Best Christian Book on Forgiveness?

YOU Decide!

Welcome! The introduction and first two chapters of The Language of Deep Forgiveness: Break Free from Struggling to Accept the Unacceptable are available here below for your use and enjoyment. In this sample, you will discover how the precise language you use to think about forgiveness in your mind affects how deeply you actually forgive in your heart and the level of freedom you experience. You will also learn about the Acceptance Conundrum, a common block to forgiveness in which we are left unable to accept the unacceptable. These deep insights are based on a combination of Christian spirituality, clinical psychology, and brain science.

A recent study by Barna found that 1 in 4 practicing Christians struggle to forgive someone. Whether you need help forgiving or know someone you would like to help, the unique insights contained in this breakthrough book can be an invaluable tool for change and healing from trauma.

When you are ready to read a more detailed description of the entire book, please use the following button to open the book's product page at Amazon in a new browser tab.

Contents

(clickable)

Introduction

Overview

Jennifer's Story

1. The Significance of Language

Practicing Deep Forgiveness

2. Two Natural Laws

3. The Acceptance Conundrum

4. Your Personal Brain

5. What Forgiveness Is Not

6. The Two Pillars

Conclusion

Appendix

Dictionary Definitions of Forgiveness

Study Guide

Introduction

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

— Albert Einstein

Language etches the grooves through which your thoughts must flow.

— Noam Chomsky


May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart

be pleasing in your sight,

LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

— Psalms 19:14

Overview

In this book, you will find the answers to these important questions:


  • Why is forgiveness so difficult?

  • What are the two pillars of forgiveness?

  • How does the language you use to think about forgiveness affect how deeply you forgive?

  • Why are declarations of forgiveness towards others, including those spoken in prayer, often insufficient in producing lasting freedom from unforgiveness?

  • How can you speak forgiveness more effectively?

  • What can you do when forgiveness seems to require you to accept those offenders you consider unacceptable?

Jennifer's Story

Jennifer’s mind was caught up in a whirlpool of rage, threatening to drown her soul. How can I possibly forgive him? What he did to me was so terrible and inexcusable! All I honestly want is for him to suffer and die! Her anger had become all-consuming, overwhelming, uncontainable. It was more than she had felt in a long time, perhaps more than she had ever felt. And yet another part of her was utterly shocked by its ferocity, stunned by the realization of just how much intense hatred she was capable of feeling towards another human being.

But this man had severely betrayed her trust. What made matters worse was that he was also an authority figure in a position to profoundly affect her life. He had abused his power and treated her unjustly. And it seemed there was little she could do about it. Feeling helplessness in the grip of such unexpected injustice only enraged her further. Because she had once considered him a friend and mentor, so intense was the pain of his betrayal.

Jennifer tried to resolve the situation through open dialog. She approached him with graciousness, hoping that reason might prevail between them. But all she got in return was denial, rationalization, and stonewalling. He was a deeply insecure person, inwardly terrified of being questioned and having his weaknesses exposed. Further communication with him only added more insult to injury. Even the intervention of impartial third parties did no good. The two of them were at a complete impasse.

Jennifer’s anger was quickly turning into long-term resentment and bitterness. Overwhelmed by it all, she didn’t know what to do. How was she going to resolve this tidal wave of negative emotion that had crashed over her, rolling her over and over? Revenge was certainly the easiest option to contemplate. Fantasies of how it might be done came naturally to her imagination. But Jennifer was a deeply devoted follower of Jesus and knew that forgiveness was the option she must choose. It was the Christ-like thing to do. Moreover, she was so tired of thinking about him and realized that her unforgiveness was only hurting herself. She decided to forgive him and move on.

But Jennifer discovered that she simply could not, no matter how hard she tried. Although she had the will to forgive him, her negative thoughts and feelings towards him remained strong. They continued to pop up into her consciousness, whenever her attention was not focused on something else. They were relentless, intrusive, and sometimes even homicidal. She could find no peace from them.

