The destructive behavior of malicious offenders can splinter our world and leave painful scars that erode our capacity to trust. An abusive ex-husband, a vindictive co-worker who spreads lies, a relative that molested you; they often go on with life, seemingly without an ounce of remorse or any interest in seeking our forgiveness. We try to move on, but we find ourselves drawn back in. Hearing the name of our offender stirs up a storm of emotions. With each memory we relive the pain, and with every moment of grief, the wound reopens. Those who wounded us deeply may never recognize, nor care, about the pain they caused. We feel alone as we bear the weight of the injury. So how do we move on with life when our offender remains unrepentant?
Healing begins when we acknowledge our pain and the way that it has impacted us. When we ignore our wounds they don’t find healing. If we let past wounds go unaddressed, they have a way of resurfacing to poison current relationships. Fixating on our wounds may cause us to exaggerate the injury, so, look carefully at your wounds and make a genuine account of your pain. An honest acknowledgment of the injury starts us on a path to healing—even if that healing is only for ourselves. We must accept that our relationship with our offender may never find restoration.
This may sound obvious, but it needs to be said. Sometimes we get comfortable living with our anger and we stop seeking healing. We don’t want to forgive because we know that we were in the right and their behavior was awful--we believe we deserve vindication. The sin committed against us seems so offensive that to forgive our offender seems to deny the hurt that we experienced. The truth is that the pain is real and that our offender may not deserve to be forgiven, but we won’t find peace until we follow God’s lead. God forgave all of us while we were yet sinners and not because we deserved it. We must make a conscious choice to set aside our anger. Our pain is real, but in light of God’s love, no one owes us anything. We can’t wallow in the pain and expect to find peace; the two are not compatible. We must release anger to enjoy the blessings that God can bring out of difficult situations.
Forgiving in these difficult situations has little to do with the other person. Instead, and it has everything to do with finding personal healing. Forgiving offenders frees us from imprisonment to anger and addiction to our right to be right. In fact, the other person may never want or merit our forgiveness, but we do it anyway, because it is not for their sake that we forgive. Choose healing even if you are the only one in the situation who gets well. You were not made to be a slave to anger. Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Find freedom for yourself by turning your anger over to God.
Sometimes we simply do not have the option of reconciling with those who have hurt us. Maybe those who caused us pain are deceased or are no longer part of our lives. We may try to “move on with our lives,” but still struggle to find a way forward when forgiveness and restoration haven’t come to pass. In these situations, we must pursue closure even when it does not come naturally. Journaling, letter writing, and prayer can be extremely helpful as outlets for pain that can never be communicated to or received by our offender. As we pour out our hearts to God, his Spirit can fill us with peace and bring supernatural restoration.
We might be forced to interact regularly with those who have hurt us and yet refuse to claim ownership for their behavior. It is tempting to continue living in anger toward that person, but doing so will only hurt us more. Co-parenting with a person whose behavior is toxic or enduring tense family gatherings are challenging situations. But we seek ways to release our anger constructively and exhibit grace toward our offender. It takes a lot of maturity to recognize that our offender is a broken individual who hurts others out of weakness, and to refuse to get drawn into their drama. Practicing grace toward our offender is not easy, but God’s grace is sufficient to get us through even the most difficult situations. The key is to remember how God sees them--broken, small, and in need of a savior.
Forgiveness should not always lead to reconciliation. Some people’s behavior is so destructive that we cannot allow them back into our world. An unrepentant abuser should not get additional chances to harm us or our family. In these cases, relationships may need to be severed, or at the least, strong boundaries must be established. Forgiving an abuser offers us the chance to let go of our anger, but it does not mean that we should make ourselves vulnerable to further abuse. We all bear the image of God and as his children we take care not to let God’s image be tarnished. Show love where you can, but set limits around bad behavior to protect you and your family.
We can become too immersed in the situation at times to find our own way out. The pain done to us may feel unforgivable, but know that no brokenness is beyond God’s capacity to bring healing. What feels impossible to us is not outside of God’s ability. Sometimes the pain is so deep that we need help to release it and a trained pastor or counselor can help guide us on our journey to healing. We don’t have to be stronger or tougher. Sometimes all we need to do is ask for help. Trust that God can handle the situation. Pursue wise counsel and leave things in God’s capable hands.
Deep wounds don’t heal in a day. Turning our pain over to God and releasing our right to be right may need repetition. It is not time that heals wounds, but God’s working overtime that gains us perspective. If we won’t allow God to be in charge of justice and trust him with the weight of our anger, we may continue to linger in bitterness years down the road. It can seem discouraging to keep turning over the same burdens to God day after day, only to find them back on your shoulders. But take heart and know that you are developing a healthy routine—creating muscle memory for trusting God. It develops with time spent focused in the right direction.
Forgiving the villains in my life is never easy, but I am never alone. God walks with us through every heartache in our lives. Jesus knows the pain of betrayal and abuse, he understands our grief. But God desires more for us than a life enslaved to anger. Titus 3:3 tells us, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” We were stuck in that anger until “the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared.” In God’s grace, we find the capacity to extend grace. In our Savior’s love we can release even the deepest of anger and rediscover peace and joy.
Looking for a resource about forgiveness? Check out our new ebook, The Power of Forgiveness: A Guide to Healing. It's free when you subscribe to Family Fire.