Forgiveness – Part 4

Before we examine reconciliation, let’s talk about something called “decision based forgiveness.” Baskin and Enright wrote about it in a scholarly article published in 2004 in the Journal of Counseling and Development.

If a person waits until he or she feels like forgiving, or until the hurt has gone, forgiveness will be a long time coming. More than that, the misery the person goes through lasts much longer. Whether we realize it or not, forgiveness is a choice, a decision, instead of an emotion. I cannot always control my emotions but I can make decisions and choices, even when my emotions lead me to desire not to make those decisions and choices.

Actually, that is part of maturity. Immature people follow their emotions regardless of wisdom or consequences. Mature people choose the right course of action, even when their emotions aren’t in favor of that action.

What is decision based forgiveness? It is the mental process of letting go of resentment, bitterness, and need for vengeance. One doesn’t have to wait until he or she is emotionally ready to forgive. There is a separation of reason from feelings in making the forgiveness decision, followed by an act of will. It is deciding that this person (or this person’s actions past or present) will not control you by allowing them to evoke negative emotions detrimental to your own spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health.

Emotional pain and hurt are real and must be addressed. However, it is possible to have emotional pain but also to control revengeful thinking. It’s okay to hurt; all people do at some time. But letting that hurt permeate one’s life and thinking by replaying what the other person did or said, or wasting time thinking of the ways you could (or wish your could) hurt that person in return, does not harm to them and potentially great harm to you. The faster way to overcome the hurt is to forgive and move on — especially if they don’t deserve it — so that your life is no longer chained to theirs.

A forgiveness decision is a beginning, not an end to the healing. The hurt and all the other negative emotions may continue for a while. However, by making the forgiveness decision, you take the first steps to heal that hurt. With time healing will come. But if you continue to think about what the other person did, or allow the negative emotions to flood you, that healing comes slowly if at all.

If someone hurt you, forgiving is “a moral gift by not seeking revenge and by showing respect for him or her, not because of what was done but despite what was done.” It doesn’t set them free. It doesn’t give them a “get out of jail free” card. Though it may appear that they are; in actuality they don’t get to “have their cake and eat it too.” Your forgiveness doesn’t free them from the responsibilities of what they have done. It doesn’t negate the universal principle that we reap what we sow. It frees you from them; not them from themselves and their consequences of life. They still have to face God. They may have to face a court or other authorities. Let that happen without your seeking vengeance or planning their demise. Free yourself from them emotionally by making the decision to forgive.

It works.