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Forgiveness and The List Maker

By Dr. Don Dunlap
Pastoral Counselor
Like many committed Christians, “The List Maker,” is clueless about biblical forgiveness. -

The Forgiveness Series – Article 11 of 71

This article continues the case study of “The List Maker.” Faced with the prospect of paying alimony and child support, “The List Maker” comes reluctantly to a counseling session armed with a detailed list of his wife’s offenses against him. Dr. Dunlap tells him that the list makes it obvious that his wife has hurt him, but it is also clear that he has not forgiven her. The man counters indignantly, “I most assuredly have forgiven her. I’m a Christian.” At this point Dr. Dunlap realizes that his client is clueless about biblical forgiveness.

In the last article in this series, we met “The List Maker.” His wife had come to me for counseling but he had been unwilling to come with her until she met with a divorce lawyer. Faced with the prospect of paying alimony and child support, he came to my office armed with a legal pad on which he had recorded all of his wife’s offenses against him.

He had recorded every offense that his wife had ever committed against him.

He wasted no time, but immediately began to read his list aloud to me. He read, for instance, “January, 14, 1996: She didn’t have supper ready for me when I got home. May 4, 1996: House was a mess when I came through the door. Looked like she hadn’t done anything all day.” This couple had a preschooler, and anyone who has ever had a young child knows how long it takes him to mess up a house—less than 45 seconds. (We have ten kids, and it doesn’t even take 45 seconds at our house. In about 15 seconds, our house can look like a tornado hit it.)

I asked him if he had made a list of his offenses against his wife.

Now here was the big one. He had written down every time that his wife had been unresponsive to him sexually. He had listed one date after the other chronicling each time she had refused him physically. The first time he paused for a good breath, I stopped him. I said, “We don’t do that kind of counseling here, but I would be interested to hear about the things that you have done to hurt your wife.”

He ignored my request and immediately proceeded to read his list again. Once more, I stopped him. We repeated this process two or three more times until I realized that this man was like a freight train. He intended to move full speed ahead no matter what I said. He was insistent upon reading me his list. I finally gave up, put down my pen, sat back in my chair and determined that I would wait him out until the end of the hour. It was a long hour.

He was indignant when I told him that he had not forgiven his wife.

About ten minutes before the session was over, I stopped him again.

I said, “Based upon the things you have told me today, it is obvious that your wife has deeply hurt you.”

“Well, Dr. Dunlap,” he replied with a satisfied expression on his face, “I’m glad to see that you understand where I’m coming from.”

Then I continued, “It is also clear to me that you have not been willing to forgive your wife for what she has done to offend you.”

Well, he was not quite so happy with that comment. He countered indignantly, “I most assuredly have forgiven her. I’m a Christian!”

I knew that this man had a graduate degree in psychology from a Christian college, so I asked in dismay, “You believe that you have forgiven her?”

He answered, “Yes sir, I certainly do.”

I said, “If you have forgiven her, would you mind telling me what your definition of forgiveness is?”

He sat back in his chair, and I could tell that he was thinking hard.

After a moment or two a big smile broke across his face and he said, “I think I’ve got a good definition. Forgiveness is not holding her accountable any longer for what she’s done to me.”

I recognized his definition for what it was—a deception. I was now certain that “The List Maker” was clueless about biblical forgiveness, and I was grateful to the Lord that he had agreed to come back for his next appointment.


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