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Unhealthy Forgiveness: Why We Should Not Forgive Misinterpretations

forgivenessConsider these uncomfortable statements. Forgiveness is not always a virtue. Forgiveness can be offensive and destructive to a relationship. There are times when forgiving only reinforces our pride or blindness.

Think through these situations for a moment:

  • A husband feels hurt because his wife “disrespected him” when she asked a question about a decision he was making but genuinely didn’t understand (and he did not adequately explain).
  • A wife feels hurt when her husband “failed to pursue her” when his plans for their anniversary did not match what she was hoping for (but had never disclosed to him what she wanted).
  • A friend feels hurt when the other friend is “unwilling to invest in the relationship” but “investing” means matching the unhealthy, excessive commitment that the first friend gives to the relationship.

In each of these brief vignettes it would be easy for the husband-wife-friend to say, “I forgive you,” and this would healthily remedy the situation. But in each case, forgiveness would be destructive to their own character and the relationship.


In each case the hurt being forgiven was based on a misinterpretation; forgiving would further ingrain this misinterpretation. Accepting this forgiveness offered would add a level of social reinforcement to the misinterpretation.

Consider each situation again:

  • The husband would believe that his communication about decisions was adequate and that anything that aggravated his insecurities was wrong.
  • The wife would believe that a truly loving husband should “just know” what his wife desired and that anything that disappointed her was a sign of a poor marriage.
  • The friend would believe their excessive needy-giving was the Christ-like standard for selfless sacrifice and that everyone else should match their unsustainable level involvement in the life of others.

What is the danger?

If we view forgiveness as only a virtue, then the husband-wife-friend would believe that they responded in “the biblical way” and that any resistance to their overture would reveal hard-heartedness on the other person’s part. Intentional or not, this is a form of manipulation. Even with the best of intentions (which is sometimes true), it contributes to the deterioration of the relationship.

What is missing?

These scenarios reveal a neglect of the guiding principles of Matthew 7:1-5, to take the log out of our eye first. When we fail to properly take into account or role in a relational hardship, even our most biblical practices become destructive rather than helpful. Self-awareness is an essential component of applying the Scriptures to our life and relationships as God intended.

If we do not see ourselves or the situation rightly, we are not applying the Bible to our life or our situation. We are applying the Bible to a figment of our imagination.

That is what is happening is each situation above. Forgiveness becomes a way that the husband-wife-friend tries to force the other person to live in their “alternative reality.”

What is an appropriate response?

If you are on the receiving end of unhealthy forgiveness a two-fold response is recommended: (a) empathy towards the hurt along with (b) an invitation to reconsider the interpretation.

An extension of forgiveness means the other person is hurt. Even if their interpretation is not true; their experience is real. A lack of empathy towards their hurt will only reinforce their interpretation that you are in the wrong.

We can only offer an invitation to reconsider the interpretation. If we aggressively refute the interpretation, a conversation will become a debate. In the context of hurt, this has a very low probability of being fruitful. Additionally, we offer an invitation because our interpretation may be wrong. Hearing from our friend may reveal things we missed in our initial experience of the interaction.

With that said, a response might sound like this:

“I am very sorry that you are hurt. I’m not sure I understand yet why my response-actions was inappropriate. I appreciate your desire to handle this situation as Scripture desires – with repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Can we walk back through what happened to assess what should have happened and what reasonable expectations-responses should have been?”

If you get an affirmative response, there is the opportunity for both of you to learn and grow. Either or both of you may need to repent and forgive.

If you get a defensive or aggressive response (and the situation is significant or repetitive), then you may need to say, “I don’t think I serve you best by accepting your forgiveness. I believe I would be reinforcing an inaccurate interpretation of these events. Can we invite someone we mutually trust to help us discern how honor God and one another in this situation?”

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” or “Favorite Posts on Abusive Relationships” post which address other facets of this subject.

My Top 10 Blog Posts from 2016

This posts takes a look back at my favorite posts from this year. These are the posts, that as I reviewed through my archives, I remembered most clearly. It may be the memory that inspired the post or the conversations that ensued afterwards, but either way these are the ones that stood out to me.

