1st Sermon in Forgiveness Series

"Healing the Hurts Within: Four Stages of Forgiving"

Text: Colossians 3:12-17   --   Date: July 13, 2003
Prayer for illumination: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, 0 Lord; for you are my Rock and my Redeemer. AMEN.
   "Somebody hurt you, maybe yesterday, maybe a lifetime ago, and you cannot forget it. You did not deserve the hurt. It went deep, deep enough to lodge itself in your memory. And it keeps on hurting you now.
   You are not alone. When we invest ourselves in deep personal relationships, we open our souls to the wounds of another's disloyalty or even betrayal.
   There are some hurts we can all ignore. But some old pains do not wash out so easily; they remain like stubborn stains in the fabric of our own memory.
   Deep hurts we never deserved flow from a dead past into a living present. A friend betrays us; a parent abuses us; a spouse leaves us in the cold -- these hurts do not heal with the coming of the sun."
  So begins the book, Forgive and Forget by Dr. Lewis Smedes, former professor of theology and ethics and professor of Integration of Theology and Psychology at Fuller Seminary. In this marvelous book, Dr. Smedes shows how we can tap the power of forgiveness that can set us free in our relationships with others, with God, and yes, even with ourselves. You see, I'm convinced that forgiveness is the key to "healing the hurts within." Even though the church professes forgiveness as one of our hallmarks, I don't think most of us understand this profound "grace" which our Lord offers to us. And, while it's true Scripture tells us we need to forgive, it doesn't tell us how.
   In this morning's text, the Apostle Paul in his wonderful little letter to the church in Colossae, offers this little advice on how we are to live our lives as members of the body of Christ. I'd like us to focus our attention on one verse: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievance you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." I think this is the key to the passage and one of the secrets to living the Christian life. Human relationships that endure are built upon mutual need for forgiveness. We like to think that successful relationships are built upon compatibility, mutual satisfaction, physical or intellectual attraction, common interests, or -any number of such things. But I believe that the ultimate basis for a lasting relationship is found in the truth that we need to forgive and be forgiven in order to love and to grow. If we are to be serious about healing the hurts within, we must not only learn how "to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us" but then we must do it.
   Undoubtedly we've all wished at one time or another that we could reach back into a painful moment and cut it out of our lives. What do you do when you forgive someone who hurt you? What is forgiving?
   The act of forgiving, by itself, is a wonderfully simple act; but it always happens inside a storm of complex emotions. It is the hardest trick in the whole bag of interpersonal relationships.
   This morning I want us to consider four stages in forgiving, and I am indebted to Smedes for these stages. If we can travel through these four steps, we may achieve the goal of reconciliation. Because of the range of human emotion, it may appear that the stages presented hear are over-simplistic. Take time to view these stages through the lens of your own experience and be open to seeing how these stages may help you move through the hurt that lies deep within.
   The first stage is hurt. When somebody causes you pain so deep and unfair that you cannot forget it, you are pushed into the first stage of forgiving.
   The second stage is hate. You know you are in this stage when you cannot shake the memory of how much you were hurt, and you cannot wish your "enemy" well. You sometimes want the person who hurt you to suffer as you are suffering.
   The third stage is healing. This is the stage when you begin to see the person who hurt you in a new light. Your memory is healed, your turn back the flow of pain and are free again.
   And the last stage is coming together. You invite this person back into your life. Love can move you both toward a new and healed relationship. This stage depends on the person you forgive as much as it depends on you; sometimes, the other person doesn't come back and you have to be healed alone.
   In the time that remains, I want to offer a couple of additional comments on each of these four stages.
   Stage One: Hurt. If you live long enough, chances are you will be hurt by someone you counted on to be your friend. If you are like most people, you might let this fester and grow until it stifles your joy. When that happens, you might want to celebrate for you have entered the first stage of forgiving.
   It is in this first stage that we must ask ourselves a simple, yet probing question: "Do I want to be healed, or do I want to go on suffering from an unfair hurt lodged in my memory? "
   This is a very important question for many people can only function in pain. That is all they have ever known. Their family system has only known pain, so, many people are never able to move through the stages of forgiveness because they are afraid to receive the release that forgiveness can bring.
   Are you feeling the pain and hurt -- in any of your relationships? Not just the result of annoyances or disappointments or simple disagreements -- these are all quite natural occurrences in human relationships. I'm talking about the hurt that comes as a result of disloyalty, betrayal and/or brutality. Then maybe you are ready to move on down the road toward healing the hurt within through the miracle of forgiveness. You might have moved or ready to move into the second stage.
   Stage Two: Hate. Hate is our natural response to any deep and unfair pain. It is our instinctive backlash against anyone who wounds us wrongly. Hate separates us from those we should belong to. It shoves them away from us. There are two kinds of hate: passive and aggressive. Passive hatred is that little bit of malice in us that robs us of energy to wish a person well. You don't want them dead; you just hope they don't attain all that much success. At the very least you don't want them to do as well as you. Do you know what I'm talking about?
   But there is also an aggressive hatred. This is much stronger than passive hatred. Here you may actually wish ill will on someone else. I've seen it, for instance in counseling situations in cases of divorce. In any case, in either passive or aggressive hatred, we do not allow ourselves to wish someone well, and we devoutly wish him or her ill. Hate is an emotion that drives people apart; and it needs healing. Hate is a malignancy that needs to be excised from the body. At this point, don't confuse hatred and anger. Quite often, healthy anger can be a sign that we are alive and well for healthy anger can energize us to make things better. Hate does not want things changed for the better; hatred goal is to make things worse.