Desperate for help, Jennifer turned to her pastor, who led her through an eloquent prayer, declaring her forgiveness towards the person who had injured her. As they prayed together, she felt a genuine sense of release, her anger subsiding. She thought she had finally forgiven him, but days later to her disappointment, her unforgiving thoughts returned. She continued to pray about it both by herself and with other people. And although more prayer helped, it was never enough to fully set her free. Feeling discouraged and tormented by her own mind, Jennifer wondered what she was doing wrong. The best she could do was repress her unforgiveness and pretend that it wasn’t there. But during moments when she was honest with herself, she had to admit that her resentment remained and was draining much of her energy.

Jennifer’s inability to fully forgive was not due to lack of either choice or faith, as some of those around her insensitively suggested, but the result of a deep inner conflict. As much as a part of her really wanted to forgive and forget, another did not. Whenever she imagined saying the words I forgive you to him, this other part of her didn’t believe what she was saying. It defiantly refused to forgive, vehemently voicing its objection in the form of a rhetorical question: How can I accept the unacceptable? I call this inward resistance to forgive, the Acceptance Conundrum.

In Greek mythology, the Sphinx was a creature with a human head and the body of a lion who guarded the entrance to the ancient City of Thebes. Travelers were not allowed to pass unless they could solve its riddle. Those who could not, it devoured. Likewise, unforgiveness will eat us alive unless we can get through it. The Acceptance Conundrum is the riddle of this inner psychological Sphinx, blocking our path to deep forgiveness until we can provide an acceptable answer.

Many cases of unforgiveness are as difficult as Jennifer’s. They exhibit the common pattern of trying hard to forgive but not succeeding, not understanding why, and then settling for unsteady unsustainable repression. They may display symptoms such as anxiety, depression, numbness, rage, obsessive thoughts, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When we find ourselves stuck in similar situations, struggling to forgive those who have wronged us badly, how can we make progress? And even in cases not as severe, how do we resolve those lingering strands of resentment keeping us from the complete inner peace we seek?

In this book, we will learn how we can move forward more speedily on our path to deep forgiveness by examining the language we use to define and speak forgiveness. We will explore the two core pillars of forgiveness and discover why they are often so difficult to do. Most importantly, we will find a way to solve the riddle of the Acceptance Conundrum, this subtle and profound obstacle to full forgiveness freedom. Jennifer will continue to be with us on this journey. We will see how the insights ahead have helped her to find inner peace.

1. The Significance of Language

The language we use to define and speak forgiveness affects how well we can forgive. The specific words and sentences we use matter; some are far more effective than others. In this chapter, you will discover how to speak forgiveness in a manner which penetrates your own heart. By learning the language of deep forgiveness, you will be able to forgive more quickly and deeply, finding the peace and freedom you seek more readily.

Let’s begin with an exercise to uncover the particular language you have been using to forgive:


Exercise: Speaking Forgiveness in Your Mind

1. Think of someone you need to forgive more deeply.

2. As vividly as you can, imagine the offender in the room in front of you, picturing their facial expression, posture, and clothing.

3. Write down in one or two sentences how you would speak forgiveness to them, only in your mind, not necessarily what you would want to say directly.

4. Speak (out loud if possible) forgiveness to this person using what you wrote.

5. Notice any change in your feelings towards them.

6. Rate how much you have forgiven the offender on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 indicating no forgiveness, and 10 indicating complete forgiveness. Write down this number; it is your forgiveness rating for this person.


Did the exercise produce any effect on your feelings towards the offender? If the impact you experienced was significant, that is certainly good news. But if it was not, you need not be discouraged because help is on the way in this book. Regardless of the outcome of the exercise, your forgiveness language can likely be improved to have greater effect.

The statement you spontaneously constructed reflects how you naturally understand forgiveness, the learning you obtained from a variety of sources: dictionaries, teachers, and living with others in community, especially family and church. Dictionaries, both secular and theological, are very limited in defining forgiveness in a way that is practically useful. Some are even harmfully unrealistic and idealistic. (See the Appendix for examples and discussion.) Spiritual teachers have developed various prayer models to help us forgive. You may have adopted some of their language as your own. One such example is:

“Father God, in the name of Jesus Christ, I choose to forgive (the offender) for (the offense). Forgive me for my bitterness towards (the offender). I confess and repent of this sin, and nail it to the cross of Jesus. I choose to release it completely to You.”

