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The High Cost of Refusing to Forgive

by Hunter Hill

Contrary to the impression we sometimes receive, the process of forgiveness is neither quick nor easy. It often takes place over months and sometimes years. Since the need for genuine forgiveness means that something painfully important has passed between people, it cannot be hurried along or accomplished by pretending the hurt does not matter.

 In actuality, the potential for damage to both parties is high. One is hopefully dealing with appropriate guilt and shame while the other is struggling with broken trust and/or fear for her/his emotional safety. No wonder Jesus considered forgiveness such a central process that he spoke of its high value in Matthew 18:21-22 (Forgive 70 times 7).

What can happen if one refuses to forgive? Here is what I frequently observe in my ministry as a pastoral counselor.

 While "premature" forgiveness is unreal and does not lead to genuine reconciliation, a refusal to forgive can end up being a slow toxic injection into the spirit of all involved.

Hunter R. Hill is a MTM Board Member and Pastoral Counselor at The Virginia Institute of Pastoral Care.