Today I’m adding the final bulleted suggestions on helping someone decide how to handle a forgiveness issue. All are from pages 4-5 of When to Forgive . Please remember, this is not about a command to forgive. Telling someone to forgive is dangerous. It might result  in a quick recitation of “I forgive” without the hard work behind it and accomplishment of the real and important gains of a good forgiveness decision. Shame might be added to the pain of suffering an offense if the victim believes in the “ought to forgive” and can’t. That’s the hazard of sermons — religious or otherwise — that tell the sufferer he or she must forgive. Realistically there may be actions the sufferer must take before genuine forgiveness. Or, it’s even possible that the sufferer might be better off choosing not to forgive. “When to Forgive” is about making and carrying out a decision after careful thought and work.

So, here goes,the final complete list of what you might do to help someone trying to deal with the pain of an offense as he or she considers the forgiveness option.

  • Be a good listener. Telling his or her own story is absolutely crucial to a person’s recovery from the effects of an offense. Encourage giving details, but don’t press your own advice or suggestions. Ask questions that encourage going into depth, but be sensitive to the person’s own self-regulating system. Don’t push beyond what he or she is ready to report. There are situations of extreme trauma where the victim is better off not remembering what happened.
  • When your friend is asked to ‘probe the wound,’ ask for as much detail as possible. In fact, you may know the situation well enough that you can remember some things your friend has forgotten. But let your friend be in control of how much he or she can tolerate.
  • You can discuss and help clarify, but don’t impose your own view. You can also help your companion fend off the efforts of others to dictate their beliefs.
  • Your friend making the journey may want you to provide some feedback. Sometimes you may observe things that he or she doesn’t readily see. Often it’s the positives that people have difficulty identifying in themselves.
  • As the book progresses, you can serve by moving beyond being the effective listener to being a good discussant. Perhaps you’ll be invited to talk over some ideas presented in the problem-solving phase. Remember to take direction from your friend; let the sufferer tell you how active he or she wants you to be in offering ideas.
  • As your friend moves closer to making a decision, the fact that you are familiar with the offense that has occurred, and the people involved, makes you a good potential resource for considering the practicality of any punishment options that may be considered.
  • You may gain some insights about yourself in this process and want to get feedback on what you are learning. But remember the focus is on helping to heal the person who suffered the offense.


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  1. i appreciate every word, and i will admit that when i used to go to church, the forgiveness came about, and i found myself feeling guilty for not being ready to forgive. i have forgiven a lot by now, but when i am pressured, especially from a religion, i back away feeling ashamed or guilt, and i don’t need any more guilt placed on me for my imperfections

  2. Thanks, Terry. You have said it so perfectly. That’s the cruelty of well-meaning folks, inside or out of church, who take it upon themselves to tell the sufferer that she or he should forgive. Actually, they just add one more offense to what one is already suffering. It’s true that forgiveness is a relief for the forgivers, but only when they decide and act on their own — often a long, hard process.

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