“Without forgiveness we become just like the people who hurt us”
- - Trent Shelton
The difficulty with congregational ministry and care is that people who are hurting sometimes hurt the people who are trying to help. This can lead to bitterness, resentment, cycles of anger, and compassion fatigue. As the above quote by Trent Shelton suggests, people have a tendency to create others in their own image. Forgiveness empowers people so that they can be who they truly are – kind, caring, and compassionate caregivers.
Here are four practices of forgiveness that can be used to counteract the vicarious trauma often experienced in congregational ministry and care:
- Journaling is helpful for individuals looking to clarify what has happened and how they feel about what has happened. In addition, journaling is a practice that can help people accept and come to terms with what has happened and help them begin to move forward.
- Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do”. Forgiving is not easy, and loving those who have hurt us can be even more difficult. However, love is a practice that must be nourished and exercised. Without forgiveness we may engage in other practices, like hatred, rage, and cycles of anger. Love helps people to enter new ways of being and becoming.
- Talk with a friend - Social and emotional support are strongly correlated with coping and spiritual growth. Find friends who are emotionally supportive and who can help you talk through what has happened. Like journaling, this can be especially helpful for extroverts – who tend to think out loud and process their feelings through talking.
3. Practice forgiveness
- Be intentional. When you wash your hands, pour coffee, or lay down to go to sleep, practice forgiveness. As a practice, one can offer forgiveness by visualizing forgiving another or visualizing one’s self extending forgiveness to an offender. The practice of forgiveness can quickly become a habit. Practice forgiveness rather than the cultivation and nourishment of anger, resentment, and bitterness.
4. Light a candle
- When you light a candle, take 5-10 deep breathes to prepare your heart and mind for forgiveness. When you are ready, visualize the person who has hurt you, and imagine or look at the lit candle. As you continue to breathe deeply, acknowledge the hurt that has happened and begin to repeat: “I acknowledge the hurt, and I choose to forgive. I release you and I release me."
* 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!
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