3 Levels of Forgiveness: Understanding What Forgiveness Is and What it is Not



Why should we forgive? What purpose does it serve us or the person that hurt us? This is a hot button topic that everyone has dealt with at some time. It’s important for us to realize what forgiveness looks like and what it isn’t. It is also hard for us to understand where God is in the process? If we are good Christians we feel that we should be excused from pain and harm. The fact is that evil lurks all around us and even good people make mistakes.
I grew up with a father that cared very much about me, but had a very different way to show it. As I got older I realized that he must have a bit of a narcissistic personality disorder. We were made to do everything his way. If I was upset or sad and he didn’t think that was an acceptable emotion at that time, I had to stop. I had to be happy. If I didn’t choose to change my emotions with his, there was a price to pay. I learned very quickly to suppress my true feelings and put a smile on. My life was pretty much planned out for me since I was a zygote. If there was any deviation from what he wanted me to do, there was no support. I have done many things in my forty years to make him happy completely disregarding what I really want and need. I never realized how much suppressing my feelings for so many years affected me until my husband and I ended up in marriage counseling two years ago. I quickly realized from hearing my husband’s point of view, that I was in fact my dad!! I was trying to do to him exactly what was done to me. I was finally able to express my feelings and emotions freely and it turns out they were anger! I was mad all the time. I took everything out on everyone I loved and got mad when they were upset with me. I expected everyone to just forgive and move on after I had had an outburst. Talk about a reality check. I had become what I had always despised. I was doing the same thing to my children that had been done to me. Once I felt the anger, I wanted to blame. After much soul searching and prayer I came to the conclusion that forgiveness was the ultimate escape. My earthly doesn’t have to be perfect, because my heavenly father is.

Bev Hislop wrote a book called “Shepherding Women in Pain”. This book has really helped me help myself and others with forgiveness. I am going to share with you some key points from it:

–Forgiveness is Not undermining what you are feeling or making excuses for the abuser.
–Forgiveness is Not saying, it is no big deal. The offense committed needs to be addressed and dealt with.
–Forgiveness is Not saying, it will be as it was before. The person offended will never be the same or feel the same again.
–Forgiveness is Not saying, I will never have to think about this again. It is not forgetting, it is releasing the debt.
–Forgiveness is Not saying, welcome back to every area of my life. Forgiveness is not to be confused with reconciliation. Reconciliation is about restoring a relationship. Forgiveness is releasing the debt, not the debtor.
–Forgiveness is Not saying, well that takes care of that. The impact both negative and positive will linger on.
–Forgiveness is Not saying, I can do it by myself. Most offenses were committed in a relationship, so the healing will occur in a relationship as well. Even if it is not with the same person. We need help to get through the process from a friend or understanding loved one.

Now that you know what it’s not, let’s focus on what it is and how to heal. We first need to realize that we are not immune from harm. We don’t understand God’s plan for us, but we need to trust in the process. We are not able to see the bigger picture, and that is where faith comes in. God will turn anything that has happened to us and spin it for our good. Once we start thinking this way and not, woe is me, we can really begin to trust God to get the healing process started. Most times we will find that we are stronger and smarter than before.

According to Hislop there are Three Levels of Forgiveness:
1) Cognitive. We have to make a conscious choice to forgive. We may not feel it in our hearts or feel any compassion at all, but we need to make the decision to forgive.

2) Emotional. This is a long process. It is coming to terms with what happened to you, and realizing that you could get hurt again. It is accepting that you are not immune, and you have a choice to heal. This is where you really count your losses and figure out how it has affected you.

3) Spiritual. This is the level that you ask the Lord to come into your heart and help you. This is where you really see the person as someone that is in deep need of spiritual help just like yourself. This is tough. It is seeing the perpetrator as Jesus would. Try to understand the weaknesses and struggles of the perpetrator.

Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling, and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ God forgave you”.

Once I really began diving into this process I learned a lot about myself. I remembered other situations that have hurt me with other people, and realized that I had never really moved on from them. It really helped me to see my dad as a person and a child of God. It took the shame off of me and put the blame where it needed to be. It allowed me to release it and move on!! Once this was dealt with I have been a new person in my marriage. I am me! A skin it took me a long time to get to know and be comfortable in. Now I feel like I can have a healthy adult relationship with my father with boundaries. I know what I will tolerate and what I will not. It is a long process, but I hope that if any of you are in need of beginning it, that you will. Not for who hurt you, but for you!! Love and Blessings!!

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