Our teenage son was rejected by several of his friends and his hurt has turned into a bitterness and hatred that concerns us. We’ve encouraged him to forgive them and move on but he says he can’t. How can we help him?
No matter how old we are it’s easy for rejection to produce hurt which can easily turn into bitterness, resentment and anger. The more we focus on how we were wronged the worse it gets and the harder it is to let go of it. Paula Reinhardt describes unforgiveness as a dark sticky cement that shuts down the heart – a cement that turns the heart into stone.
Your first step is to make time to let him tell his story. How it’s felt unfair. How it hurts. How he wants to hurt back. Make it your goal to listen well and understand his heart and then to help him see how choosing forgiveness can help him.
Ask him how not forgiving has helped him. Ask him how staying bitter and resentful has worked for him. Has it made him feel better? Has the problem gone away? Is he happier? Is life better? Look up passages like Matthew 5: 38-48, Ephesians 4:31-32, Colossians 3:13 and read them out loud together with him.
None of us can afford the high cost of not forgiving. It takes a lot of energy to hang on to bitterness and resentment, to want to “pay somebody back” for the pain they’ve caused you. S.I. McMillan wrote that “The moment I start hating a man I become his slave. He even controls my thoughts. I can’t escape his tyrannical grasp on my mind.” You can help him understand that unless he chooses to forgive he will become the prisoner of thoughts and attitudes that will have the power to poison him and other relationships.
Let him know that forgiveness isn’t a once-and-for-all instant event. It’s not forgetting, condoning or dismissing a situation. It’s not denial. It’s not pretending it never happened. It’s not reconciliation—that may never happen and usually takes some time.
Forgiveness is a choice and a process that begins at a point in time and continues whenever the memories reoccur. Forgiveness is something God can help us do that helps us get unstuck and move on. Dr. Archibald Hart writes that when we forgive, we surrender our right to hurt someone back for how they’ve hurt us. It can be that simple.
You can help him understand that choosing to forgive will give him more strength, more energy, better sleep, make him more fun to be around, decease his anxiety and hostility and give him more joy and laughter. Plus, it can set him free from the dark cloud of bitterness and resentment and free him to enjoy life once again.