We’ve all had times when it was hard to forgive someone for having hurt us or when our attempts to gain someone else’s forgiveness have fallen flat.
Sometimes, “I’m sorry” isn’t enough because owe have an unforgiving heart. We want to hold on to the pain because it makes us feel self-righteous and superior to the person who hurt us and it gives us a weapon to use against the offender. “Oh, yeah? NOW you want to be nice to me? HA! Well, we’ll see about that!”
But what about those times when our hearts really do want to forgive but, despite our best and most sincere efforts to let go of the pain, we continue to be haunted by the hurt? Should we feel guilty for somehow “refusing” to forgive? Or could something else be going on?
The Divine Longing for Justice
As I argue in Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, sometimes our inability to let go of the anger and hurt that follows an offense isn’t a lack of forgiveness, but a sign of our Divine Longing for Justice. Our divine longing for justice was hard-wired into us at the beginning of creation. It is one of the seven longings that points us to God and, after the Fall, continues to nag at us from deep within so that we can restore the order that we destroyed by sin.
The Divine Longing for Justice helps us attend to the healing of wounds and offenses that we, in our weakness, might just prefer to ignore, but that the Holy Spirit wants us to address so that godly order might be restored and authentic healing can take place.
Satisfying The Divine Longing for Justice
When “I’m sorry” isn’t enough, despite our best efforts to let go of our hurt, it is usually because one of the three components of an effective apology–of true remorse–is absent. Researchers tell us that there are three keys to an effective apology. We don’t need all three components every time someone offends us, but the more serious the offense, the more we will probably need all three keys to unlock the door to total reconciliation and healing.
3 Keys to Healing the Hurting Heart
The three keys are; empathy, objective remorse, restitution.
Empathy–refers to the offender’s willingness to demonstrate that they truly understand how deeply they have hurt us. An apology consisting of ” “Fine, I’m sorry, are you happy now?” isn’t an apology at all. When someone hurts you, not only do you deserve to hear, “I can’t believe I did that to you. I am so sorry for having hurt you like that.” but unless the offender can make such an expression of empathy, you can be sure that they really don’t understand the seriousness of what they did, which means it will probably happen again. In these situations, your Divine Longing for Justice will continue to nag you as a way of saying, “The situation isn’t safe. Don’t let down your guard yet!”
Objective Remorse–refers to the offender’s understanding that you had an objective right to expect more from them. That is, you aren’t hurt because “you can’t take a joke,” or because “you are so sensitive,” or because “you are so demanding.” Rather, you are hurt because you had a right to expect more from the person, that anyone would have expected more from them, and they let you down. “I am so sorry. A husband should never treat a wife the way I treated you. You are absolutely right and I promise I won’t do it again.” Without objective remorse, your Divine Longing for Justice won’t allow you to let go of your fear and pain because it recognized that the person isn’t truly sorry, but rather is blaming you for the audacity of actually expecting them to behave appropriately!
Restitution–is the offender’s willingness to make things right. Sometimes restitution is material in that they will repair or replace they thing they broke or took from you. More often, restitution requires a willingness to sit down with you and outline their plan for handling similar situations differently in the future. Other times it will require them to admit that they don’t have what it takes to promise they won’t do it again, and agree to get the help they need–professionally or otherwise–to learn the skills that are lacking. Either way, without some plan of restitution, your Divine Longing for Justice will not allow you to let go of the pain, because the wound is still raw and without restitution, it could become infected and lead to bitterness and deeper resentment over time.
The desire to let go of our pain after an offense and move on is noble and godly, but when the pain lingers despite our best efforts to forgive, we need to pause and ask God, “What are you telling me still needs to occur for true reconciliation to take place?” and look at which of the 3 keys to reconciliation is missing. God doesn’t want to heal us by half measures. He desires true, authentic, and total healing for both us and our relationships and he gives us the Divine Longing for Justice to see that this healing and wholeness and take place.
If you need more help finding reconciliation after an offense, check out Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our Catholic telecounseling practice can help you find true healing after the hurt.