Dear Aunt Dara,
I am a married woman who has been singing in a gospel trio for two years. Five months ago someone started a rumor that I was sleeping with “Paul,” the man who sings with us. The accusation was untrue, but it spread like wildfire through our church and all the other churches where we sing. When I investigated where the rumor started, three people told me that they heard it from “Julie.” They said they had no reason to question its truth because Julie was my best friend. I went directly to Julie, and she admitted that she had started the rumor. However, she did not apologize or admit that she did anything wrong. She justified her actions by saying that she honestly believed that I was sleeping with Paul and she was trying to “help us with our problem” by asking people to pray for us. Furthermore, Julie gave me the impression that she still believes that I was sleeping with him. I know that many people still believe the rumor is true, even though both Paul and I deny it. Meanwhile, the damage is done and I am hurt and crushed beyond words. Most of our singing events have been cancelled, and the alto says we should just call it quits. I am still very angry that my friend did so much damage to my reputation and our trio is probably going to break up as a result. I’m just thankful that my husband is supportive and knows the rumor isn’t true. Anyway, people tell me that I need to forgive her and restore our friendship to what it once was. I feel as if I have forgiven her. I have been praying for her, I don’t wish her any harm, and I am able to be civil when I talk to her even though I am still very angry. However, I have no desire or intention to restore our friendship. Her actions ended our friendship and I no longer trust her. They tell me that my refusal to restore our friendship and my continued anger are evidence that I have not forgiven her. What do you think? Does forgiveness mean that I have to restore the relationship to what it was before, and how can that be possible if Julie has no regret for what she did and I no longer trust her? How do I let go of the anger? Please help. I pray about this many times a day and I really want to do the right thing.
Still Angry and Hurting
Dear Angry and Hurting,
I commend you for how you have handled the situation so far. A lot of people in the same situation would have left the church and given up on following the Lord. It’s good that your husband is supportive, because something such as this could have ended your marriage. You did the right thing by going directly to Julie to address the issue. You have completed the first step according to Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18: 15-17. Regrettably, Julie doesn’t seem to have had a change of heart. If you follow through with the next steps, perhaps the rumor will have less credibility and fewer people will believe it. The next step would be for you speak with Julie again with others present, preferably your husband and Paul. Make sure that all of you pray diligently before talking to Julie, and then speak to her with an attitude of love and gentleness, not with anger or defensiveness. The goal is Julie’s repentance and restoration (Galatians 6:1). If that is unsuccessful, Matthew 18 tells you what the next step should be.
As for your anger, nobody likes to be falsely accused. To feel hurt, angry, and distrustful is only natural, considering the circumstances. However, anger is caustic and will damage you physically, mentally, and spiritually if you hold onto it. To help you to release the anger, I offer what I shall call, “Anger Management for Christians.” Follow each step exactly as written, in the order given. Do not skip any steps, and do not tell anyone what you are doing.
Step 1: Stop talking about it. Often this first step is the hardest because it is human nature to want our thoughts and feelings to be validated. We want people to listen to our story and to understand our pain. We want to hear someone say, “I know you are hurting and you didn’t deserve to be hurt.” However, for anything to remain alive, you have to feed it. If you stop feeding the anger, it will die. Since talking about what happened refreshes your memory of the event and the associated emotions, you are feeding the anger each time you talk about it. A vicious cycle then develops. The more you talk about it, the more you think about it, and the more you think about it, the more you talk about it. The first step in breaking this cycle is to stop talking about it.
Step 2: Write about it. Since you have stopped talking about it, most likely you will feel a strong desire to “get it out.” Write a letter to the person who wronged you. Be very honest, open, and specific about what they did that hurt you and how it has affected you. Do not hold anything back. Especially, do not judge any of your thoughts or feelings by thinking, “A Christian shouldn’t feel that way or say those things.” Be brutally honest about your thoughts and feelings. Because writing this letter may be very painful, you may be tempted to skip this step. Don’t.
Step 3: Pray (1 Peter 5: 7). Tell God that you have expressed in this letter everything that is in your heart about what happened, how it has affected you, what you think about it, how you feel about it, and how you feel about the person who hurt you. Affirm in your prayer that you know that God fully knows and understands the thoughts of your heart and the depth of your hurt. Affirm that you know that God cares about you and cares about your pain. Tell God that you forgive the person who hurt you and you are releasing to Him your pain and anger. End this prayer by thanking God for delivering you from your pain and anger.
Step 4: Destroy the letter immediately after completing the prayer in Step 3. This letter MUST be destroyed. Do not keep it or reread it. Do not show this letter to anyone and DO NOT deliver it to the person who hurt you! If you chose to not destroy the letter immediately, the possible results could be disastrous. Destroy it completely by shredding or burning it, and then dispose of the remains. Completely destroying and disposing of the letter is symbolic of your completely destroying and disposing of your anger. Thereafter, whenever you remember what happened, how it affected you, what you thought about it, or how you felt about it, remember the letter and say, “It’s gone; it’s completely gone.”
Step 5: Pray for the person who hurt you (Matthew 5:44). This prayer should have four parts. First, thank God for enabling you to forgive the person who hurt you. Secondly, thank God for releasing you from the pain and removing your anger. Say this even if you still feel angry or resentful. If you say, “But I’m still angry,” you will continue to be angry. Simply tell God that you are thankful that He has released you from the pain and removed your anger. DO NOT say anything else about the pain or the anger that may remain. Next, ask God to bless that person. Lastly, ask God to show you how you can be a blessing to this person.
Step 6: Do something good for the person who hurt you (Matthew 5:44). This step if vital! You must demonstrate Christ’s love by doing something to bless the person who hurt you. Otherwise, you will not be able to let go of the anger. Resist the temptation to think, “But she doesn’t deserve it.” Our place is not to determine what a person does or does not deserve. We are to do good to others, even to those who hurt us deeply (Romans 12: 14-21). Whatever God places on your heart to do for that person, do it.
Step 7: Repeat Steps 5 and 6 as needed until the anger is gone.
Finally, you asked if forgiveness means that you have to restore the relationship to what it was before, and how can you restore the relationship if that person has no regret for what she did and you no longer trust her. Forgiveness does not mean that a person must restore the relationship to what it once was. If you follow through with the steps in Matthew 18, hopefully she will repent and you can begin to work on rebuilding your friendship, if that is what you choose to do. If she does not repent, I see no reason why you should place yourself in a vulnerable position in which you could be hurt again.
God bless,Aunt Dara