These kinds of prayers, which declare one’s forgiveness towards an offender, can be spiritually powerful by asserting the theological basis for forgiveness to proceed forward. But yet in many instances, they seem insufficient to complete the process. After praying these prayers, some forgivers experience initial relief only to later find their unforgiving thoughts returning, requiring them to pray the same prayers again and again. Have you also experienced this need for repetition in your own prayers or in speaking forgiveness to someone in your mind? Something is clearly missing in the way we forgive, especially in cases in which the injury is severe and the resentment resilient.

That something, crucial to forgiveness, missing from most prayer models and dictionary definitions of forgiveness, is language that speaks to the heart in terms that the heart can hear. Your understanding of how to define and speak forgiveness has been derived from limited or inadequate resources, which we will now remedy.

Let’s consider as an alternative this practical conversational definition of forgiveness, which contains two pillars or core attitudes, expressed by Statements, A and B:


Forgiveness is having an attitude towards the offender which both states:

A. “You don’t have to make up for what you did to me.”

B. “I don’t have to hurt you for hurting me.”


Picture in your mind the word, “FORGIVENESS,” written on a crossbeam, supported by two pillars, one marked “A” and the other “B”. Forgiveness, represented by the crossbeam, is held up by its two core attitudes, the pillars. Pillar A lets go of the demand for restitution, while Pillar B lets go of the demand for retribution. This metaphor of the Two Pillars will be used throughout this book to organize and structure our understanding of forgiveness.

Think of the particular Statements, A and B, above, as one view of the Two Pillars, which we will refer to as the Basic View. Eventually, we will develop a total of four distinct views, using slightly different Statements to express the same core attitudes of the pillars from a variety of important perspectives. In the last chapter, we will build a full detailed description of our forgiveness metaphor using everything we will learn.

Now let’s do our speaking exercise again using the Basic View.


Exercise: Speaking Deep Forgiveness in Your Mind

1. Think of someone you need to forgive more deeply.

2. As vividly as you can, imagine the offender in the room in front of you, picturing their facial expression, posture, and clothing.

3. Speak (out loud if possible) forgiveness to this person using Statement A:

A. “You don’t have to make up for what you did to me.”

Repeat this several times, pausing for a moment after each time to notice how you feel before continuing.

4. Speak (out loud if possible) forgiveness to this person using Statement B:

B. “I don’t have to hurt you for hurting me.”

Repeat this several times, as before.

5. Notice any change in your feelings towards them.

6. On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how much you have forgiven the offender, with 1 indicating no forgiveness, and 10 indicating complete forgiveness. Write it down.


How did you feel after doing the exercise this time? You might have experienced some resistance, relief, or resolution. Resistance would reveal that there is a pillar of forgiveness that is hard for you to accept. Relief would mean that your heart has finally been able to hear forgiveness spoken with words that it can understand. Resolution would indicate that you have been ready to forgive for a long time and just needed the right words to solidify it.

Did you experience any difference between this exercise and the previous one? How much did your forgiveness rating change? It is likely you felt more emotional impact doing this later exercise because of the differences in the language used. When Jennifer participated in the exercise, she exclaimed in surprise, “It really does make a difference!” Using this new forgiveness language felt more genuine to her, reaching a much deeper place in her heart.

Forgiveness speaks primarily to the heart, especially your own heart. When you declare your forgiveness, above all others, you are speaking your intent to yourself. You are communicating the forgiving attitudes you wish your heart to adopt. It is not necessary and often unwise for you to speak directly to the offender, who may not appreciate your forgiveness. Regardless of whether the offender, others, or God hear your words, it is your own heart that matters the most for you to gain freedom from unforgiveness.

To forgive well, you must use language that your heart can receive and comprehend, language that is simple, concrete, direct, child-like, and conversational. This natural language of your emotional center uses experiential terms which even a young child can understand. Young children generally do not understand theological concepts such as “the cross of Jesus.” If your language is too abstract, your heart will have a hard time hearing it.