  1. 7 Ways to Keep Your Wife Beautiful for Life
  2. 240 Marriage Communication Topics
  3. Counseling Triage: Where to Begin with Complex Struggles (Expanded Post)
  4. Why We Should Always Teach Romans 12 with Romans 13
  5. Posts related to my book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk (available here)
  6. An Open Letter to Someone Having an Affair
  7. Comparing Pastoral Ethics and Counseling Ethics
  8. Posts on my experience as a father
  9. How to Conduct an Effective Intervention
  10. Four Principles for Thinking Well about Boundaries

3 Types of Codependency

This post is an excerpt from the study guide which accompanies the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar. This portion is an excerpt from “Step One: PREPARE yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually to face your suffering.” To RSVP for this and other Summit counseling seminars visit

This may be the most confusing seminar topic ever. Is codependency really a thing? After all, no one can agree on a definition (this is true). Besides, the problem isn’t me; it’s the people who are hurting me or are destroying their life with addiction. You’re not going to tell me this is my fault, are you? Wait a minute, no one in my life is an addict and I’m not married, can I be codependent?

These are just a few of challenges we will have to navigate on our journey. We will define the concept of codependency in greater detail as we go along, but here are a few foundational premises for how we’ll use the term.

  • Codependency is a style of relating; meaning it is an activity rather than a condition.
  • Codependency is more about why and how you do things than what you do. There are not codependent behaviors (what you do) as much as there are codependent motives, tones, and patterns (why and how you do things).
  • Those who relate codependently struggle to rightly assign responsibility for problematic actions by others and self.
  • The struggle to rightly assign responsibility makes it hard to determine “reasonable expectations” for others.
  • The struggle to appropriately assign responsibility results in a difficulty regulating personal emotions.
  • The struggle to assign responsibility and regulate emotions produces unhealthy relational patterns.
  • Codependency is often (not always) associated with abusive, addictive, or controlling home environments.
  • Those who related codependently are usually physically-emotionally exhausted and feel used by others.
  • Unless we intentionally learn to think about responsibility, relationships, and emotions differently, we will continue to relate in a codependent manner.

You may not like using the term “codependency.” That is fine. There is no magic in the term.

“We don’t have to label ourselves at all. Deal with the behaviors that hurt and call yourself whatever you want (p. 77).” Melody Beattie in The New Codependency

You may not feel like you have the emotional energy left for what change will require. But realize the number of crises and amount of drama around you is going to take a large emotional investment. You might as well invest that energy in learning to relate in a healthier manner.

“Given how long you have already lived with your drinker under the present circumstances, you can tolerate it a little longer as you make small, controllable changes (p. 6).” Robert Meyers and Brenda Wolfe in Get Your Loved One Sober

You may have reached out for help before and been burned. Unfortunately, this is too frequent, even in Christian contexts. Those affected by abuse, addiction, or adultery do not always get good counsel when they reach out for help. Hopefully this seminar provides a resource to help you vet the competence of helpers you invite into your life.

“In fact, many victims believe clergy have the most potential to help them, when in reality they are too often the least helpful and sometimes even hurtful (p. 16).” Justin and Lindsey Holcomb in Is It My Fault?

If you look at the studies referenced by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, what you will find is that direct invention helpers (pastors, police, lawyers) are initially less helpful to those in harm’s way than less direct intervention helpers (hot lines, social workers, counselors). When attempts are made to introduce change, even healthy changes, into your social systems before you are ready to consistently cooperate with those changes, the results are often a more difficult living situation.

That is why this seminar is focused on you; more than your living conditions (i.e., abuse, addiction, manipulation, etc…). You will need to be ready to consistently live out the implications of any changes that are made in order for those changes to benefit you. You will also need to be ready to live out the implications to maximize the potential influence you have on your loved one(s) who are living destructively around you.

With that said, one of the goals for this seminar is for you to understand the entire process. We will be taking a 9 step journey together that unfolds in three phases. A summary of the primary objective for each phase is listed below.

  • Phase One: Steps 1-3 // Gain an accurate and unhurried view of your relational patterns
  • Phase Two: Steps 4-6 // Remove destructive, dysfunctional messages from how your understand these patterns
  • Phase Three: Steps 7-9 // Identify healthy ways you can have influence in unhealthy relationships and things you believe God has called you to pursue regardless of how much cooperation there is in key relationships becoming healthier

3 Types of Codependency

We mentioned earlier that there is no agreed upon definition for codependency. That is because codependency is a pop-psychology term rather than a clinical-psychology term. This does not mean codependency is a myth. It just lacks a clear definition which comparable terms such as addiction, bipolar, or anorexia have.

