Encouraging Thoughts on Forgiveness and Grief

Back in September I published a post called “Here’s an abuse survivor’s plea about nouthetic ‘Biblical’ counseling.” You can see it here.

In that post, the anonymous writer gave some astute words about the demand for forgiveness that’s so common in nouthetic/”admonishing” counseling. She said she was told she needed to forgive the childhood sexual abuse perpetrated on her before she even understood what it was she was forgiving.  

The Lord tells us we should forgive, yes. But in cases of great betrayal, it takes time even to understand what it was that has occurred.

One reader wrote to me about how her perspective is changing in this regard. I hoped you would be encouraged by her words, which she gave me permission to post.

In the past when my children fought, I considered the child who responded wrongly just as responsible as the child who instigated the argument.  

Not that our responses should be dictated by our circumstances, and it depends on what the child did in retaliation, but I see now where I needed to really acknowledge that a wrong was done to them.

Honestly when dealing with them that way it gave me anxiety, as I felt pressure to control them in a way.  As if somehow I was responsible to make them forgive.

But I am seeing how important it is to acknowledge the pain.

The other day at school a little girl was crying, so I asked her if everything was ok.  She told me some kids were mean to her and then said she could never ever forgive them.  

In the past, this would have caused me anxiety, as I would have felt like I needed to stress her responsibility to forgive.

But this time was different. I just told her how sorry I was and empathized in her pain.  No stress.  I felt peace in just those few words.

I knew that she was still grieving her hurt and needed time and that the Holy Spirit will do His work in His time.

Is forgiveness important? Yes, it’s stressed over and over in the Scriptures that we as the people of God are to have a stance of open-handedness in being willing to release the debt owed to us by others, even those who have treated us the most cruelly, as our Savior did for us.

Even in reporting criminals to the authorities, we can know that this punishment won’t somehow pay back the debt the evildoer has owes us, but that instead, a good government will punish evildoers because society needs to be kept safe.

But the Scriptures also show grief in the people of God and emphasize the compassion that we as the people of God must have for each other.

As that little girl is fully heard when describing the wrongdoing that was committed against her, as she sees justice being done, as she is accompanied through appropriate grief, as safe people show her compassion, and as she sees Jesus Christ as the God of compassion, she will be able to forgive. She will be able to open her hands to release that debt.

But we dare not truncate grief by insisting on quick once-and-done forgiveness. Life is more complicated than that, and more messy. And our God is big enough for the complicated and the messy. He is faithful even in that.

Yes, we need to forgive. But don’t be afraid of grief. Don’t be afraid to show compassion when others around you are grieving.

This, friends, is part of the Christian life, being the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, who loved you and gave Himself for you.


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4 years ago

This. I wish I had known this when I first began to process and deal with what had happened to me growing up. Having to forgive the abuser (while of course “letting things go” and not pursuing legal action because of “not tarnishing God’s good name”) was a concept pounded into my head over and over while in church or college, because after all my sins like my eating disorder or anger were “just as bad in God’s eyes” as the sins of the person who repeatedly abused me growing up and the others who have sexually abused and harassed me. Intellectually I understand the need to forgive, and have, I guess, in some ways forgiven my abusers, but there are still many days where the anger and hurt towards my abusers are very real and strong. I know that I will get there one day, where there won’t as much anger and negative feelings towards my abusers, and where I will possibly consistently handle things better than I am now. I just wish that those on the outside watching those of us who have been abused would act like they are more concerned with the behavior and choices of the abusers than policing how the abused respond and deal with things.

4 years ago

As a survivor of covert psychological abuse by my x, I was repeatedly told I was “in bitterness” and that I needed to forgive. And that was during the early months of our separation when I was still trying to figure out what my ex had done to me. It was extraordinarily painful and confusing since I was always the person to first look at myself and my sin.

6 years later I am fully healed and coaching/mentoring many others who are coming out of abuse. Rarely do I bring up forgiveness- it is a long road to regain clarity and sanity and that road is paved with compassion and understanding, helping them regain self-trust, lots and lots of righteous anger and grief, and tons of love and grace and listening. I am fully confident that the Lord will bring survivors to the place of forgiveness when it is the right time. I am never in a hurry for them to get there. No survivor needs to be bludgeoned with rules, ever.

Rebecca, thanks for your safe and loving posts.

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