Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forgiveness & Mental/Emotional Abuse

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness for a couple of months now.  I know full well that God wants us to forgive others when they "sin against us."  These "sins" could include saying something hurtful to us, lying to us, lying to others about us, stealing from us, etc.

There was once a time when my understanding of forgiveness was, "If someone says something nasty to me & then tells me they're sorry & asks for my forgiveness, I'll most certainly forgive them!"  But that is not what God is telling us.  You can't ignore the fact that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, He asked God to forgive the soldiers who crucified & mocked Him, saying "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)  It is clear that we are supposed to forgive others whether they ask for our forgiveness or not!

Then there is the account in Matthew where Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone ... "Seven times?"  Jesus replied, "No, seventy times seven!"  (Matthew 18:21-22) Jesus was not giving Peter a magic number, telling him that he should forgive someone 490 times & that's it.  No, Jesus was saying "never stop forgiving."  Buzz Lightyear would translate verse 22 as "Forgive to infinity & beyond!"

There are many verses in the Bible that talk about forgiveness.  This post would be quite lengthy if I were to list them all.  Some of these verses address Christians forgiving Christians; others appear to address Christians forgiving anyone, Christian or not.  Some include the admonition that if we don't forgive others, God won't forgive us. 

Sometimes it's very difficult to forgive.  This is where faith & obedience comes in.  We may not "feel" like forgiving someone, but we are told not to make decisions based on our feelings.  Feelings are ruled by emotions.  Emotions are unreliable.

Sometimes our pride stands in the way.  We think that if we forgive someone, we are "letting them off the hook" for whatever it was they did to us. There is a saying that someone dreamed up a few years ago that I have heard enough times that it actually nauseates me now, but the message is nonetheless true.  "Unforgiveness is like drinking poison & hoping the other person dies."  It simply means that we harm ourselves, not the person who offended us, by holding on to unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness leads to bitterness, & bitterness causes all sorts of problems in our lives including physical illness!

God freely extends His forgiveness to us, & He wants us to freely extend our forgiveness to others ... but what if we need to forgive something "really terrible," like abuse?  We all know how dangerous physical abuse can be.  If someone in your life is physically abusing you, you can still forgive that person but it would not be wise for you to continue in a relationship with them. Everyone you know would understand you staying away from that person.  People are, sadly, less able to understand you staying away from someone who mentally/emotionally abuses you.  I believe that mental/emotional abuse is even more prevalent than physical abuse & possibly more deadly in it's own way.  There are often no outward scars when someone is being mentally/emotionally abused, but the inner scars can run deep.  I have known several people who were mentally/emotionally abused by one or both parents, siblings, or other family members.  They knew God wanted them to forgive these people, but that did not mean that God wanted them to continue exposing themselves to the abuse.  Some of their friends & family members were very judgmental.  How could you sever ties with your mother, your father, your brother or your sister & claim you had forgiven them?  Mental/emotional abuse is nearly impossible for someone to understand if they haven't experienced it themselves.  You do not need to concern yourself with what others think of you, however.  You are to concern yourself with what God thinks of you. If you have forgiven the people who have mentally/emotionally abused you, & you've gone to God & asked Him for help, & you know that He approves your reasons for cutting that person out of your life, that is between you & God ... no one else.   


Diann said...

Thanks for sharing on such an important topic. I've been thinking about it all day since it was the topic of the sermon in church today (not exactly with the same slant though-more about forgiveness in general rather than in cases of abuse). Anyway, I don't have any words of wisdom; forgiveness is a work in progress in my life.

KimM said...

A very insightful post. Thank you -

Kaisievic said...

Such true words, Shirlee, I was bullied at work a few years ago by a superior and I like to think that I have been able to forgive this person and move on with my life.

Samplings from Spring Creek said...

Forgiveness was our Ministers message yesterday. Often times when we forgive it is ourselves who are set free