For the purposes of this seminar, we will examine three types of relational patterns that can be codependent.

  1. Relationships Involving Addiction – When addiction is present, it creates the dynamics of infidelity. Something is primary in your loved one’s affections. For a period of time you may not know who-what it is. When you find out, you feel betrayed. There is lying, promising, threatening, pleading, silence, and other dysfunctional communication patterns. Your life and habits begin to accommodate the presence of this “other” for the purpose of maintaining some sense of order. With time, these accommodations become an increasingly unhealthy pattern of relating.
  2. Relationships Involving Abuse – When abuse is involved, it creates a power imbalance in the relationship. The abuse is usually intermittent, so you think “It’s not always that bad.” Relational patterns are developed to appease the things that would upset the abusive person and the number of secrets being kept increases. This creates increasingly superficial relationships with those who are unaware of the abuse and higher degrees of shame.
  3. Relationships Marked by a Fear of Man – “Fear of man” is the biblical term for valuing the approval of other people more than the approval of God. If the first two forms of codependency are the result of suffering, this expression is rooted more in our values and choices. This expression of codependency often goes by the names of peer pressure or insecurity. We live to please people more than to please God. This study will focus primarily on the suffering side of codependency, however, in the latter stages of your journey you will likely also have to wrestle with fear of man issues.

Knowing these types of codependency can help you navigate when parts of this study do not match your situation well. We will be speaking to all three. These distinctions may also help you understand when friends use the term codependency to describe a struggle different from yours. It doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. It is like when two people talk about owning a dog and one has a Chihuahua while the other has a Golden Retriever.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Codependency” post which address other facets of this subject.

What People Are Saying about “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk”?

DoAskDoTellLetsTalk“This is a book the church has desperately needed for some time. It is simply excellent. It will challenge you and guide you in navigating in a more Christlike manner the host of questions surrounding same-sex attraction and the local church.”
Danny Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“To stand on what we believe is clear in Scripture, and to be a friend, at the same time – this book is an important next step for Christian literature on same-sex attraction. It doesn’t simply guide us in wise engagement; it guides us in friendships where there is mutual enjoyment and appreciation. And Brad does this in such a way that he doesn’t cut any theological corners but makes such friendships a necessary expression of our theology.”
Ed Welch, counselor and faculty member, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation

Whenever Jesus encountered a sexual minority, he responded with love and friendship instead of shame. Only there, in the safety of a non-condemning presence, were these image bearers able to engage their wounds, sins and regrets. In Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, Brad Hambrick helps us see how we, too, can create safe space and belonging for our LGBTQ friends. And why would we do this? So that these friends, too, can encounter the grace and truth of Jesus. I highly recommend this book.”
Scott Sauls, senior pastor, Christ Presbyterian Church, Nashville; author, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides

Let’s face it, in this area the church has at best missed an opportunity and at worst grieved God through our ignorance, fear, or condemnation of not just the sin, but the person struggling.  Brad Hambrick has written a much-needed response to the question, how does a Christian interact with love and help someone struggling with same-sex attraction? His book gives us an opportunity to try again, but this time we will be equipped with compassion, biblical helps, and hope.  If you struggle with SSA or know someone who does, this book could start a journey  toward the light of God’s truth and love that will humble the helper and encourage the struggler.”
Garrett Higbee, Author of The Uncommon Community: Biblical Soul Care for Small Groups, Board Member of the Biblical Counseling Coalition

If you are looking for a book that simply equips you to make a friend, love a neighbor, and if God and your friend are willing, see somebody you care about come to Christ, this  is it. Winsome it is.”
Sam R. Williams, Ph.D., Professor of Counseling, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Few people have the ability to pack as much content into a book as my friend, Brad Hambrick. The message and content of this book is one which the church desperately needs. All of us need to be better equipped in the area of ministering and be-friending those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Brad’s work is not only comprehensive and biblical, it comes from the heart of a pastor-counselor whose admirable humility in approaching a potentially polarizing topic shines through. This is the book I needed to read, and I trust it will become a go-to resource for you as well.”
Jonathan Holmes, author, The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship; Biblical Counseling Coalition Council Member

Finally, a practical book that helps us engage people as Jesus would! Brad Hambrick captures the heart of what it means to invite into dialogue and relationship people who you might otherwise see as so unlike you that you may not know how to begin a substantive conversation. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk teaches the lost art of how to talk with people, draw them out, get to know their story and, therefore, know their heart . . . all of which makes fertile soil for the gospel to take root and flourish!”
John Freeman, President, Harvest USA; author, Hide or Seek, When Men Get Real with God about Sex

