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General Conference

Healing Wounds with Forgiveness

Perpetuating hurts and grudges will not change who we are. On the contrary, it will lead us away from the gospel ideal.

Brazil | Karyne Correia, Psychologist

Of all the things that make us suffer in this world, there is one that I often find inhabiting the hearts of people whom I encounter: grief. Who has never been hurt or betrayed by someone? It's impossible to go through this life without being hurt, but remember this: It's possible to go through life without being trapped in the pain of what someone did to you! 

They say pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. This is not 100 percent true. Indeed, life on a sin-tainted planet includes a number of painful experiences. And, in fact, how we react to these experiences is something very particular. Some people recover faster; some take a long time. However, this difference is not just an option. 

The way we deal with life—our thought patterns, how we feel in the most diverse situations, and how we react to them—was built throughout our development. By development, I mean childhood and adolescence, times when our brains were undergoing major transformation for us to become who we are today. And let's be honest, much of what we experienced in our early (and pivotal) years was not our choice.

We didn't choose our family, the genetics we inherited, the time we were born (my son often says he wished he had been born in biblical times), or hundreds of experiences to which we were exposed. And that all built our way of being and functioning in the world. This all cultivated the way we deal with pain, producing brief, light, deep, or long suffering. 

It is for this reason that we often suffer when we would like to not suffer. It's just that suffering isn't as optional as the catchphrase suggests. Its optional character lies in the fact that we don't need to be hostages to our life story, but to stop being a hostage to it is something that requires faith, intentionality, and a lot of effort on our part. It's not as simple as an Instagram post might suggest. 

Common Humanity

Although we have different ways of reacting to the inclemency of life, we all share in our humanity the capacity to suffer. We also share the ability to fail. And this is a precious understanding to enable us to move on with life without being held back by regret for what circumstances or people have done to us.

You know that rude, dishonest, or unfaithful behavior someone had towards you? The harsh words, mistreatment, breach of trust—all these things are typical of human beings. And what does that mean? It means they are as likely to be practiced by me as they are to be practiced by anyone else. Of course, we know “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB), but a person who is not in Christ is subject to a variety of bad conduct. 

When I recognize that what someone did to me is something, under certain circumstances, I could have done, I start to look differently at what was done and who did it. I start to feel compassion, the effects of which on physical and mental health have been increasingly studied by psychology, and today, it is one of the focuses we emphasize in therapy to help our patients in their mental health.

Having a common humanity also implies, in terms of that life story that, as I mentioned, in its most delicate and important phase, was not chosen by us. If we are tempted to think, ‘I would never do what they did to me,’ we need to ask ourselves, ‘If I had this person’s life experiences and was born with the tendencies with which he was born, would I have done it differently?’

Dear reader, I don't want you to think I'm advocating that people can harm each other and "it's okay" because "to err is human." It is not okay to sin against our brothers and sisters. Sin cost Christ His life. It's never okay to sin. 

An Open Heart for Forgiveness

What I want to invite you to think about today is the dysfunctionality of holding hurt and grudges. This is a practice that does us no good, no matter how much damage someone has done to us.

When we understand that the one who sinned against us did so in the flesh (i.e., human condition) and we ourselves, if we had been in his or her place, could have acted in the same way, we open our hearts to forgiveness. And who of us does not need forgiveness? Even in that regard, we are similar!

In the prayer taught by Christ, we say, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, KJV). This reminds us that we are like those who wrong us. We all need forgiveness!

Jesus Christ was the only one who lived a blameless life. And in the condition of blamelessness, He offered us forgiveness and salvation. How can we sinners refuse to forgive?

“We ourselves are erring, and need Christ's pity and forgiveness, and just as we wish Him to deal with us, He bids us deal with one another” (White, The Desire of Ages, p. 441).

Forgiving is an act of liberation from oneself and the means by which we begin the process of healing the wounds that have been inflicted and the pain they cause us. If we cannot avoid wounds in this life, we can choose to close them. This is how suffering becomes optional.

This article was originally published on the South American Division’s news site