IS UNFORGIVENESS THE REAL ISSUE?
by Dave Campbell 11/09/2012 / Christian Living
Counselors are frequently encountering clients with relationship challenges. In Christian circles we are
aware of strong forgiveness issues pervading most of those situations, but today, I would like to suggest
In relationship breakdowns there are strong elements unforgiveness but the real problems do not seem to
start there. Let's look at the example of a breakdown that involves an emotional chain of events:
1. Jane is feeling unloved, unappreciated and maybe even without purpose (in a nutshell, unimportant).
2. She starts looking at the reasons for her feelings.
3. She comes with up with a list of reasons that include many things that one of her friends has done.
4. This proves to her that her feelings are justified.
5. She begins to resent her friend or her actions because they make her feel bad.
6. As she dwells on all the bad things her friend has done she becomes angry.
7. The anger produces adrenaline, which make her feel powerful.
8. The power makes her feel important.
9. She now has what she was missing: Importance!
10. She will now hang on tight to this newfound power, because it satisfies what she was missing.
The ultimate outcome of this chain is a self-righteous, self-justifying attitude that is filled with "self-
power". However, this power that comes from anger has large flaw; it is temporary and destructive. A
person cannot sustain long term anger to feed what they need. They may think that this is the only way to
feel important and to be in control, but it is extremely taxing long term and will often result in bouts of
deep depression, cycling through high anxiety and anger.
A person stuck in this self-powered, self-importance cycle, can justify unreasonable anger towards their
friend and even physical or emotional harm. It is a dead end with no out but self-destruction.
So, what should Jane do? We can see in this chain that if Jane forgave her friend for the awful things she
did, it would break the chain. But, I would like to point out that though the end result is affected by
forgiveness, forgiveness is not at the top of this chain. If Jane forgives her friend, she still retains her
feeling of unimportance. As long as she feels that, she will be looking for a scapegoat and she will find it
in her friends. The issues between her and her friend will keep coming back.
If we are to take the classic Christian approach, we will be telling Jane, "Well, the Bible says you need to
forgive your friend, 70 X 7 each day! Now that is not bad advice, but we know without the intervention of
the Holy Spirit, no one will be able in their human flesh to do that. In fact, we all know that people fail to
reach their goals and obligations in life, consistently. As Christians, we need to help people reach their
goals and not to add to their already heavy loads.
In the example above we can easily see that as long as Jane feels unimportant, she will need to provide a
constant out-flow of forgiveness every day, all day, for the rest of her life. She will exercise this huge task
to compensate for one simple necessity.
(It is important to note here that when the focus of a person's problems is misdirected, they will frequently
expend large amounts of energy and still fail to reach what they really need. This often produces a deep
sense of hopelessness and can even lead to despair.)
If we look closely at Jane's challenge, it should become apparent that what she really needs to have fixed is
the FIRST thing on the list. If she can solve the first step in this chain, the other issues will disappear (and
the first step in the chain has little to do with forgiveness).
If Jane were to begin feeling important, loved and appreciated, then she would not be looking for reasons
that she was otherwise. The subsequent events in the chain dissolve because she no longer looks to blame
someone else for her feelings.
The biggest issue then becomes this question: Why does a person feel unimportant?
There are MANY reasons. We can have chemical changes that make us feel that way, we can even be sick
or have emotional swings based on weather, colors or what we eat. We are such fragile creatures and our
feelings are swayed easily by small things.
In addition to our emotional responses to non-living elements, there will always be SOMEONE who will
do something or say something that triggers our sensitive areas. Any number of persons is capable of doing
that and the ones we see the most often become the ones that trigger them the most. It's a no-brainer; our
friends will be our scapegoats because they trigger our feelings the most. Why? Because we SEE them
more than anyone else! We spend more time with them and talk with them the most. The more they talk
and do, the higher the chance of hitting one of those triggers; AND if we are having a bad day? WOW!
Then, it does not take anything to trigger our emotions.
The real issue in our scenario is that Jane needs to find her "feeling of importance" by some other means
than whatever her emotions are doing from minute to minute. If we are easily swayed and easily hurt, (and
we all are) then our importance MUST NOT come from that area. Our own chemistry WILL fail us and it
will fail to make us feel good. Our friends WILL let us down and say awkward things. In their hearts they
mean no harm but we all know that "the mouth" is pretty stupid.
We, as humans, cannot depend on anyone or anything to continually, consistently or even adequately meet
our need for importance.
In fact, our sense of importance is often diminished if our worth is only valued by a person who we feel is
beneath us or perhaps even one that is equal. For example: We appreciate the value we receive from a
child's compliment but it does not seem to equal that of an adult. We get a greater sense of worth when
someone big and important recognizes our value. In addition if that important individual loves us, then our
sense of importance grows exponentially.
So, if you are following all this - you can see that someone who loves us a lot and is a "big wig" makes us
feel really important.
Here is where God enters. He is the biggest "big wig" I know and he has very deep love for us.
Jane needs to let that soak in and feed on it every day. When she realizes that she is accepted, respected,
approved, valued and loved beyond any capability of her other friends, she will start to feel important.
When she realizes that God has cared enough for her to make an actual PLAN for her life and planned
things for her to do (that she likes) (Ephesians 2:10), she will lose the need to forgive her friends for
"making her feel unimportant" and the rest of the chain will collapse. She will not need the anger and the
self-power and she will not reach out to harm the ones she cares for.
Perhaps, in the church and in our Christian counseling, we have missed the target at times. Perhaps we
would do well to focus more on why a person feels unimportant than whether they forgive.
Forgiveness is a big issue, we know that very well and if there is no forgiveness for those things that have
already been done, there can be no resolution or peace. BUT, if we can bring a person to a feeling of being
important, then the element of forgiveness will become a small and manageable issue.
The truth is that God gave his son so that mankind could feel important.
Dave Campbell has ministered for 30 years from large platforms to local outreaches. He has counseled hundreds of people with difficult issues. Today he is a professional writer, employed full time, as well as a free-lance writer for Christ.