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk comes forth with impeccable timing to the evangelical Christian church and modern day culture by providing a pathway for engagement in safe, healing, and equipping conversations.  This brief, yet comprehensive and biblically robust book gently confronts the “elephant in the room” while answering questions about friendship, homosexuality, gender identity, and same-sex attraction.  I highly recommend it to men, women, students, youth workers, pastors, churches, educators, and leaders as well as anyone looking for answers to this vital topic.”
Dr. Dwayne R. Bond, Lead Pastor of Wellspring Church; CEO and Founder of Proximus Group

You can get a copy of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk from Cruciform Press at this link.

We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties

We have experienced a site crash and are seeking to identify remedies. I apologize for the period of time in which resources will be unavailable and am working diligently to get the site to it previous condition. We hope to have the resources previously available at available soon. Thank you for your patience.

Many links you may have previously used will not be operational until the site restoration process is complete. But all links should be operational once the site is restored.

Update (April 29, 2015): Progress continues to be made. Thank you for your continued patience.

Memories After Forgiveness: A Series from Miroslav Volf (Part 1 of 7)

miroslav_volfWhat do we do with memories of intense offenses after we forgive? This is a vexing question in a world marred by violence. Oh, that we could really “forgive and forget.” This is the question Miroslav Volf seeks to answer in his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in aWorld of Violence.

This blog series the postscript to Dr. Volf’s book in which he seeks to illustrate what he’s taught through imagined conversations with “Captian G.” – his chief interrogator during Miroslav’s eight years of political imprisonment for being a Christian and “Western sympathizer” in the former communist Yugoslavia.

I admire the honesty and vulnerability of this book. It remains true to the historic Christian positions on forgiveness and righteousness without making the living of those answers seem any “neater” than they really are in a broken world. I hope this series of excerpts will motivate many people to read this excellent book. I believe its content can be of great benefit for those who’ve face various forms of abuse and what to know how to honor God with those memories they cannot forget.

This seven part series will be posted in the following units on the coming Mondays:

I have often wondered what happened to Captain G. after the fall of 1984, when I was allowed to escape from under his inquisitorial “care.” Where was he in the early nineties, when Mostar (the city in which he seemed to enjoy his job of poking around in people’s lives) found itself caught in the whirlwind of a three-way war between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims? Did a communist defending the “brotherhood and unity” of the peoples of Yugoslavia morph into a nationalist fighting for the Serbian cause? Did he come out of the carnage alive? A hero? A four-star general? Or did he abandon the army out of disappointment that the socialist project for which he snooped on so many had so easily crumbled? What did he do after the war, during the years of uneasy and bitter peace? Did he withdraw to the mountains of his native Montenegro to nurse his wounds or drown his memories in Montenegrin vine brandy? Or, ensconced in his ancestral house, perhaps he is still proudly recounting to his grandchildren his great exploits in preventing secret plots against holy causes and wondering which one of these little ones will be found worthy to follow in his footsteps.

I have made a few attempts to track him down. The unsettling yet irresistibly attractive God of mine, intent on reconciling everyone and everything, kept nudging me to locate my nemesis and start the process of reconciliation. I searched the internet. I talked to a few friends with connections in the Yugoslav military. I came away empty handed . . . and relieved. But the Merciful Master of the universe ensconced deep in my conscience didn’t seem satisfied. It wasn’t divine anger that I felt, as though God were furious at me for failing to obey. Nor was it a sense of divine irritation, as though God were nagging, “How many times do I have to tell you to try harder?” It wasn’t even disappointment, as though God were pointing out that Jesus Christ died to reconcile me to God and I couldn’t even make peace with a fellow human being, for whom Christ also died. Instead, I simply sensed God’s unwillingness to let the alienation and enmity have the last word. “Maybe you can do better,” I heard a patient and persistent voice speak from the depths of my own heart – a voice that was my own, yet also that of Another. “And if not now, maybe later. . . .” Relieved from pressure but not from responsibility, I searched for ways to reconcile with Captain G.

