1. Share what hurts
The first act of forgiveness is to share our pain with another person. Research on anger and venting suggests that the expression of anguish, while it doesn’t make people feel better in and of itself, does increase non-verbal comforting behaviors from others. By sharing trauma we recruit social and communal support. This provides three benefits: comfort, compassion, and a community context for change to occur. Together, these tenets help a struggling individual to make positive changes that can cultivate personal growth and communal growth. Forgiveness builds community.
Strengthen your support community by:
* Creating Social Support Ministries
Creating social support ministries is a helpful way to facilitate forgiveness. While a particular group may be unrelated to forgiveness, having a place of community and fellowship where one can share their hardships facilitates clarity, coherence, continuity, and community. As sociologist Charles Horton Cooley said, “Other people are a lens through which we can come to see ourselves.” The blessing of community is that it provides a capacity for others to clarify their own emotions and experiences into a context of forgiveness.
* Empowering leadership
Empowering leadership is another way to strengthen your support community. For example, empower an individual to start a community fellowship group and help them come up with weekly topics of discussion. Your support will help nourish their sense of competence and control while also cultivating a supportive community. The crux of this practice is that a pastor or congregational care ministry walks closely with an individual to continually nourish them, empower them, and offer support.
2. Choose to have hope:
Trauma can deteriorate one’s experience of hope. One definition of hope is the ability to examine one’s current or past situations and imagine the future. A loss of continuity can eliminate one’s ability to imagine a future. This experience can symbolize one’s feeling of being “stuck” in their trauma. One dimension of this phase can be anger. Research on anger suggests that people may become angry when a belief, such as a belief in a just world (good things happen to good people), is violated. They can then become lost within a shattered worldview. Part of repairing trauma is working to reconstruct a violated worldview to produce continuity. Forgiveness begins a new act, a new attitude, and a new orientation toward self, God, and others that helps to rebuild one’s worldview.
3. Choose to forgive:
Choosing to forgive may lead a person to consider why they want to forgive and what they will be forgiving. This reflective process provides clarity about what happened, why it happened, and who is responsible for what actions, both in the past and the present. Together, this can re-orient confusion and cultivate clarity and coherence. Psychological research suggests that people have a need for clarity and coherence. Self-reflection and engaging in the practice of forgiveness can facilitate clarity and coherence and improve psychosocial function and well being.
Jounaling is a powerful tool that nourishes one’s ability to self-reflect and derives insights about a personal experience. Insight can empower clarity and coherence, reduce confusion, and help an individual reconstruct or recreate a shattered worldview. A journal with empowering narratives or questions can be particularly helpful. In some case, individuals may be unable to remember, consider, or think about their traumatic experiences. However, being able to reflect upon someone else’s similar experiences may be a positive channel that will help one clarify their own experiences. Using biblical, cultural, or historical narratives that are similar to a struggling congregant can also be a helpful tool.
* Learn more about congregational care practices on the ICTG Training page. Here, you will find dozens of resources, including the ICTG Congregational Assessment Guide, seminars on becoming trauma-informed, modules, forums, and more!
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Joseph Kim Paxton is an ICTG Advisor while pursuing doctoral degrees in Practical Theology at the Claremont School of Theology and Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. His current research areas include clinical-community psychology, pastoral care, social scientific approaches to biblical interpretation, group processes, spiritual struggle, coping, and attitudes.