By Scott Hendrickson, LCPC

Many times forgiveness seems like a burden we bear…and quite painfully. The fact that Jesus said we have to forgive might even seem to add more heaviness to this burden than anything that is supposed to be righteous. When you have been deceived, cheated on, taken advantage of, violated or other, forgiving might appear more of an act of enabling our perpetrator than anything else. Wounds capture our hearts.

When we are hurt, the wound sits in our minds capturing our hearts and focus. We become more alert in order to protect ourselves and make sure this doesn’t happen to us again. What’s the old adage: ‘fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me?’ I know that when a spouse (husband or wife) has been cheated on, they often feel like a fool—it hurts and it begins to dominate their thoughts. It can even become an obsession.

This obsession can turn into a spiraling cycle that in the end holds one captive to the wounds. At first the thoughts fixate on the offense. When did it happen? How did it happen? Where, what and with whom? Time, money and motives become a focus of investigation and then the interrogation happens with your offender. You want to somehow know all and have him/her tell all so you can keep yourself from being the fool once again—from being hurt once again.

It is exceedingly difficult to stop this obsession however, because there will never be a good explanation as to why it happened. For some reason our motives to obsess always come back to the why question and no answer will ever fully explain away someone’s cheating or lying ways. This is where the spiral deepens because then you look at yourself and conclude that you must have some deep flaws that caused your loved one to hurt you so deeply. Why else would this happen? Guilt and shame then start to take over the cycle and it hurts more than ever. The problem is that we often circle back into the same pattern—you hurt me bad, I’m gonna investigate, interrogate, it still doesn’t make sense therefore something must be wrong with me, maybe I deserved this, this hurts, I’m going to protect myself, etc.

I call this a fear/hurt/defensive mode. The Bible says to ‘guard your heart…’ and this is our futile attempt to protect what is most important to us—our heart. At this point, we are held hostage not by the original offense but by our struggle to protect ourselves. Can I ask you to do an exercise? Identify two-three times you remember being hurt and rank them on a piece of paper with the most hurtful as number one. Now list all of the places you found yourself thinking about your number one ranked hurt throughout the day and night.

For most (yes, you are not alone), after a major offense like a betrayal or violation, the answers are everywhere: driving to work, at work, at lunch, in meetings, the store (all stores), at church, with the neighbor, every room in your house and more. If you added up the total amount of time thinking about it, we are talking day and night, 23 of 24 hours a day for weeks and months. Your woundedness has captured you most powerfully!

Why does it hurt so much? Why does it dominate our focus so much? The answer is that relationship is a part of who we are and what we do. The Holy Bible says in the very first book, Genesis, that we were made with His image. My Bible says it this way, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.’ The Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, said let ‘us’. It is really important to notice that God, in three Persons, has Relationship as a major part of His essence. He is Relationship and he put that likeness in us. So it makes sense that when we are injured in a relationship that we hurt to our very essence—our core.

If you read through scripture and see the relationship between God and mankind, you will see that no one knows being rejected, abandoned, cheated on, lied to or violated more than God (See Jesus, Judas and Peter in Matthew 26). Jesus, the Son of God, identifies deeply with our relationship hurts. If you read through the Old Testament book of Hosea, you can see God’s deep, emotional (and angry) expression of His hurt. At one point through the prophet’s writings, God says, ‘your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears.’ Yes, I think God understands perfectly!

This is important because it is this perfect identification with how we have been hurt in our relationships that give God infinite authority and credibility to speak to us. Jesus said to forgive not with a simplistic ‘do as I say not as I do’ (as my father used to tell me) but with an ‘I’ve been there too!’

Remember that verse I quoted you earlier, ‘guard your heart’? Forgiveness is one of the ways we are able to guard our hearts. Jesus said he came to ‘set the captives free’. Instead of perpetuating a fear/hurt/defensive model in your life where your heart becomes isolated and darkened, forgive and be set free. Guard your heart through forgiveness not by avoiding forgiveness.

I have a few more things to say about forgiveness—like how to do it, how to help others, and other hopefully encouraging things in my next few articles. Join me?