I have had the “honor” of walking with many women in the long days and months after betrayal has been discovered in their marriages. As I work through the healing process with them, I have to bring up the word forgiveness because it’s part of the process. More often than not, I watch these women tense up, as if I expect them to offer forgiveness to their betrayer immediately. Please here this – I believe that forgiveness is absolutely necessary to complete healing, but it’s a process and will take time. This process is hard and lengthy and complicated, otherwise it wouldn’t be called a process. When we are too quick to forgive, we shortchange God the plan he had in the waiting time.
In counseling these women, when I hear that someone has been seemingly too quick to forgive her betrayer, sometimes as quickly as she discovered the betrayal, I am usually very leery. The scriptures are very clear that we must forgive and I fully support that. However, the human element of forgiveness has to be factored into the healing process. Having gone thru this process myself, I have experienced quite a bit of very beneficial growth as I have journeyed through the forgiveness process, and it takes time.
It’s only natural for us to wrestle with a natural tension towards the betrayer. This is true whether the betrayal has happened to us or if we are the one guilty of betraying others.
The fact remains, we have to learn how to deal with the hurts and consequences of betrayal before we can begin to heal.
The natural tension and subsequent pain are opportunities for us to exercise the muscles of patience and other fruits of the spirit that bring about beauty, especially during times when we may not “feel” like it.
The process of forgiveness keeps us running to our Heavenly Father, the one who reminds us who we are in the midst of our heartache, and who we can trust to complete what He started in us. When we offer forgiveness too quickly without walking thru the full range of emotions, we can short-circuit the journey that God is working in us and through us as we work to forgive. For example, if I hurt someone and they are quick to forgive me, it can feel like I got a free pass. Maybe I needed that time to think about what I had done, about how my decision impacted a loved one, and about how I needed to reach true repentance. Forgiving too quickly has the potential to make us feel like someone is trying to sweep the situation under the rug, instead of taking the necessary steps to dig deeper and give the gift of forgiveness to the person who wronged us.
In my experience, forgiveness that brings true healing and freedom is a three-step process: 1) accept it, 2) let go, and 3) surrender and allow God to work.
First, you have to accept what has happened. This acknowledgement takes time and depends heavily on having safe, Christ-minded friends and support in place. Our friends can help sift through the messiness with us, flush out the reality of our negative emotions, and re-orient us to the gospel so that we can move through our emotions.
Second, let go of what has happened. This release can be difficult because often it occurs by taking one step forward and three steps back. Letting go instead of hanging on and obsessing over the lies and hurts caused by another person is absolutely necessary before we can move on to the final step.
Finally, surrender to human nature and allow God to do something supernatural in and through us. Time and time again I have been amazed by what God can and will do in us as we let go and surrender to Him through the process of forgiveness. As I am reminded in Luke 12:48, “to whom much is given, much will be required,” forgiveness is a gift of freedom we give to ourselves and to others. In the process of true spiritual forgiveness we not only are able to share Christ with others, but also we can show what Christ has done through us as we live the example of a Christ-centered life.
Only when we allow ourselves to experience the full cycle of hurt and forgiveness can we experience true restorative healing. A healing that will last when we walk in faith alongside the Lord and cry out for His hand to be a part of the process.