In my last post, I wrote about the importance and benefits of loving our clients. I proposed that in order to know our clients, we have to truly love them. In this post, I will continue my argument on the benefits of loving and where it can take us. I believe that through really loving others, we will experience a growth so powerful that it will encompass all areas of both our lives and our clients’.
In the April 2010 issue of Psychology Today, journalist Hara Estroff Marano in her column – Unconventional Wisdom addressed a reader’s concern about forgiving her mother who was a drug addict. The reader shared her experience of growing up in an unstable and abusive household. The reader further explained how her childhood was filled with violent arguments, substance abuse by both parents and much confusion. Her parents divorced while she was very young and her mother quickly remarried a convict who willingly supported and participated in her drug habits.
The reader shared that despite her and her siblings’ poor upbringing, she has great forgiveness for her mother. Marano shared that “Forgiveness is itself a fine emotion, but it is debased if it is granted promiscuously.” She further cautioned the reader to, “Consider whether you are dispensing forgiveness prematurely, before having a full airing of her crimes with your mother.”
It appeared to me that what Marano was suggesting to the reader that forgiveness is an emotion and that she should first take her mom on a guilt trip before dispensing it. I dissent from Marano’s views and her advice to a daughter who clearly wanted to forgive her mother.
I believe our clients as well as any other individual displays mental, emotional and spiritual maturity when they forgive prematurely. If they can forgive someone readily before they ask or even realize they need forgiveness, they are on the path to greatness and have exercised real love. The Bible tells the story of how Jesus was actually murdered for loving us. Amidst all the pain he was feeling (physically and emotionally) while hanging on the cross, he was able to offer forgiveness to those who committed this injustice against him (Luke 23:34). Jesus realized that these individuals, some of whom claimed to follow and love God, had not yet realized their need for forgiveness. So what did He do? He forgave them in advance – He forgave them prematurely. I believe there are tremendous emotional and mental benefits to be experienced by our clients if we they take this proactive approach to forgiveness.
We know how difficult it can be to forgive someone who has really hurt us and I have no doubt our clients feel the same way. Forgiving an unfaithful partner is among the most challenging things to do. I know of individuals who even after divorce have not been able to forgive the unfaithful spouse. There are other individuals who refuse to forgive a parent or other family member for past wrongs. There may even be some of our clients who are withholding forgiveness from us because of something we said, did, or didn’t say or do.
Forgiveness can be so difficult for our clients because it requires the giving up of any resentment that they have toward the other person. It is releasing their negative emotions such as anger, rage, and bitterness. It leads to treating the other person as if they had not wronged us in the first place. Our clients have been wronged. They have been hurt.
So what about the offence? Who pays for that? Our clients may ask. I support the notion that forgiveness does not wipe away the offence itself. It puts the offended party in a better place mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and according to some research physically. I believe this is one of the reasons some of our clients are reluctant to forgive. We fear that offering forgiveness means everything will be fine especially if we do it prematurely as I am proposing. Fortunately, that is not the case so we can continue to encourage our clients to find those who have offended them and offer them their forgiveness.
In 2008, a Bermudian father lost his teenage son to violence. The 2010 trial saw one person being convicted of manslaughter for his son’s death. After the trial, the emotional father surprise everyone when he called for forgiveness for those involved in killing his son. He uttered the words “Forgive them, for they don't know what they do." It is quite devastating to lose a loved one especially your child. So what the father did was very admirable and of course Christ-like. Even though this father offered forgiveness to the one convicted of taking his son’s life, this young man will not just walk out of the court room and go home and continue life as normal. He will have to pay for what he did.
Forgiving someone prematurely almost sounds divine-like or impossible to do. But as we as well as our clients embark on the journey towards truly loving, premature forgiveness will be a natural by-product. This does not mean we will not be hurt by some of things others will do and say to us. It does mean that our love for them will compel us to offer them forgiveness before they even ask or realize they have wronged us.
*All scriptural references, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New International Version.
Pete Saunders is a counselor in training at Capella University. He also writes a weekly blog and conducts a weekly video interview on manhood at razorsanddiapers.com