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The Pain of Being Forgiven

Dr. Johnston has researched and written about forgiveness for a decade.


Being the offender

"You hurt me, and I'm never getting over it!" Have you ever uttered those words? Have you ever thought those words? Most of us have thought and felt as though we would never get over the offenses we have suffered at the hands of a loved one, a trusted friend, or even a stranger. In this world we live in, it is impossible, yes, impossible, not to bump up against another human being. More and more people are becoming aware of being offended or hurt by others whether it is someone else's behavior, thoughts, or emotions. This increase in emotional sensitivity is not necessarily emotional intelligence. Conflict is part of daily living that causes us to feel real. Yet, we don't see it that way. The greater share of Americans look for reasons to be hurt or offended. I would say we are becoming thin-skinned. If that offends you, then you have proved my point! It's not difficult to find a reason to be moody or self-righteous.

But, what I want to discuss is not the little things that bother us more than they should. I want to discuss the offenses which are of a more serious nature. This is not about cutting someone off in traffic. It is about cutting someone off in traffic because you are in a bad mood from someone upsetting you, and you pay it forward by placing someone else's life in danger on purpose. Don't say, "No." We've all had those days and have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so to speak.

Of course, there are the times when we really hurt someone, but it is purely unintentional. It could be done out of thoughtlessness. It might occur due to distractions of issues that take our attention away from the present moment. We might cross a line with another person without even knowing that we are violating an unspoken rule, a cultural boundary, or by sheer accident.

How much knowledge does it take to hurt someone? Actually, very little! It might also involve intimate knowledge of a person or situation to reach out and cause injury. Is the injury just as painful? It might be for the injured party. Whether we realize it or not, we are culpable more often than we would like to admit. I'm not advocating that we spend our days looking for every mistake we may make, as I mentioned above. It's about being sensitive enough to understand that there are times when we are the offender not the offended. Ouch! That hurts.

Habitually, it is easier to go about living as though we never hurt others. It is easier, for that matter, to be hurt and offended, demanding forgiveness rather than apologizing when we've hurt someone else. I have a bone to pick with the modern Christian church about that. Pastors preach forgiveness, but how often do they gently preach about searching ourselves, and admitting that we may need to apologize more often than we do? It is not that difficult in minor everyday matters to simply say, "I apologize for not asking your opinion before I made this decision." Or, "I apologize for my behavior. It was not like me to do that."


Painful Admission

in Have you ever wondered why someone who has hurt you gets mad at you? Think about an embarrassing time when you hurt another person, but were too prideful to admit it or take the responsibility for it. Wow! That hits home, doesn't it? The best example I can make is the public shaming. I'm certain we have all been out with our intimate partner (spouse, fiancée, date), when one person in the dyad makes a comment that is out of line or just poor taste which is noticed by others in the vicinity. In a certain number of cases, the person making the inappropriate remark will then try to cover her/his mistake by either ignoring the insult or taking a stance that the whole thing was the fault of the other person. This can lead to blame and arguments later in private.

It hurts to be in the wrong by crossing the moral boundary line or violating the moral code. It's embarrassing, shaming, and makes us feel guilty. To assuage our guilt we focus on the object of the offense as the cause of the offense. Blame the victim is a social psychological phenomenon that can have many different names. As a former marriage therapist I often heard, "Yes, but she made me do it!" Or, "He is overly sensitive." The phrase is used by the average person all the way up the scale to the psychopathic person. It hurts to be in the wrong, and get caught.

It hurts us when we are not caught out, but still bear the weight of a conscience that subconsciously or consciously keeps score. If we do not apologize, we end up feeling as terrible as if we have not forgiven our own offenders. It is an innate human trait; the need to seek forgiveness.

A number of decades ago I had two miniature dachshunds. They were boisterous and feisty. They lived their happy lives oblivious to any wrongdoing. When reprimanded they often refused to take responsibility even after years of appropriate training. The male was particularly spoiled, although I'm not sure why. He was persistent in getting his needs and desires met. When he committed a transgression I all I had to do was look at him and say, "What did you do?" He would then go lie in his bed, his eyes looking up at me, his eyebrows moving back-and-forth with his gaze. His brows would be knit together in an expression of emotional pain. After a little while I would ask him, "Are you sorry?" The creature had no sense of my words, but he would understand the tone of my voice and process of repenting. He would leap out of his bed, put his head down as though contrite, his tail low, yet wagging with contained excitement, and walk toward me. I would crouch down so that he could stand up, paws on my knees, and look me in the face. He would be so happy to be forgiven! His tail would wag wildly, he often would lick my face, and he would then go on with this happy little life. If an animal can understand the need to be forgiven on a certain level, then we humans certainly can as well.

It hurts to need to be forgiven. Perhaps that is due to the fact that we often hesitate or outright refuse to forgive others. When the shoe is on the other foot, we understand how precious our freedom to forgive and be forgiven really is.