Introductory Note:

This article by Richard Foster gives helpful counsel on how to respond to the hurts of human relationships. It is important to distinguish wounds of truly toxic relationships from smaller hurts that occur between people who are learning to love better. This article is mostly about the small, ordinary hurts. It’s an encouragement to forgive and to seek forgiveness.

    Human beings are such that life together” always involves them in hurting one another in some way. Most people feel that somehow this is unusual, but it is simply true. To avoid this fact of life people will remain superficial with everyone, run to another church at the first signal of pain, or clam up into a tight little shell that doesn’t know how to cry…or laugh. Churches will never progress until we move beyond the fear of being hurt.

    Some people feel that if they could just be good enough that they won’t hurt people. Yet in this world your very goodness will hurt people. Witness Jesus. You cannot avoid it — if you want life be prepared to hurt and be hurt. 

    In this regard you need to understand that it is normal for you to be hurt. It is OK to be hurt. 

    Because people do not believe this, they develop the great stone face — the stiff upper lip. Outwardly they appear to be in complete control, fully able to handle all contingencies. They do not hurt, not them. They just develop ulcers, have heart attacks and die of cancer. Please believe me, it is normal for you to be hurt. 

    One more thing is important to know: spiritual persons are especially hurt and hurtful. The stiff upper lip is not a sign of spirituality. Jesus hurt…hurt deeply. The great stone face does not depict Godliness, but pride. 


    Forgiveness is essential in a community of hurt and hurtful persons. In experiencing forgiveness it is important to understand what it is not. Four things are often mistaken for forgiveness. 

    ONE: Pretending that it doesn’t matter. ‘‘Oh, that’s all right; it really didn’t hurt me any way!” That is not forgiveness, it is lying. • The truth is that these things matter a great deal and it does not help to avoid the issue. 

    TWO: A ceasing to hurt. Some think that if they continue to hurt that they have not forgiven. That is just not true. Hurting is not evil. You may hurt for a very long time to come. Forgiveness does not mean that you will stop hurting.

    THREE: Forgetting. Many would make us believe that in order to forgive we must forget. But this is not the case. You will remember; the difference will be that you will no longer need or desire to use it against them. The memory remains, the vindictiveness leaves. 

    FOUR: Pretending the relationship is just the same as before the offense. The relationship will never be the same again. You might just as well make peace with that fact. By the grace of God it may be a hundred times better but it will never be the same. 

    The Rule of Christ 

    Jesus set forth the way by which genuine forgiveness can come into the community without destroying it. This principle is given to us in Matthew 18:15 – 22

    First we go directly to the offended or offending party. But we can’t seem to do this. Why? Well, we play a little game by saying, I don’t want to hurt their feelings, so out of love I won’t speak to them. Nothing really happened any way.” That is a lie. Love and lies do not mix. Do not go to others to talk about the offense — go directly to the offended or offending party. And remember the purpose of going to them is not to lay them out, but to win a brother or sister. Ninety-five percent of the time the matter is settled there. 

    If this does not settle the matter, take two or three disciples with you who can be trusted and who are known for their discernment and sympathy. When done in love, there is hardly a case where the situation is not resolved. 

    If the matter is still not resolved, then bring it to the entire community. Now you will never be able to believe that this is a good thing until you understand that Jesus is referring to a kind of community which is simply not found in churches today. Jesus is talking about a kind of community based on a deep sense of trust. For the most part church people are afraid of each other. If one looks cross-eyed at another he may not be back for a month. And he may start looking for another church. 

    One final word: Matthew 18:18 is still talking about forgiveness. The bonds that we are to be empowered to liberate are the bonds of an unforgiving spirit. 

    Published in Quaker Life (October 1974).

    Photo by Possessed Photography on Unsplash

    Text First Published September 1974 · Last Featured on October 2021