Forgiveness is often misunderstood in conservative circles. During the past decade or so, Christian psychologists have studied forgiveness from both theological and psychological perspectives. Most would agree that forgiveness is not only a theological decision, but also a psychological process with a number of distinct stages that have been compared to stages of the grieving process.
We tend to layer our feelings as a means of self-protection from additional harm, and forgiveness is frequently a process of “working through” these layers. For some, forgiveness is accomplished through the spiritual disciplines (prayer, meditation, solitude, etc.). For others, it may require work with a professional Christian counselor who not only understands how difficult forgiveness can be, but who also knows how to get them “unstuck” and moving forward in the process. Both require the intimate guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God has also given us the ability to remember as a means of self-protection (e.g., when we touch a hot stove and get burned, we remember not to touch it again). However, remembering has a “flip side” as well, in that we often need to work through the forgiveness process multiple times. Be encouraged: It does get easier and less painful, especially as you grow in understanding the process. Dr. Louis Smedes (1996; Fuller Theological Seminary) wrote a very readable book (available in paperback) on this topic: Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve.
Anyone struggling with unforgiveness needs (and deserves) someone to help them work through this very painful process. If you’re feeling stuck and would like to schedule a confidential appointment, please call 800.705.6223.