A second thing that makes forgiveness difficult for us in the West is that many parts of our culture emphasize stoicism. We bury our feelings, especially our negative feelings. Or we allow them to “turn us to the Dark Side,” using them to motivate us by feeding anger and fear. Neither of these responses is healthy.
The Bible gives us a good model of how to handle being hurt, how to handle injuries to the psyche: lament, one of the backbones of the book of Psalms. More than 1/3 of the psalms are laments.
Lament psalms are prayers/songs where people cry out to God. “I have been hurt!”, they wail, in dramatic language, to an extent that honestly feels overwrought and overdramatic to our stoic ears.
My friends have risen up with knives to cut me to pieces!
The person I shared everything with,
from whom I held back no good thing,
has betrayed me!
The language is dramatic and extreme for a reason: it’s attempting to capture how the emotional injuries feel.
The psalmists are not trying to capture what actually happened in a dry, factual report. They’re trying to describe the damage they feel, not the event that caused it.
And by doing lament in this way, by exploring the nooks and crannies of pain, they find healing. Everything gets poured out to God. Nothing is left to be uncovered later when a triggering event occurs.
What does this mean for OUR practice of forgiveness?
1. It means that, when we are hurt, our prayer lives need to dwell on our hurts and disappointments. Just do it for the right reason, with the right result.
Don’t don’t dwell on the hurts so that you can pray down curses on people who have hurt you. Don’t do it to stoke the fires of anger and hate that will motivate you to move down a dark path.
Do it so that you can fully uncover the contours of the injury and expose them to God, give them to God, so that he can heal and transform.
There’s this great line in Ephesians 5.13: “Everything that is exposed to the light becomes illuminated (revealed), and everything that is illuminated becomes light.”
There is a principle there for our prayer lives; turn it all over to God, give it all to him, in the richest and most heart-felt language you can manage, so that he can turn it all into light.
2. It means that forgiveness is a process, and it takes work.
When someone hurts you, especially if the hurt is deep, YOU will have to work through the layers of hurt before you can forgive. It’s like a surgeon removing a tumor; you need to prayerfully excavate the whole thing before you can heal.