by Debbie W. Wilson
My father remarried a year after my mother’s death. Before the wedding, my soon-to-be stepmother assured me she wanted us to be one happy family. After the honeymoon she changed her mind. She emptied our home and lives of any remembrance of Mama and tried to cut my sister and me out of Daddy’s life.
One night, I got the courage to reveal some of my loss to my roommate.
“You must not have really forgiven her,” my roommate gently said.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s obvious this still hurts you. If you’d really forgiven her, you wouldn’t hurt anymore.”
I wanted nothing more than to be right with God and free from the pain. My roommate’s well-meaning words only confused me. Was she right? Had my decision to forgive failed? Did my pain spring from bitterness instead of loss?
Years spent counseling other women showed me I am not alone in experiencing lingering pain after betrayal. The Old Testament story of Joseph shows this is normal.
Joseph suffered slavery and imprisonment because of his jealous brothers. When given the power to mete out justice, he offered grace instead. Yet forgiving his brothers didn’t eliminate his pain. Many years after reconciling with them, he still wept when he remembered.
Notice his emotions in the following examples.
- Fourteen years after being sold into slavery: When his sons were born he chose names for them that memorialized God’s grace to him in his suffering: Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” Ephraim: for “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Genesis 41:51-52 NIV).
- Twenty-one years after being sold into slavery: When he overheard his brothers discuss how they’d wronged him: “He turned away from them and began to weep” (Genesis 42:24 NIV).
- Twenty-two years after being sold into slavery: When he saw Benjamin: “Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there” (Genesis 43:30 NIV).
- When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, “he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it” (Genesis 45:1-2 NIV).
- He embraced them and wept over Benjamin and the rest of his brothers (see Genesis 45:14-15 NIV).
- Joseph “threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time” (Genesis 46:29 NIV).
- Thirty-nine years after being sold into slavery: His brothers ask for forgiveness: “When their message came to him, Joseph wept” (Genesis 50:17 NIV).
Joseph forgave his brothers. He overcame evil with good. He trusted God (Genesis 45:5-8 NIV). But the memory still hurt.
Joseph hurt because he’d been wronged—not because he’d done wrong.
Trauma, by definition, causes “great distress and disruption.”Emotional pain doesn’t necessarily indicate lack of forgiveness. It may reveal great loss. Just as physical trauma takes more time to heal than a surface scratch, deep emotional wounds take longer to heal than simple slights.
We must always forgive. Forgiveness cleans our wounds and protects us from the complications of bitterness. It puts us in a place to heal. But healing takes time.
Has a painful memory released anger and malice? Clean the wound. Forgive again. By God’s grace, we forgive our enemies, and God heals us.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10 NIV
About the author: Drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher, Debbie W. Wilson speaks and writes to help others discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. She and her husband, Larry, founded Lighthouse Ministries in 1991. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog.
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Join the conversation: How have you dealt with a painful wound from your past?
 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.