My wife had a toothache that developed into unbearable pain the day before the recent holiday. Her dentist’s office was closed for an extended time and she decided to make an appointment with another dentist who handles emergency situations. The x-rays from the visit revealed a likelihood of an infection that was treated with a medicine. Thankfully not a root canal needed, but the pain drove her to seek relief even though the timing was not good.
Emotional pain can be similar to a physical pain in many ways. Disappointment, worry, anxiety, depression, or feelings like abandonment, shame, fear, powerlessness, damaged, invalidation, and hopelessness are common and come in varying degrees for different people. The pain can be intense. It pops up unexpectedly. It can pop up with bad timing. If you try to ignore it, it will only get worse. Sometimes the source is hard to identify. The only lasting solution is not a quick fix, but takes time to heal. For true healing to occur, the root cause must be identified and dealt with properly.
Root causes of emotional pain are often not easy to determine. It may take the help of a “soul doctor” (counselor) to get better. The root cause of emotional pain almost always involves some sort of offense. At the very least, it takes the form of a perceived threat to a person’s comfort, pleasure, or power. At worst, an offense is a gross injustice or disregard for truth. In my experience as a counselor, I have found that when a person is willing to do the hard work of identifying and rooting out offense, it transforms their inner life for lasting results. In the previous few articles I have written a lot about offense, but this article deals with the best solution; that is forgiveness.
The things I learned about forgiveness during the 3 year research project to culminate my seminary degree, changed my life forever. I still consider myself a learner on the topic. One only learns about forgiveness if he practices forgiveness. Since offense creates the need for forgiveness, and since offense is part of an inescapable human condition, the only way to learn about forgiveness is to practice it. How does one practice forgiveness? As an answer to this question I authored the book called Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart.
Below is an overview of the book. The goal is to help people in three aspects of life: understanding what true forgiveness is (and isn’t), applying this understanding to inner life change, and applying it to relationships with people. I divided the content into three sections of three chapters each.
The first section, Part One, is called Foundations. The chapters in Part One are called The Cycle of Offense, Misunderstandings, and Divinely Initiated (the basic theology of forgiveness with many biblical references).
Part Two of the book is called Transformational Healing: Between God and Man. This section is the heart of the matter, distinguishing forgiveness from reconciliation. The simplest definition I have discovered for forgiveness is “surrendering to God the right to judge.” Forgiveness is a matter of getting your heart in the right place before God, and nothing (or at least very little) to do with how the offender responds (or doesn’t respond). The three chapters of Part Two are called Receiving God’s Gift, Surrendering to God, and Trusting God for Change.
Part Three, applying forgiveness to relationships, is called Conflict Resolution: Between God, Man, and Fellowman. Whereas forgiveness is for the offended person restoring right relationship with God, reconcilation adds the offender to the mix. The Bible is clear about the necessity for brothers and sisters in Christ to relate to one another in love, peace, and harmony as much as possible. When God’s Gift of forgiveness is truly received in our hearts, we are genuinely prepared for the reconciliation to be pursued. Reconciliation requires two hearts surrendered to a higher judgment, not just one. In some cases complete reconciliation is not possible (eg. Death, imprisonment, lack of safety), but again, the freedom of forgiveness (escape from the pain of offense) is still possible. The three chapters in Part Three are called Forgiveness and Reconciliation, Reconciliation in Relationships, and Conclusions. I refer to marriage, church, and community relationships for practical application.
At the end of each of the three sections I include a few pages of material to encourage looking into more detail on the topic. These sections are called Follow-up and Practice. I include End Notes that correspond to numbered references throughout the text. These references are included in an eight page Bibliography at the end of the book. These are great resources for further study of the topic. At the end of the book, I also include a Study Guide. This study guide presents questions for further exploration and deeper reflection. The questions can be used for self study or group study.
Finally, the book includes three Appendices. Appendix A includes a number additional resources (sample prayers included) that have been meaningful in my own journey and have helped others in our counseling ministry. Appendix B is about my personal healing journey including forgiveness. Appendix C is the content of a pamphlet entitled Overcoming an Abortion that has been distributed by the thousands and helped many find Christ Jesus as a Refuge for their pain. It highlights the truth of Jesus being our pain bearer and our escape for the debt of our offenses and payment for the debt of offenses against us. No matter how much guilt or shame we carry, Jesus is our Refuge, and best solution to the pain.
You may have heard of the three typical responses to emotional pain; flight, fight, or freeze. Escaping the Pain of Offense is not a book about escaping in the sense of a flight (nor fight, nor freeze) response to pain. The above details about the book show that substance and sufficient effort is necessary to become a victor and not a victim. The book is different from other books on the topic of forgiveness in that it emphasizes the inner life transformational growth journey. Personal growth occurs by embracing forgiveness as an ongoing process of changing our inner person.
Forgivenss does not solve all the problems a person may have, but it prepares the heart for answers to be implemented. I recommend John C. Maxwell’s book called The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. Maxwell’s book contains a chapter called “The Law of Pain.” He shares how to turn pain into a growth experience. Maxwell elaborates on 5 specific ways to grow through struggle. I would add (perhaps as a per-requisite) “Seek Corrective Understanding and Consistent Practice of Forgiveness” to his list below.
You grow best when you::
1. Choose a Positive Life Stance
2. Embrace and Develop Your Creativity
3. Embrace the Value of Bad Experiences
4. Make Good Changes after Learning from Bad Experiences
5. Take Responsibility for Your Life
Maxwell’s book will help you with many aspects of personal growth. But all the growth expertise in the world will not help a heart that is unwilling (or lacks the emotional capacity) to change. And it’s not all or nothing. Any part of your heart that resists positive change will hold back the entire growth process. The human heart changes bit by bit, incident by incident, offense by offense, forgiven offender by forgiven offender, etc. For the Christian, fully surrendering judgments to God is the path to growth. A mere decision does not qualify as full surrender. Thoughts and beliefs must be accompanied by surrender of the soul (mind, will, and emotions). Growth is only as current as the last time you allowed God to take his rightful place as Judge in life circumstances.
Is there an area of your life in which you know growth needs to happen? Maxwell’s book is filled with very insightful practical application to help. But is there a part of your heart that feels pain, stress, or negative feelings mentioned at the beginning? I wrote the book Escaping the Pain of Ofense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart to help people find freedom through forgiveness. The book has helped many people already. For those who think their level of understanding and practice of forgiveness is adequate, I encourage you to rethink whether your beliefs are holding you back from God’s best for your life. I am not saying this to sell more books. I am sold on the idea that greater measures of truth about forgiveness are essential for positive change. My book is available online or by contacting me. I am so convinced of the message that if you cannot afford to buy a copy, I will make it available at cost. Write me and remind me of this offer. Check out more about the book at http://book.bluerockbnb.com .
Also write me with your feedback or requests for more input on the topic. May this not only be the beginning of a successful New Year, but also a new beginning for a brighter future of real, healthy, and new growth in your life!
by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry