tell their story

Posted: May 2nd, 2011 | Filed under: life | Tags: | 18 Comments »

I’m in a class that is talking about forgiveness and I came across the following thoughts. I think it’s powerful and that it could be useful to those of you who are having a hard time with empathy and compassion.

The word ‘compassion’ comes from the Latin cum passio and it means to “suffer with.” Compassion is crucial to forgiveness. We are usually close to those who hurt us the most. We know enough about them to be able to tell their story to some extent. The incident that hurt you was not an isolated event, disconnected from the others in their lives. It can be a huge benefit to you to be able to trace their events that lead up to them hurting you. It can also be eye opening to see how their lives might look as a result of what caused your pain. It has a strong potential to lead you to the place where you can lay down your armor, build an alter, sacrifice the last bit of you, and walk away in freedom.

In ‘Forgiveness Is a Choice’, Robert D. Enright (2001) suggests that you tell the story of the person who hurt you. Here are some suggested considerations when telling their story:

1. What was life like for the offender when growing up? Because most hurts occur

at the hands of people close to us, we usually know something of their life his-

tory. Try to enter the offender’s world and describe three or four things about his

or her past that may have contributed to vulnerability. Be careful not to confuse

forgiving with excusing. The person’s hardships should not become your own.

2. At the time of the hurtful event, what was life like for the person? Try to imag-

ine what he or she may have been thinking and feeling. Was he or she under

considerable pressure? Was vulnerability present, too?

3. Tell the story of your relationship with the person in a broader sense than the

offense itself. How long had you know the person? Had you shared good

times? Try to think of at least three times the person showed good judgment

or strong character.

4. Write down any impressions of how the offender may be worse off now than

are you as a result of the painful event. What is life like for him or her because

of what happened?

5. What is the person like apart from the offense? Forgiving does not necessarily

mean that you must welcome the person back as a spouse, employer, or close

friend. Merely try to see the person as a member of the human community

with intrinsic value. Review your answers to the previous questions and

describe what makes the person human.

6. Has your view of the person changed in any way as a result of answering

these questions? Is there anything you must still do to deepen or broaden your

story of the person?



18 Comments on “tell their story”

  1. 1 Eileen said at 8:06 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    Great thoughts. I like # 3. So often, I think when someone offends us we let the negative overshadow the good. We forget the positive that might have been there too. Heard this quote recently, "one fault does not make a failure." We need to remember this when we are in a situation when forgiveness is necessary.

  2. 2 "Susie" said at 8:33 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    To get to this point, I have to let go of my demand to see the other person suffer like I did (tit for tat, eye for an eye).

    This also assumes the offence is in the past; that it is not ongoing, continual conduct. Any thoughts on how to manage that? Is that a 70 times 7 situation?

  3. 3 Serena Woods said at 9:02 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    <font color = "38bdd3">Susie,</font>

    Yes, I believe it is. Do this 70 x 7 times:

    <font color = "38bdd3">"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love." – Matthew 18:15-17</font>

    In this process, you have to submit to the fact that there are things you do not understand and open yourself up to the push and pull of the Holy Spirit forming you with the harsh tools of the situation. We are not victims and victorious at the same time. Help can come by considering what you are learning in the process. Sometimes people are just there to keep us humble.

    I don't know if you are talking about a specific situation or if you are just throwing this out there, but this is my blanket response.

  4. 4 Serena Woods said at 8:48 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    <font color="38bdd3">Eileen, </font>

    That's great. I know from experience on both sides of the issue of forgiveness that the one who does the wrong has all of their 'good' cancelled out by the 'bad.'

    <font color ="38bdd3">Here are thoughts for everyone:</font>

    In order to maintain a hard heart of unforgiveness, you have to dehumanize the other. Over time, the heart softens and you have to revisit their sin in order keep yourself from entering the scary space of vulnerability. We think that we need to crust ourselves over in order to not be taken advantage of again. That's not true, it just ends up hurting us. Also, when we make mistakes with others, we either have to resort to a double standard or not forgive ourselves. Either way, we are setting ourselves up for pain.

    Take care when you are building your house, there will be an inspection and what isn't strong will be destroyed and you will have to start over. We can only build on the foundation of Jesus Christ with the building materials of Jesus Christ. Anything else will burn up and leave us with a lot of work to do. Do it right the first time and you'll stand the test of all time.

  5. 5 you know who said at 8:58 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    My dad went to church yesterday for the first time since coming out of jail. He will for the rest of his life have an escort whenever he needs to move about the church during services. While this is understood as a consequence of his wrong doing… it is still hard. His wrong doing did not involve anyone from the church but there is fear among the members. What hurts me, is there some people who refused to shake his hand… like he has some kind of disease… I'm having a HARD TIME with showing grace in THAT instance. I wanna scream and cry… how dare you stand there in your smug judgement and treat this broken man in this fashion … where is your compassion and forgiveness??? grrrrr

    Continue to pray for us all… this will be hard.

