Who hasn’t been hurt by the words or actions of another?
Perhaps a parent constantly criticized you, rejected you, or abandoned you.
Maybe a co-worker sabotaged a project, stole a promotion, or caused you to loose your job.
It could be that your spouse committed adultery, you were abused by someone close to you, or you’ve been the victim of a violet crime.
Whether it’s the hurtful gossip from someone you thought was a friend or a wound from a loved one, these actions can leave you with feelings of anger and bitterness long after the offender has moved on.
How do you forgive, especially if the perpetrator doesn’t ask for it?
When I first met Michael Eufemia at the tender age of 7, his story read like the all American dream. He was the oldest of 3, living with his Mom and Dad in a sprawling house at the end of a newly built Churchville cul-de-sac. His parents were successful business owners. They were active in church, soccer and the community. Everything about Michaels family was enviable, at least from the outside looking in. Little did I know that his story was just beginning. It is a story of unimaginable loss and pain.
Now 23, Michael is sharing his account of hurt, healing, and forgiveness. This is the narrative of our God, who meets us in our pain and uses every heartache for something much bigger than we could ever ask for, think, or imagine.
In this post I am going to discuss the forgiveness process from my own life’s experience, through professional counseling and a God who draws near to the broken-hearted. (Psalm 34:18)*
It all started for me on my tenth birthday. Coming home to a surprise party thrown by my mother, I was ecstatic. I walk into all of my closest friends and family yelling “SURPRISE!”
It seemed like a great night. Everyone was there except one person … my Dad.
After the initial buzz of the party subsided, and I began to think clearly, I went around looking everywhere for my mom, only to find her inside our home’s office on the phone crying. She slowly hung up and looked at me, eyes full of tears, and said “Hey baby, Dad’s not coming home.” He had chosen another path that didn’t include me, my mom, or my two younger siblings.
As a young child, how do you handle that?
How do you handle that your Dad, the leader of your home, has abandoned ship?
Well, as many people do, I suppressed those feelings. For the next eight years of my life, I would do my best to be the next man up, as the oldest child, yet not addressing the obvious hurt that was in my heart.
Years and years went by and in my mind, I was doing great, however on the inside I was quickly deteriorating. I struggled with severe depression for a few months until I eventually landed in the hospital for four days over suicidal thoughts.
What caused these suicidal thoughts?
Was it the damaging experiences themselves, or the fact that I didn’t deal with the hurt in the first place?
Probably a mixture of both. My mind was like a pressure cooker, slowly building up pressure until it exploded.
So how did God restore my heart? Through a process called forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not easy, and it does not often come quickly. It is a slow, messy process of wrestling with God and your own flesh. Forgiveness is a decision. Don’t get me wrong, God certainly helps you make that decision and aids with the process, however, it takes an individual making the choice for themselves that begins the process.
From my experiences, I have found that there are four different phases of forgiveness: the Uncovering Phase, the Decision Phase, the Work Phase and the Deepening Phase.
As you wrestle through the process of forgiveness, I would encourage you to keep a journal. These steps do not have any time restraint on them, however for me personally, it took about a week for each step.
The Uncovering Phase, just as it sounds, is the process of re-living the pain that you went through. If an athlete breaks a bone, and allows it to heal incorrectly, the only way to get it to mend correctly is by re-breaking it. So, through the uncovering phase you are re-opening that wound, discerning how it impacted your life, and truly embracing the painful emotions it made/makes you feel. It may feel harmful at first, but it is allowing your heart to heal. Sometimes what we need hurts the most. The best way to do this is by writing in your journal (or notebook for guys) every night for a week, trying to dive deeper into your emotions every night until you can clearly articulate your emotions.
The second phase is the most important stage: the Decision Phase. In this phase you will think logically, where in the first phase you thought with your heart, in this phase you will think with you mind. The best way through this stage is writing down the pros and cons of forgiving and making your decision. I understand that many who have been hurt may have the right to be angry, to hold onto resentment, however, to forgive is to make a decision to show compassion to the one that hurt you in order for healing and restoration. The decision to forgive someone who has severely hurt you is possibly one of the most important, yet difficult decisions you will ever make, but also one of the most rewarding.
The Work Phase of forgiveness is where you really start to dive into compassion and empathy. During this phase you will attempt to understand what life was like for the offender, attempting to work through the cause of them hurting you. For anyone who has watched Criminal Minds, it is a similar experience. You are trying to get inside the head of your offender and truly relate to them as an individual. There is almost always a cause to the offender’s actions. It could be mental illness, it could be spiritual warfare, or it could be a rough upbringing. Regardless, attempt to solve what could’ve cause your offender to act this way and choose compassion.
The last phase is the Deepening Phase. It’s just as it sounds. This phase is more than likely the most hopeful. In this phase you think about how you will and have already benefited from forgiving the offender. While this is called the deepening phase, another word would be the growth stage. This is where you look back and consider the growth that has occurred. This is also a time where you consider what forgiveness looks like for you moving forward.
For me, after going through the forgiveness process, I felt like God was leading me to reconciliation with my father. I ended up reaching out to him and reconnecting. Did he reach out to me first? No. Did he beg for forgiveness when we talked for the first time in years? No. So why did I reach out? I reached out because God was leading me to show His love to the one that probably deserved it from me the very least. It is in those times when you can make the greatest eternal impact because at the end of the day it’s not about justice, it’s about love.
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” -Ephesians 4:32
Michael is now 23. He recently graduated with an Associates degree in Psychology and a Bachelors degree in Biblical studies from Lancaster Bible College. He is currently serving on staff as a pastor at Rosedale Baptist Church. Michael is engaged to be married to his sweet heart, Rebecca, in June. You can follow Michaels journey at https://pastorme.medium.com/