   Sometimes hate only nibbles at the edges of our heart; it does not always bum out the lining of the soul. Sometimes it only asks that the hated person keep away from us for a while; it does not go for the jugular.
   But whether your hate is a carcinoma growing hell-bent for death inside your soul, or only a pesky heartburn, it will hurt you if you do not take the proper remedy. To heal the hurt within may take surgery of the soul. Then again, you may get by with a quick cauterization. But eventually, unchecked hate will do you in.
   The first two stages of forgiveness have both good news and bad news. The good news is they are stages and if you recognize them, you will be able to move through them on your journey toward healing the hurts within. The bad news is, if you do not move through them, they will eat you alive, leaving you cynical, bitter, and hate-filled. This hatred can be healed. Let's move on to stage three.
   Stage Three: We heal ourselves. In stage three we are now ready to take the first step toward healing the hurt within. Pull your mind away from the person who needs to be forgiven; do not ask what happens to the forgiven wrongdoer. Look only at yourself -- the wounded forgiver.
   When you forgive someone for hurting you, you perform spiritual surgery inside your soul; you separate the wrong that was done to you so you can see your "enemy" in a new light. Detach the person from the hurt and let it go, the way a child opens up his hands and lets a trapped butterfly go free.
   Then invite the person back into your mind, fresh, as if a piece of history between you has been rewritten. As you are able to do this, you will gradually come to a deeper understanding about them, a truth that you can only see when only we when you can separate what they did to hurt you from themselves. Our hate wants to "kill" them either passively or aggressively. But the process and stages of forgiveness helps us get beyond these feelings. Ultimately these feelings of hate can be reversed. Forgiving is the new vision and a new feeling that is given to the person who forgives.
   The Bible talks the same way when it describes how God forgives. In the Old Testament drama of atonement, God took a bundle of human sins off a man's back and tied it to a goat. He gave the goat a kick in the rear and sent it off, sin and all -- a scapegoat -- to a "solitary land," leaving the sinner free of his burden. Or, as the Psalmist put it, he wipes our sin away, as a mother washes grime from a child's dirty face; he removes it from us as the East is removed from the West, and "ne'er the 'twain shall meet."
   You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and you have the ability to wish them well. When you can do this, you are well on the way to forgiveness. But, there is still one stage left. This is the stage where reconciliation happens and the two people who have been separated come together again.
    Stage Four: We come together. Scottish theologian H.R. MacIntosh describes forgiveness as "an active process of the mind and temper of a wronged person, by means of which he abolishes a moral hindrance to fellowship with the wrongdoer, and reestablishes the freedom and happiness of friendship."
   Abolishing the "moral hindrance to fellowship" -- this is the key to complete forgiving.
   Let's say that we have begun the process of having our hurts healed. You have emptied out your hate and eliminated your lust for getting even. You no longer need the sour satisfaction of revenge. What will it take to "re-establish the freedom of happiness of friendship?"
   Both parties -- the wronged and the wrongdoers -- must bring about an honest coming together. You hold out your hand to those who did you wrong, and you say, "Come on back to me, I want to be your friend again." In order for this to happen, they must be willing to pay a price. The price is "truthfulness." Truthfulness is a state of mind; it has to do with real intentions. You must want your words to carry your real intentions. What you say must reflect both mind and heart. And they must be in tune with reality. That is, you must expect those who hurt you to be honestly in touch with the reality of your falling-out, your pain, and their responsibility for them. They need to know that the pain you suffered at their hands was unfair to you. You did not deserve to feel the hurt; no matter what was meant by it, you suffered what you should not have had to suffer.
   They need to know that the hurt they caused you went deep. So deep that you could not go on as before unless something happened to remove it. Now, they may not agree with every little detail. No two people in the history of personal misunderstandings have ever remembered their painful experience in the same way before. So, if you want total recall, blow for blow, insult for insult, hurt for hurt, you will never get what you need. But they must, with mind and heart, feelings and words, reflect the truth of your hurt. Then, and only then, can the two who had become separated, come together again. To move through these four stages is not always easy. It hurts. You may be saying to yourself, "I can't do that. You don't know what so-and-so did to me!" And you may be right, I may not know. If that is how you feel, then you are not ready to move through the last one or two stages of forgiveness. You're not ready to heal the hurt within. You haven't yet been able to complete the necessary work of stage two -- getting through the "hate" stage.
   The Apostle Paul reminds us, "Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
   During these next few weeks, we will continue our study on forgiveness, for this is the key to healing the hurts within.
   Let us pray:
   Gracious God, it is your desire that we have good relationships with the people around us -- our families, our neighbors and friends, our sisters and brothers in Christ. And yet, truth be told, there are people in our lives with whom our "good" relationships have been broken; we have been hurt; the pain lies deep within our souls; we withhold our love and friendship because of the hurt within.
   Empower us, 0 Lord, so we might embrace the hurt and the hate; to face our own fears, or in some cases, swallow our pride, that we might work on being reconciled with our sisters and brothers in the Lord, for this isn't something that is just "nice." It is your command. If we are going to be whole, 0 Lord, we must heal the hurt within. For this we pray in Jesus' Name. AMEN.

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