Then the obvious occurred to me. Wherever Captain G. lived – presumably within the borders of the erstwhile Yugoslavia – he also showed up in my memory and frequented my imagination. There, I was mostly dealing with him without really engaging him. Early on, I would chase him away, and later, when his presence in my mind became more or less inconsequential, I would simply disregard him. Maybe, I now thought, I should try to reconcile with him in my imagination. I had made many – too many – attempts to forgive him on my own; maybe it was time to involve him in the process. Granted, even if I succeeded in reconciling with Captain G. on the screen of my mind, an imagined reconciliation could not permanently substitute for a face-to-face encounter of living and breathing human beings. Still, imagined reconciliation is something, and something is mostly better than nothing. I had no excuse. I had to begin.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Suffering” post which address other facets of this subject.

My Favorite Posts on Anger

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resource:

On-Line Evaluation:

Blog Posts:

Recommended Books:

52 Family Dinner Discussions

I am grateful for our Family Ministries Pastor, Jason Gaston, at The Summit Church. As a parent, it is a blessing to have someone in his role who views their responsibility as equipping parents as much as investing in youth.

Recently he sent a resource to parents that I thought was very helpful. It provided 52 conversation starters for family dinner. Hope you enjoy.

“Family Dinner Discussions? Does that actually happen? I feel like around my table it’s more like pulling teeth to get my teenager to talk rather than instagram their meal, or refereeing the ongoing sibling rivalry between my 6 year old and my 4 year old, which somehow has managed to make it’s way into the arena of “who can eat their spaghetti the quickest.”

We get it. We’ve all been there. That’s why we want to put this easy, simple and hopefully helpful guide into your hands to help you get creative with your discussions around the table. Print off a copy, save it to your phone, or staple it to your teenagers forehead so they’ll actually pay attention (just kidding, don’t do that).

Enjoy this great resource!

Resource Here: 52-Dinner-Discussions

Video: Overcoming Depression-Anxiety, A Responsibility Paradigm (Step 9)

Below is a videos from the presentation of “Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Personal Responsibility Paradigm.” For the various counseling options available from this material visit

The complementing studies  Overcoming Depression-Anxiety: A Suffering Paradigm and Towards a Christian Perspective of Mental Illness will also available in a video format after their presentation

NOTE: Many people have asked how they can get a copy of the seminar notebook referenced in this verbal presentation. You can request a copy from Summit’s admin over counseling at (please note this is an administrative account; no individual or family counsel is provided through e-mail).

“From Removing Sin’s Remnant to Pursuing God’s Purpose”
STEWARD all of my life for God’s glory.

DepressionAnxietyResponsibilityParadigm9 from The Sam James Institute on Vimeo.

Memorize: II Timothy 1:6-7 (ESV), “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” As you memorize this passage reflect upon these key points:

  • “Remind you” – We can take comfort that the Bible often has to remind its heroes not to fear or despair.
  • “Fan into flames” – The main focus of this passage is not against fear, but towards fulfilling God’s purpose.
  • “Not of fear” – Our main method of preventing anxiety-depression recurrence is living with purpose.
  • “Power and love” – These attributes are meant to serve and bless others.
  • “Self-control” – This attribute that prevents our sin and our service from becoming disproportionally unhealthy.

Teaching Notes

To “steward” something means to use it for God’s intended purpose. It is important to remember that what is being stewarded is your life, not merely the experience of overcoming depression-anxiety. To think otherwise would be to define yourself by your struggle again.

Sin is a parasite that lives off of stolen resources (time, energy, love, etc…) that were intended for other purposes. As we rid ourselves of this vile intruder, those resources upon which sin once indulged become available for God’s design and our true enjoyment. Ultimately, stewardship is the pinnacle where purpose, worship, and joy meet.

“We seldom realize fully that we’re sent to fulfill God-given task. We act as if we were simply dropped down in creation and have to decide to entertain ourselves until we die. But we were sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was. Once we start living our lives with that conviction, we will soon know what we were sent to do (p. 177).” Henri Nouwen as quoted be Leslie Vernick in Lord, I Just Want to Be Happy

“Know the kingdom and seek. That is the alternative to worry (p. 38).” Ed Welch in When I Am Afraid

My Favorite Posts on Adultery

The “My Favorite Posts” series on my blog is how I catalog posts I’ve written to help my readers find the material that is the best-fit for their interest or need. I hope this series creates a more user-friendly experience for my readers and allows this site to become a trusted resource hub for the church.

Seminar Resource:

On-Line Evaluation:

Blog Posts:

Recommended Books: