Forgiveness may start at home during the holidays, but it doesn’t need to end there, according to a recent book by Christian family therapist Ronald D. Ramsey.
Mr. Ramsey said in an interview Friday that his recent book “Forty Days to Forgiveness: A Christian’s Field Guide to the Forgiveness Journey” (WestBow Press) offers 40 daily exercises to holiday-stressed families who are struggling to “release pain” and let go of past grievances as they come together from Thanksgiving to New Year.
“The essence of forgiveness is empathy, being able to compassionately understand the perspective of those who offend us,” Mr. Ramsey told The Washington Times.
“That doesn’t mean accepting or condoning what they’ve done, and it doesn’t mean absolving them of accountability,” he added.
The book invites spouses, children, parents and people from all walks of life to focus on a particular offense and stay with it for all 40 days of the research-based reflections.
One exercise invites people to reflect and write about the depth of their feelings about how the particular offense has affected them throughout their lives.
The Michigan-based marriage counselor and hospital chaplain, 65, said family members will “have difficulty coping” with old injuries until they do so.
“A lot of times at the holidays, we think forgiving another person will make them act different, but forgiveness is all about us, not them,” Mr. Ramsey said.
A married father of one, he said many people make the mistake at the holidays of thinking forgiveness depends on the other person “for emotional release.”
“Forgiving doesn’t teach the offender a lesson, gain revenge or make them act any differently,” Mr. Ramsey said.
The book blends Christian scripture with behavioral science research and professional insight as it walks readers through each step of the forgiveness process.
Those steps involve becoming ready to forgive, acknowledging the emotional impact of past transgressions, committing to personal growth, maturing spiritually and sustaining emotional peace.
While many people mistake the sentiment of forgiveness for forgiveness itself, Mr. Ramsey said the real progress comes from releasing the pain and distress that linger long after an offense has passed, even if an offender never apologizes or takes responsibility for it.
Married for 38 years, Mr. Ramsey attends an evangelical Christian congregation and also draws on his experience as a hospital chaplain working with palliative care patients and their families as death approaches.
He said dying patients “certainly have unfinished business” with forgiveness, and going to the grave without letting go of grievances “can make it a very tough passing.”
“Then again, Jesus on the cross asked his Father to forgive the people who were killing him, and I often invite people to ask God to forgive people for them when they can’t find it in their heart to do it,” Mr. Ramsey said.