How to Forgive: The Tug-of-War Between Heart and Head

Written on 5/22/2008 by Shelly DeVous.

This is not an easy article to write. I have been hurt by someone very close to me and I know that I need to forgive that person, but it is easier said than done. Intellectually, I know that until I can forgive, I will stew in my resentment and hurt – harming myself, not the person who hurt me.

I could seek revenge, but countering a wrong with a wrong is… well, wrong.

What to do?

As I reside in the limbo between true forgiveness and painful hurt, I struggle with the tug-of-war between heart and head. I won’t seek revenge, but I am also not ready to forgive despite the realization that forgiving is precisely what I have to do to stop hurting. People don’t ask to be hurt, but the offended must be the ones to initiate the resolve.

Forgiveness is the pill we must swallow when we suffer from hurt inflicted by others. We must move past the feelings of a hurt-felt heart and use our reason, our mind, to guide us to healing. Age, maturity, teaches us to “let it go,” “forgive and forget,” but sound reason does not manifest a quick cure. It does, however, keep us from making a bigger mistake. The mind must win the tug-of-war between heart and head. To do otherwise, we would be hurting ourselves even more.

How do we make the head win?

When our heart and mind are conflicted, thinking more about the offense will only exasperate the situation; we need to distract the mind. Our thoughts need to move on, get off-track, and the best way to distract the mind is to busy the hands.

Performing tasks like cooking, gardening, car maintenance, writing, anything that requires the mind to think about what the hands are doing will give our heart and head the time to eclipse the pain and coalesce into a more productive, positive realm. Manual exercise restores the balance to life necessary to heal. The sooner we become productive, the quicker we will be able to forgive. Busying the hands also gives us the time to move past the initial harm. We still may feel hurt, but the hurt won’t feel as deep. The urge for revenge will pass; the head eventually wins.

If you’ve been hurt and find yourself in the tug-of-war between heart and head it may be helpful to take the Forgiveness Test created by Dr. Susan Brown as part of her doctoral dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary. It is a 14-question, multiple-choice test which helps to identify personal thoughts and behaviors regarding forgiveness. I took the test and discovered I’m half-way there.

What I neglected to consider (as I wallowed in my self-pity) was the source of the problem. Question 13, “I looked for the source of the problem and tried to correct it,” caused a light bulb to go off in my head. Again, the heart was clouding my rational thought. The test made me realize that if I don’t want to be hurt by this person again, I should look for the source of the problem and work to correct it. Being hurt involves two people. Forgiveness is what I do, but that is only half the solution. Resolving the source of the hurt involves both of us. That is what’s necessary for true reconciliation and lasting peace…the ability to truly forgive and forget, forever.

I’m glad I took the test and I’m glad I wrote this article. I took the time to busy my hands. I don’t feel as hurt now as I did when I began writing. I’m getting closer to true forgiveness and realize I have more work to do before all is well again. In the end, my head won, but so did my heart.

-Shelly

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