in the first two years we were together, and we have relied on ever since. I often use the material in pre-marriage counseling.. and I highly recommend that EVERY couple get a copy and read it together.
The principles that Wangerin Jr. describes in this book, however, are completely applicable to any relationship … not just marriage…. and you can start using them TODAY… in any relationship that needs some honest, straight-forward communication and repair work.
So…. that all being said…. what is the second step? Here it is…
2. GIVING NOTICE
I think, in many ways, this is the hardest step. It is directly related to the first one.. giving up the right to be angry. In this second step you are also giving something up… you are, in a sense, giving up your pride by admitting.. and being honest.. about the fact that you have been hurt. Both these “givings-up” are hard to do.. because they make us extremely vulnerable.. and let’s face it.. we have already been hurt going into this thing…. now we offer up the potential of being hurt again by being honest about the ways in which we have been hurt.
Perhaps this is why we struggle with this step so much. We are afraid, perhaps, that the other person will not listen to us.. will not accept the fact that they have indeed hurt us… or maybe they will just laugh at the notion and push it all back on us.. and we will be hurt again.
And, the hard part here is that any of those scenarios may indeed come true. And yet, the person doing the forgiving is still committed to taking this step because they realize it is ONLY by being honest about the specifics of the hurt that they will be able to truly forgive the other person… and do so for SPECIFIC hurts and offenses. It is also the only way we can truly “let go and forgive”. We need to first name the sin.. the hurt.. the pain… and explain why and how it hurt so badly, in order to be able to leave it at the doorstep of this conversation and move on with one’s life. WIthout naming it, it WILL come back to haunt us. Guaranteed.
Now, I have heard people say that in the process of forgiveness we do not need to be so specific. We don’t need to name the specific offense, hurt and/or woundedness. One analogy sometimes used is to say, “We are going to move forward looking straight ahead…. not looking in the review-mirror at what is behind us.” (They will even misquote certain Bible verses to do so.)
The problem with that approach, of course, is that it ignores the baseline issues that created the problems in the first place. As Wangering puts it, “It may seem saintly for the wounded party to suffer his pain in silence, and it is surely easier to KEEP that silence than risk opening wounds; but it does not good for the marriage (or other relationship), and it encourages no change in the sinner. He, the one who was sinned against, must speak. Giving notice means that he or she will reveal to his/her spouse, as clearly as he can, what they have done.”
Wangerin goes on to emphasize that the purpose of “giving notice” is NOT to accuse. Rather, it is to impart information. And this should be done without acting out the hurt of pain… and with as little emotional backlash as possible. You are doing your best to inform, not to return the wound. So, with love.. NOT bitterness.. to the best of your ability… (some bitterness is going to be there, most likely.. but to the best of your ability…) you explain both the other person’s act that caused the pain.. AND you explain the consequences of that action.. remembering always that this communication is for the offending party’s sake.. for their understanding… so that they can LEARN from this.. and NOT REPEAT the same behavior again. Unless you tell them the specifics, they cannot learn from their mistakes.. and cannot change the behavior. Instead of being “nice” to them.. by simply saying, “No big deal. Let’s move on. Let’s forgive and forget”… you are instead being very specific.. so that both YOU and THEY will not be hurt in these same ways again.
To be clear… this is a sacrificial act on your part. As with step one, this involves a bit of a death to self on your part.. in order for the “new life” (that comes with a restored relationship) to be received and experienced. But again, in the Bible and in life.. a death to self.. usually means that a path to things better is soon to unfold.
SO.. to review.. the first two steps in healthy forgiveness are…
1. GIVING UP (the right to be angry)
2. GIVING NOTICE (of the specific offense)
You are now two-thirds of the way there. In the next blog, we will bring it all home with step #3… GIVING GIFTS… the (true) Gift of Forgiveness.