  6. 6 Serena Woods said at 9:24 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    <font color="38bdd3">I do know who,</font>

    It's going to be hard for you to do this because you would be different if the tables were turned. You know your father and what he did, so if you were to come across another person in that situation, you would be first on the scene to make sure you didn't treat them like your father is being treated. Something that you have to remember is that you haven't always had this tool. You haven't always known that you personally know someone who has made this mistake. It's a terrible thing and we both know it, but he's still alive and he gets to have another chance to not be the worst he's been. You want to fight for him and that's awesome, but remember that patience is the strongest weapon. Encourage your dad to not give up and you focus on patience and 'long suffering.' Some will never come around and you have to have enough grace to allow their limitations and fears. We're allowed to not be perfect, even when it costs someone we love.

    <font color="38bdd3">Joan,</font> I think, for some, it's a life-long process. Do the best you can and forget the rest. We start every day a little further along than we started the day before.

  7. 7 Joan said at 8:59 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    These are some really great points . #4 really made me stop and think. I think I need to take a class about forgiveness because knowing if you truly forgiven some one is kind of hard sometimes.

  8. 8 Dawn said at 9:06 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    Serena, I loved your response to the other comments, and you are right.

    I think it's worth stating that the exercise your abdicated in the post today can't always be done in every situation. It might be useful for some situations, but not for all.

    As I read the list of 'to do's' to forgive, the answers to the questions only made the situation look worse. Some offenders seemingly "get away with it", or seem rewarded, suffering no ill feelings or effects for their actions, even prospering in life from what they did/do.

    Any thoughts?

  9. 9 Serena Woods said at 9:30 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    <font color="38bdd3">Dawn,</font>

    That may appear to be the case. I do have to say that this class is not of a religious origin, so there is not room for the transformation power of grace in the other person's life within the questions. However, it's a powerful jumping off point. Grace can actually turn what should have destroyed someone into an opportunity for the other person to praise God. That would end up looking like they were better off. And the fact is, they are. But it's not because of the sin, it's because of grace. If you are too far away from them to see the grace, then it looks like the payoff of sin. We end up 'blaspheming' the Holy Spirit by saying that the the work that makes them free was powered by evil. That's pretty sobering…

  10. 10 Dawn said at 10:34 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    That's good! Thx for that.

  11. 11 Heather said at 11:29 am on May 2nd, 2011:

    I am so thankful to be able to read through all the comments and your responses.

    I love this passage in Matthew about reconciling and working through our conflicts.

    This is where I feel most disappointed. A portion of my extended family has disconnected with my husband and I. They have assumed the worse about our intentions and motivations. It has left me really really confused. As I read through your questions on forgiveness, we did have history and a relationship and their assumptions are out of character with our past. I wish that instead of being accused, and then a smear campaign happening that the questions or problems would have been brought to us.

  12. 12 Serena Woods said at 12:43 pm on May 2nd, 2011:

    <font color ="38bdd3">Heather,</font>

    I'm not sure why people do what they do. Fear is a huge motivator, but what are they afraid of? Fear is not from God. Fear proves relationship to the law and not relationship with God. That is a whole other book.

  13. 13 Rich said at 4:47 am on May 3rd, 2011:

    Sometimes fear also causes us to revert to that which we have done in the past. This is especially true when someone close to us has been hurt. Avoidance or self-justification become two “easy” (but painful!) options. And that is often easier than the difficulty of addressing someone’s sin (especially my own!).

  14. 14 Serena Woods said at 5:15 am on May 3rd, 2011:

    self-justification is a statement that says: "I don't need grace because I can explain."

  15. 15 Mickster said at 1:42 pm on May 4th, 2011:

    Those are interesting questions. I have hurt my husband. He has forgiven me, but I will show him the article. Thanks!

  16. 16 Mickster said at 1:49 pm on May 4th, 2011:

    You Know Who,

    If I were at that church I would love to give your father a great big hug!

  17. 17 StephenT said at 3:36 am on May 6th, 2011:

    "If all our conduct, both open and secret, should be known, and our hearts laid open to the world, how should we be even ready to fly from the light of the sun, and hide ourselves from the view of mankind! And what great allowances would it be found that we should need, that others should make for us–perhaps much greater than we are willing to make for others."

    –Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival, in Works, Yale ed., 4:314

  18. 18 you know who said at 2:18 am on May 8th, 2011:

    Mickster… Thanks

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