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Help! I’ve forgiven, but can’t forget

Weekly Q&A

Help! I’ve forgiven, but can’t forget
Posted on July 6, 2021  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

A very close family member attacked me with their words and actions, brainwashed other members of the family to go against me, and still demands respect as they are older than me. Even though I didn’t do anything wrong, I said sorry and forgave them in my heart. It’s been months, but the hurt won’t go away. Can you forgive someone and still be hurt? What can I do to make the hurt go away?

You can absolutely forgive someone and still be hurt. Our actions have real-life consequences. There are legal consequences for when someone steals a candy bar and when they steal a car, but the consequence of one is greater than the other. In life, when another person hurts us, we can forgive them — but one natural consequence is that it takes time for that person to once again gain our trust.

Jesus tells Peter that we should be willing to forgive a person seventy times seven: meaning, don’t keep a record of wrongs and just practise forgiveness. However, forgiving someone does not mean that all consequences go away. 

If one of my children lies to me about playing games on their phone after bedtime, I will forgive them for the lie, but a consequence will be handing their phone over to me at bedtime for an extended period. Consequences help teach our children the value of their actions and encourage them to weigh the outcomes of their choices. In other words, consequences lead to children becoming more responsible people.

In the same way, when our friends, family, or even elders do something to hurt us, we can forgive them, but the consequences will help them to think through their actions before mistreating us again. We teach people how we want to be treated through both the way we treat others and through consequences. 

We teach people how we want to be treated through both the way we treat others and through consequences

If I ask my friend to pray for me about a private struggle I am having and that friend then gossips to others, a consequence would be that I would not come to that friend again for prayer support until enough time has passed that my trust in him has been re-established. If a person attacks me personally or tries to turn others against me, a natural consequence might be that that person does not get to spend time with me or get invited to special events.

Set healthy boundaries

When you forgive a person you are saying that you are no longer holding a grudge against them for the way you were treated. However, even after forgiving someone, it is important to set boundaries in place to prevent those same hurts from occurring again and again. 

When I talk about consequences, what I am really suggesting is that a person designs healthy boundaries so that those who disrespect them cannot continually take advantage of or hurt them. 

Healthy boundaries help ensure that you will be mentally and emotionally stable. Some boundaries keep you from getting too involved in things that will not be good for you. Other boundaries protect you from allowing others to get too involved in you.

I am sorry that someone in your family tried to turn others against you and that this person expects certain behaviour from you after treating you so poorly. You can and should forgive the individual; you can even be cordial and respectful towards this person — but you must put boundaries in place as consequences for their behaviour. These boundaries are intended to protect you mentally and emotionally. 

As Christians, we should always set boundaries in love. We do not need to be rude or mean-spirited, but we need to be firm, and we need to stick to those boundaries until enough progress is made in the relationship that they are no longer necessary.

When Jesus tells His hearers to turn the other cheek or walk two miles with the soldier (Matthew 5:38ff), He is suggesting that we act in a manner that convicts the other person to realise he is not treating you fairly. By not seeking revenge (an eye for an eye), we show the other person that they are treating us poorly and it should cause them to repent. 

In the same way, creating healthy boundaries in relationships helps others see when they are not treating you correctly. It is also a good idea to have others pray for you as you seek to establish healthy boundaries. Prayer and encouragement go a long way in helping brothers and sisters in the faith.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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