Did you experience any difference between speaking the two Statements in this exercise? If you noticed some difference in your emotional response, it’s because the Two Pillars are independent processes; they function each on their own. One woman realized that she was able to let go of her demand for retribution, but still struggled very much with restitution. This discovery helped her to focus in on what specific work remained to forgive more completely in her heart.

Forgiveness joins together these two distinct psychological processes of the pillars. Each one needs to be addressed and practiced separately, and then be united with the other to form a complete whole. Only after you have practiced well having each attitude toward the offender will you know what you mean when you say, I forgive. Otherwise, simply saying those words without deeper understanding will do little for your heart. Once practiced, both processes may be effectively considered a single concept using the word forgive. When done well, they produce a desirable emotional release, the natural letting go of anger, bitterness, and resentment.

Practicing Deep Forgiveness

Speaking forgiveness powerfully requires more than just the right words and sentences themselves; it also depends on the way in which they are spoken. In other words, It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. The energy in your voice matters, as well as your intonation as you pronounce each word. Even your posture and gestures contribute to a full-person experience in which your body language and vocal tone match what you are saying. The practice of speaking forgiveness is most effective when you put your whole self into it. This can be done just in your mind or out loud, by yourself or with others. It does not have to be spoken to the offender directly.

A good strategy to learn a complex skill is to break it down into simpler parts, practice each part separately until proficient, and then combine the parts together. This strategy works well in almost all fields of performance training, from music to gymnastics to mathematics.

One of my favorite hobbies is playing the guitar, which involves the coordination of my left and right hands. With my left hand, I have to produce the correct fingering of chords on the fretboard, while with my right, I have to strum the right strings at the right time in right rhythm. When I was first learning to play guitar, it was very difficult to do both at the same time. If I focused more on my left hand chord fingering, my right hand would fall out of rhythm, causing me to lose my timing in the song. If I paid more attention to my strumming, my left hand would finger the strings in the wrong place, producing an unpleasant discordant sound. My skills didn’t improve very much until I started practicing them individually.

By focusing only on changing chords, my fingerings became quick and precise, and so well practiced that I didn’t have to think about the placement of particular fingers anymore. And by giving my sole attention to playing different strumming patterns, I was able make the process of changing patterns while staying on meter so automatic that I didn’t have to think about each strum anymore. The final step was to put the two skills together and coordinate them, which was much easier after practicing them individually. I had to practice, practice, and practice them together until I no longer had to concentrate on the playing, but only sense the flow of the music. At times I played so intuitively with such wholehearted engagement that I felt at one with the music, the experience of being in the musician’s groove.

Of course, learning to forgive is much more complex than learning to play the guitar, but some principles may apply to both, such as individual focus, repetitive practice, and being fully engaged. By focusing on each pillar of forgiveness individually, you can identify which one, if any, is troubling you. Then you can try to uncover the source of the resistance and address the issues causing it. If you are having a hard time forgiving someone, ask yourself which pillar is more difficult to say? Considering each situation individually may reveal to you what issues you need to address: Perhaps the first pillar is hard because you are still grieving the loss caused by this person? Or perhaps the other is difficult because you still desire revenge?

Repetitive practice is necessary and good when done in moderation. Saying that you forgive once and then trying to forget is surely not enough, while saying it a thousand times a day is certainly too much. My suggestion is that whenever unforgiving thoughts arise, address them with the pillar which most applies at that moment and then turn your attention elsewhere. Don’t completely ignore the thoughts, but don’t dwell on them either. Be aware that repetitive practice alone is often not sufficient to complete the process, so avoid getting frustrated by over-practicing. If my guitar was mistuned or had a broken string, my playing would sound awful regardless of how much I practiced. It would need tuning or repairs. Likewise, when practicing forgiveness has reached a plateau, additional insights which we will discover ahead, will be needed to make the process more effective.

Being fully engaged means committing all the necessary mental resources to the forgiveness task at hand. Be receptive to your inner thoughts and feelings. Take time to reflect on them and let your intuition guide you. Try speaking the pillars of forgiveness out loud. Hearing yourself through your ears creates new neurological pathways which deepen the impact of those statements in your mind; you hear not only your words, but the tone and emotion in your voice too, creating a fuller experience. Keep in mind that choice and commitment are only the beginning of the process. It will take time for you to develop the inner awareness and understanding necessary to complete the journey.

Jennifer made very little progress in forgiving her abuser by simply repeating, I forgive you, in her head. But when she started using the language of deep forgiveness, her ability to forgive improved. These particular words touched her heart more deeply and enabled her to practice individually each pillar. Although she still had a long road ahead, Jennifer felt relieved that she was finally making some significant progress.


In the next chapter, we will explore the origin of the Two Pillars of forgiveness.

2. Two Natural Laws

The two distinct pillars of forgiveness address two natural psychological laws of social justice, the Laws of Restitution and Retribution. These laws have been written into the DNA of the human soul, heart and mind, instinctively known by children without having to be taught. No child needs instruction on the rules of Gimme back what you took from me! and If you hit me, I’m gonna hit you back harder! They become aware of them just fine on their own.

Every culture has its own manifestation of the Natural Laws. In the U. S. and elsewhere, how many revenge movies are produced every year? The number is seemingly endless. Even the most forgiving of us, can’t help but delight in the moment when evil characters get what they deserve in the end. Movies are just fantasy entertainment, but in unguarded moments they reveal what is lurking in the human psyche.

The Law of Restitution is a demand for fair repayment or compensation. It can be stated in many ways including:

  • They must make up for what they did to me.
  • They must pay the debt they owe me.
  • They must repair the harm they caused me.

The Law of Retribution is a demand for just punishment or consequences. It can be stated in many ways including:

  • I must hurt them for hurting me.
  • They must be punished for their offense.
  • An eye for an eye.
  • A tooth for a tooth.

The ancient Roman legal principle of lex talionis placed restrictions on revenge so that “an eye for an eye” meant ONLY an eye for an eye, prohibiting the taking of two eyes for an eye. When unchecked, the human psyche has a tendency to take punishment too far.

Far older than Roman culture, biblical mandates arising from the Natural Laws are found together in the Book of Leviticus in which God speaks to Moses:

‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.’ (Leviticus 24:20–22)

The laws of the psyche were made into explicit societal laws to provide for orderly justice and prevent uncontrolled vengeance.

Moreover, the Natural Laws can be expressed in three levels: personal, societal, and universal. Enforcement at the personal level between individuals, also known as “taking the law into your own hands” or “frontier justice,” often happens, even though personal revenge is clearly prohibited by biblical law (Lev 19:18). Enforcement at the societal level of the laws of the State are handled by the police and the courts. Enforcement at the universal level is the divine prerogative; final justice is God’s responsibility. In particular situations, the responsible authority at each level can choose to set aside or nullify the law, making it void and unenforced.

Forgiveness is the setting aside of these Natural Laws. At the personal level, forgiveness is an individual choice; we are given the freewill either to forgive or not forgive. At the societal level, forgiveness is occasionally done by executive pardon or judicial ruling. At the universal level, the atoning work of Christ on our behalf makes the full forgiveness of God possible. At each level, the responsible authority chooses whether or not to forgive.

On a grassy hillside, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus gave his famous Sermon on the Mount, in which he taught his disciples to set aside the Law of Restitution at the personal level, modeling to them how to pray: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt 6:12) In this, his Lord’s prayer, “our debts” are what we owe in restitution, and “our debtors” are those who owe us restitution. We are to forgive those who have sinned against us, even when they haven’t made amends.

Jesus also taught his followers to set aside the Law of Retribution at the personal level: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.” (Matt 5:38–39, GNT) A slap on the cheek by the back of the hand at this time was considered a great insult, the equivalent of a certain well-known gesture by the middle finger today. We are to refrain from revenge and not be easily provoked into striking back.

Jesus shows us the meaning of personal forgiveness, but it can still be very hard to emulate. It can often seem impossible to set aside laws so deeply embedded into the psyche. Bitterness, resentment, and violation are not easily transformed. Patterns of unforgiving thoughts are resistant to change. It takes time, repetition, awareness and deep reflection for forgiveness to travel fully to the depths of both mind and heart. This can be a difficult process.

The root meaning of biblical forgiveness is enlightening. In New Testament Greek, the word for forgiveness is aphesis. Its underlying meaning contains several nuances, including “to let go,” and “to let be.” These different shades of meaning inform us regarding how forgiveness works in different situations. Here we will focus on the significance of letting go. In the next chapter, we will discuss the importance of letting be.

Forgiveness is the letting go of our demand for these laws to be enforced. We can practice doing this with these affirmations:


A. “I choose to set aside the Law of Restitution at the personal level and let go of my demand that it be enforced.”


B. “I choose to set aside the Law of Retribution at the personal level and let go of my demand that it be enforced.”


These statements express the Legal View of our Two Pillars. This view is more conceptually abstract, providing the legal basis for personal forgiveness to occur while communicating a language of deep forgiveness for the philosophical mind to comprehend.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario in which some people damage your property, such as crashing their car through a wall of your house. Should they pay for your repairs, which would be considered an act of restitution? If they don’t volunteer to do so, should you ask them to pay? Or are you prohibited from asking since you consider yourself a forgiving person who just sets aside the Law of Restitution and doesn’t want to be a hypocrite? Take a moment to think about this before continuing.

Letting go of the Law of Restitution doesn’t mean that restitution shouldn’t be made. If someone damages your property, they should pay for repairs if they can. It would be the right thing to do. You can ask for a payment, but if they can’t or won’t, you will need to go through the process of forgiving them. The difference is in the degree of demand, and the ability to let go of it.

A helpful distinction to make is between laws and principles. Laws are rigid and must be followed, as in the saying, “The law is the law, no exceptions!” In contrast, principles are flexible and should be followed, as we might say, “In principle, we do things a certain way, but we can make an exception in this case.” The principle of restitution can be kept while setting aside the law. We can apply the principle without being bound by the law. We can seek restitution but can also choose to let it go and accept the situation when necessary.

Suppose those who damage your property initially refuse to pay. And it is not worth it for you to take them to civil court, so you decide to forgive them. But later they feel guilty and send you a check to cover your damages. One day, you get your mail and are surprised to find their payment in your hands. Should you deposit that check, even though you have already forgiven them? Take a moment to think about this before continuing.

You can accept their payment because although you have let go of your demand for restitution, you can still want them to do the right thing. Although you have accepted their refusal to pay, you can still wish that they choose to pay you. Even if you had spoken to them directly and released them from the obligation to pay, that would not have changed the intrinsic rightness of them making restitution.

Now let’s consider the Law of Retribution in this situation. Suppose you learn that the accident was not due to mechanical failure, but to them being drunk. By forgiving them, you have set aside the Law of Retribution at the personal level and let go of your demand for retribution. However, in principle, you can still want them to experience consequences for their behavior which teach them to be more responsible, possibly preventing harm to others in the future. You can still wish that the state authorities penalize them for their reckless behavior. But if the government decides not to prosecute or the court’s verdict is flawed, you have to be able to accept it, otherwise, you have not really forgiven them.

The concepts in this chapter helped Jennifer understand that it was okay for her to feel and acknowledge the power of the Natural Laws residing in her heart. They gave her permission to be genuine regarding her desires for restitution and retribution. Jennifer can still want both, as long as her psyche was not bound by her demand for it. She can still wish for some kind of compensation for the harm she suffered, even though complete restitution for her was impossible. She can still wish that some kind of corrective action be taken, while deferring its form entirely to God. This all made forgiveness seem more achievable to her. Forgiveness does not prohibit our natural desires for restitution and retribution, as long as we can fully accept not having them fulfilled, as long as our hearts are not consumed by them.


In the next chapter, we will see in detail how forgiveness relates to the concept of acceptance.

Thanks for reading this sample. I hope it was enlightening. To continue reading, please purchase the book.

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