The Five Stages of Forgiveness in the Workplace

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It’s not until you’ve been royally screwed over by someone at work that you realize how impossible it is to forgive.

As good Christians, we believe it is our duty to rush headlong into forgiveness the moment we have been trespassed against, just as Jesus modeled for us in the gospels. However, in real life, it seems as if we are wired instinctively to do the opposite of forgiveness—especially in workplace settings, where paranoia and competition run rampant.

Our first impulse is more likely to hold a grudge, or to get sweet revenge, or to spread malicious gossip, rather than heaping up loving kindness upon the enemy.

Those feelings of hurt and retaliation run strong, and we instinctively take action to protect ourselves. But Jesus seems to really harp on this subject quite a bit. The gospels are filled with teachings about turning the other check, and praying for your enemies, and walking the extra mile.

It’s just hard, and we may not like it very much. Especially if we have to repeatedly see that scoundrel at the office every day. The point is, though, if we really want to follow Jesus, we must get over our shallow-headed spiritual resistance and face the act of forgiving head-on.

I have found that forgiveness is a gradual process. It’s like throwing your feelings and your spiritual life and your perpetrator all into a slow cooker: sometimes it takes a while until it’s done, even if all the essential ingredients are right there. Here are five distinct stages of forgiveness. Well, at least this is how it works for me.

Stage one is Selective Amnesia. When the wound is fresh, you are in complete denial of certain Christian teachings. Instead, you are on a mission for revenge. “Off with his head!” you are thinking, while forgetting about all that stuff in the Lord’s Prayer ("forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..") and pretty much ignoring the New Testament teachings in general.

Stage 2 is Procrastination. After a while you start to calm down and realize that God wants you to forgive this person. Maybe your spouse got on your case, too, or you heard a very convicting sermon. But let’s face it—you still don’t like the idea, so you think about something else for a while, procrastinating on doing God’s business. And who are you kidding? You still very much want to see the trespasser get screwed!

Stage 3 is Discussion. You begin to talk it over with God in your prayer conversations. “Dear God, can you believe what an idiot Bob was? You were there, right?” You admit that you still have bad feelings, but you actually begin to consider the possibility of forgiveness, and that, somehow, God may have a higher purpose here.

Stage 4 is Mobilization. Eventually, you work up enough courage to approach the trespasser in question and try to work things out, even though he really should have been the one to come to you first. But you’ll overlook that for now. Hopefully those direct conversations with the trespasser lead to some healing and recovery, and perhaps even to a couple of beers later on. Things are looking much better now. The retaliation and vengeance thoughts don’t matter so much anymore. You are ready, really, truly, in your heart, to forgive the trespasser.

Stage 5 is Surrender. Maybe it worked out, maybe it didn’t, but in either case you know that it’s not good for you or for anyone involved to hold on to all those bitter feelings. You give it to God. You don’t care any more. You get on with your business, and perhaps even begin to pray for that trespasser, knowing that God’s justice rolls forth like thunder.

Post by J.B. Wood., author of "At Work as it is in Heaven: 25 Ways to Re-imagine the Spiritual Purpose of Your Work."

Image by Tim Miller. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr