Forgiveness, Part IV
When You Still Can't Forgive
"Forgive my hidden faults."1
Perhaps you or someone you know has gone through all the "forgiveness steps" we have written about over the past few days but still can't find it in their heart to forgive someone who has hurt them deeply.
One reason for this is when we are overreacting. We do this when what someone has done to us triggers anger and hurt from past events that have never been resolved. Because of this, it is very difficult (if not impossible) to forgive someone for something that happened in the present when we haven't forgiven someone else for what happened in the past.
For example, while this is perhaps an extreme case, James Townsend tells about Mildred McWhorter who "has worked for nearly thirty years with troubled families at a mission center surrounded by dilapidated houses in north Houston, Texas. She is known as 'Miss Mac' to folks in the area.
"Once she spotted eight-year-old Gilbert walking with his hands over his head. When asked why he was doing that, Gilbert replied, "I can't tell you. My mama did it."
"She found that large sections of skin under each arm had been rubbed away and blood was running down Gilbert's side. Eventually Miss Mac learned that Gilbert's mother had put a burlap sack over his head and arms. She had tied his arms over a clothesline where he hung for hours. If Gilbert cried, his mother would beat him with a broom or pull his hair out. She did this because Gilbert reminded her of her father.
"Miss Mac spent months working with this troubled family, which contained nine children. When family hurts and resentments go unresolved—as they apparently had between Gilbert's mother and her father—they can be passed on to hurt the next generation.2
In working with hundreds of divorcees in recent years, I have observed that only a small percentage is willing to be ruthlessly honest with themselves to see and admit what they contributed to their failed marriage. Most want to blame their spouse entirely for the breakup. They simply don't see or even want to see how much their over-reaction caused by unresolved relationships (especially with one or both of their parents) was a major contributing factor (or even the primary cause) of their failed relationships.
It is no wonder that the Bible "hammers home" the tremendous importance to forgive everybody who has ever hurt us—whether it was yesterday or on day one of our life. This is not an over-statement, for a child who was rejected from birth or hurt in childhood has deep pain that needs to be confronted and resolved through to forgiveness in order to fully live as an adult. It is a fact of life that hurt people hurt people. Thus every hurt needs to be healed and every "hurter" needs to be forgiven—not so much for their sake, but for the hurt one's sake and that of their loved one.
End of series ... remember forgiveness is a process, not a "quickie" event! It takes time to work through and resolve all these issues we have discussed over the past few days.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to see if any feelings of hurt and anger I have are overreactions to past unresolved conflicts and, if so, please lead me to the help I need to resolve these issues. And then, please help me to forgive any and all who have ever hurt me. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. Psalm 19:12 (NIV).
2. James Townsend, Peloubet's Sunday School Notes 1993-1994, Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1990).