Forgiveness, part 3

When we forgive, it is not so much for the benefit of the offender as it is to release ourselves from the prison of anger, bitterness, and depression. 

Have you ever met this poor woman?  Have you ever seen any other expression on her face than this one? Hard to deal with, isn’t it?  No matter what you do, she’ll always spot the error, always bring it loudly to your attention, always be angry. The sad thing is, she doesn’t even know why she’s so unpleasant and hard to please. 

When I was working on my master’s degree, I did a year of practicum in a nursing home.  I was a case worker, which meant that I had a regular list of residents that I looked after.  Sometimes it was just a matter of going in and spending some time talking with them.  There were other things to deal with, too, like family members who had questions or complaints; convincing a resident that she needed to stop ringing her bell every minute all night long; convincing them to eat, to tend to hygiene when they could, and so on. 

There was one man that I was warned about. “He’s a real grouch, Linda.  He’ll complain incessantly, and his language turns the air blue.  You’ll have to handle him carefully.”

Well, good grief.  This should a fun! 

The first time I went to see him, he greeted me with,”Well, finally!  I heard they were sending me someone new, and it’s about time you showed up.  Where have you been, anyway?”

“I’ve been avoiding you, Mr. Z, that’s where I’ve been.  And if you’re going to continue with this attitude, I’m leaving.”

He was stunned, speechless.  After a few seconds, though, he got his second wind and started in on a tirade ranging from his childhood to his most recent meal.  I gave him about ten minutes before I interrupted him. 

“Okay, Mr. Z, I think I’ve heard enough. It’s clear you’ve been mistreated, misunderstood, and abused all your life. I’m sorry you feel that way, but I’m just not going to come here every day to listen to you complain.  So here’s the deal. Tomorrow, when I come, you need to have a story to tell me about something good that happened to you when you were a kid. No griping, no complaining.  One positive story, and that’s all. If you can’t think of anything, I’ll come again the next day and the next until you come up with something positive. Understood?”

Again, he sat on his bed gaping at me, with nothing at all to say.  Finally–“You can’t do that!  I’ll report you!  I’ll have your job! I’ll—“

“See you tomorrow, Mr. Z.”

What he didn’t know was that I’d already informed all the appropriate people about my plans for Mr. Z, and they were all curious to see how it would go.  He’d been terrorizing the caregivers for months, and they dreaded having to go into his room.  I wasn’t worried at all. 

He had a positive story for me the next day. As time passed, we actually became friends.  Finally, I was able to talk with him about spiritual things, and I suggested to him that he would be much happier if he would learn to forgive those who had hurt him over the years.He was astonished at the idea, believing sincerely that the only possible reaction to mistreatment was anger.

The trouble with that, of course, is that the anger was eating him up from the inside, and it wasn’t affecting those he hated in any way. 

Anger itself is not sin.  What we do in our anger is another story, and often the greatest sin we commit in anger is against our own hearts and spirits.  Years ago, I read Tim LaHaye’s book How to Win over Depression. He wrote that offense leads to hurt and anger, leads to self-pity, leads to bitterness, leads to depression.  The only way to break that progression is after the hurt/anger part, and the thing that breaks the chain is to choose to forgive.  It is to realize that you yourself are far more hurt by your bitterness than is the person who hurt you. Even more important, your bitterness spills out like acid over all the other people in your life, who have no idea why your tongue is so sharp and your attitude is so critical.  They don’t understand that you learned those behaviors as a defense against mistreatment. They only know you’re hard to deal with, and they try to avoid you when they can. 

Mr. Z was transferred to another facility about halfway through my year.  I don’t remember why. But he left me a note, since the transfer was made over a weekend when I wasn’t there.  The note said, “Hey, smartypants, you won’t have to see me again.  But I’ll remember  you.”


8 thoughts on “Forgiveness, part 3

  1. Anne

    Couple of thoughts and a question or two for ya’ 🙂

    1. Smiling all the way with your story. This worked with a student or two, as well. I still have their amazing thank you CHEERY notes from the end of a school year.

    2. It is not easy. I constantly have to fall back on, “But how much has Christ forgiven me?” Maybe it’s too transparent to say that I’m not convinced I have truly completely forgiven, but at least I’m more numb than angry. Maybe it’s wrong to need a process of forgiveness since it is a direct command. Is it wrong to need to have to go through the process daily concerning someone? Maybe that also means I haven’t completely forgiven if I’m not able to let bygones be bygones and try, try, again to please or appease someone–when from YEARS of experience I know where that effort leads to in an ongoing cycle of getting nowhere.

    3. Do you fully recommend this book? I am curious to read it. However, one of LaHaye’s books has been a part of MUCH misdirection, accusation, and misplaced self-guilt over many years. An overemphasis on “root sin” answers when there can be more complex factors at work that need more “medicine” than just a confession of sin. A damaging “snap to it” idealism that does more harm than good in many cases. ANYWAY, I wanted to check with you first on THIS book if you had any disclaimers, etc.

    Always looking forward to your writings and your heart that you show in them.

    Hope I wasn’t sounding too unforgiving and self-pitying…I really am SMILING as I type 🙂


    1. Anne, I always appreciate your comments. Wise and insightful.

      For us, Forgiveness is indeed a process. For God it is an event. I’ll be talking about this more later on. I believe it is necessary for us to learn to forgive multiple times, sometimes in one day. We cannot forget as God can, so the memories will surface. The thing I’ve learned, over time, is that the more often we forgive in the beginning, the less often we need to forgive as time goes on. Again, more about this in future posts.

      LaHaye wrote the book on depression that I read over 30 years ago, and it’s been a long time since I read it. I was very young and had no experience yet as a therapist. It does seem to me that there was a big element of confessing personal sin, and that may be important and necessary in some cases. What I learned when my husband hit the wall of depression, though, is that his pain went far beyond any unconfessed sin. He was on his knees constantly back then, begging God to show him where his sin was.It wasn’t until we went to the Christian counselor with whom I am now working that we began to understand that depression is a lot more complicated than just unconfessed sin. However, in many people I see who are just angry, bitter people, UNFORGIVEN sin against themselves is often at the root of the problem. I don’t think it would hurt you to read the book. Just do it with discernment, asking God to show you what applies and what doesn’t.

      Something else we’ll be talking about is that forgiving does NOT mean you must continue to be mistreated.


  2. Your story about Mr. Z is wonderful! It reminded me about the lesson I learned with my husband and brother-in-law in dealing with behavior issues. Our family habit had been to walk on egg shells whenever mom or sister was withdrawing or acting in odd ways as they struggled with their problems (“mental illness”). I was shocked when my husband and on a separate occasion, my brother-in-law, loudly and humorously called my mom or my sister on their behavior. They confronted, loudly, with humor. I can’t tell you how shocked and amazed I was to see them both smile and rejoin the family after a little inner coming to. For 20 years we had lived the eggshell dance thinking if we could all just be gentle enough, kind enough, out of the way enough, mom would have a shot at getting better, or sister would mentally heal. This was such an eye opener. Like you and Mr. Z. Loving, firm confrontation cracked the nut. How do you get the courage to do that! Loved this! Thank you!


    1. Thank you for sharing your own experience. I love it when people do that.

      How did I get the courage? Well, Mr. Z was 87 and pretty much bed-ridden. I didn’t figure I needed to be afraid of him 🙂


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