One of the resources that I am using in the sermon series on forgiveness is a book by Dennis Linn and Matthew Linn called Healing Life’s Hurts: Healing Memories Through the Five Stages of Forgiveness. The thesis of the book is that when we have been deeply hurt by another person, that memory of the pain inflicted can either cripple us or become a source of growth and understanding. The authors use the work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross on death and dying to help people do the spiritual and emotional work necessary for such healing. Those stages of forgiveness are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The foundation of the healing process is God’s unconditional love and forgiveness that allows us to engage this difficult work with honesty and hope.
In denial, we often initially pretend we really haven’t been hurt by the words or actions of another. We may repress or swallow our hurt feelings in a variety of ways: overwork, alcohol or drugs, television, sleeping or eating. We tell ourselves it was nothing. Denial can be helpful – up to a point. It can protect us until we are ready and able to deal with the issue. But long-term denial can carry its own unhealthy, crippling consequences.
Anger is a necessary part of dealing with our pain. It is part of the healing process. It can motivate us to work for justice in our lives and in the world. But anger that is unresolved can make us physically ill. Anger can also be lived out in ways that damage the people around us. While it is a stage that is essential to healing, it is not a place where you would want to live indefinitely.
Bargaining can be a mixture of both anger and depression as we blame others (anger) and blame ourselves (depression) for the pain we are experiencing. It often comes in a form of “If only you change, I will forgive you.” The stage of bargaining is useful, helping us identify both our strengths and weaknesses. To work through that stage is to recognize that the only person whose attitudes and behaviors that we can control is ourselves.
Depression is sometimes defined as anger turned inward. It can be a symptom of recognizing our own responsibility that contributes to a rift in relationship. It is a good thing to recognize our own sin. That makes it possible to repent and change. But it is a bad thing if we wallow in unresolved guilt and shame, unable to open ourselves to God’s healing forgiveness.
Acceptance looks like new openness to God and new insights and understandings. It may look like a healed relationship. It may look like letting go of a desire for revenge. It may look like wanting the other person to experience the fullness of God’s healing love, even if it becomes apparent that to be in relationship is to put oneself in the dangerous place of being hurt again.
The book walks the reader through each stage using scripture and guided meditations. Over and over, we are encouraged to share with Christ how we feel, listen to how Christ feels and to live out Christ’s reaction. This would be a good book to journal with, if you enjoy writing.
On the journey with you,