Unpacking Forgiveness How Should I Go About It?

Last time I wrote about the book  Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers to Complex Questions and Deep Wounds, we discussed whether or not we should just get over offenses rather than bringing up what angers us with the offender in every situation. Author Chris Brauns suggested questions that we can ask ourselves in order to decide:

1. Before confronting, ask, "Have I examined myself yet?"
2. Before confronting, ask, "How sure am I that I am right?"
3. Before confronting, ask, "How important is this?"
4. Before confronting, ask, "Does this person show a pattern of this kind of behavior?"
5. Before confronting, ask, "What do wise people counsel me to do?"
6. Before confronting, ask, "What else is going on in the other person's world?"

In response to this a couple of you responded that you really liked Brauns' advice to choose your battles. I liked it too. In fact, as a result of reading this book, my perspective on forgiveness is changing. I'm learning that it's okay to ask the above questions, to choose my battles and to just let things go.

Now comes the hard part. What do we do when we actually have to confront someone?

I've told you in previous posts that in my younger years, my church taught the process correctly - about going to the person you're having a problem with and explaining the entire thing.  After a while, however, it just got too embarrassing, especially when people got angry over the fact that I could actually have a problem with their behavior. Because of this, I withdrew and held those feelings inside. What happened was that these people made me feel like the issue was completely my fault. They claimed no responsibility, nor did they value my feelings, or me as a person for that matter.

It can become easier to either let everything go or to just let go of the friendship, and eventually it becomes easier to remain an introvert and not get close to anyone. Or, allow anyone to get close to you. You may have "friends" on the surface, but really they are acquaintances. You do not share who you really are with them.

Matthew 18: 15 - 20 has some good advice for settling conflict.  Jesus, as we know, was very wise about handling and settling differences. Of course, this passage in context applies to church discipline, or how conflict is supposed to be solved within the church body - the people not the institution, but Brauns wrote that "... it is a mistake to think of these verses only applying to church discipline. The principles in these verses apply to other relationships as well."

Brauns' interpretation of what Jesus said in Matthew 18: 15 - 20 is in italics below.
First, if possible, settle matters privately ... Keep the circle small. In other words, don't tell everyone you're going to talk to so and so and then give a full account of the issue. If necessary, talk to a mature Christian then go to the person who has given offense in private. Do not write about the issue on Facebook. Do not call the prayer chain. Do not talk to your group of friends. Keeping the matter private will solve a lot of problems before they start.

When you speak to the person, be gracious. Being gracious means that you are kind and courteous. Your manner is "marked by tact and delicacy," according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Interestingly, an obsolete definition of being gracious is "... to be godly". So, when you go to someone, pray that you will be like Jesus to them.

Take no revenge, not even a little. As a young person, I learned that revenge, or getting back at people, could indeed be sweet. There was nothing like returning a snappy comeback or seeing the look of shock on someone's face when I unexpectedly returned their ill treatment of me. However, in God's kingdom that kind of behavior is unacceptable. We are to let God deal with people in his way and time. This does not mean that we become doormats; however, we must be humble and prayerfully consider the situation when people hurt us.

Listen first and be prepared to ask forgiveness yourself. Your actions may have provoked the offender. Or, if you are accompanying another person in a confrontation, you may also have to ask forgiveness, Brauns writes. The situation may be more convoluted than previously anticipated.

Take the other party at his or her word. Don't try and evaluate motives.

Choose the time and place carefully (Proverbs 27: 14).

Choose your words carefully (Proverbs 25: 11).

Be patient and have modest expectations. Do not expect the person to respond positively. Give them room to take in what you are saying.

Follow the scripture. If the person does not respond to the first attempt take one or two others along. Then, if a third attempt is needed "follow formal church  discipline," Brauns writes. By other relationships in the quote above, I'm not sure that step two applies to those outside the church body. Step three - applying church discipline - certainly does not. His suggestions that I listed above are wise to follow in any relationship.

Next Thursday, we'll discuss the chapter "What if I Won't Forgive?"