Arising from conversations around yesterday’s sermon, here are some additional thoughts on forgiveness…
Forgiveness is a refusal to be defined and controlled by past pain and suffering. We can still be shaped and informed by it, still have scars, without being determined or constrained. Forgiveness is a way of saying yes to life, to hope, to the future, which also honors the goodness of life that preceded the breach or violation being forgiven.
Some people are afraid, I think, to forgive an egregious offense because they believe it might signal that they do not take the breach seriously, that they have forgotten, that they no longer grieve deeply. This may even be a subconscious or unconscious reflection, unknown and unarticulated.
It is important to recognize that the very act of forgiveness is a demonstration of how seriously the offense is taken. If it’s “OK” then there is no need of forgiveness. Forgiving is an acknowledgement that it is not OK.
Forgiveness also does not erase grief. In fact, the process of forgiving enables the grieving to continue in a healthy manner. Thoughts or feelings of anger, resentment and desire for vengeance hinder grief because they distort our healthy emotional attachment to the memories of who or what has been lost.
It matters whether you are the direct victim of the offense, or adjacent to it. For instance, if you are the victim of an assault, you will process the experience differently than if you were the loved one (spouse/partner, child, parent, sibling). If you are the victim, then it is yours to forgive. But when you are adjacent and close, then forgiveness may feel like a betrayal of your loved one, like you don’t take the offense seriously. While it may feel this way, forgiveness is not a betrayal and is not an indication of concession or dismissal of the seriousness of the violation.
“What if I’m not ready to forgive?” While forgiveness is the goal, it is a process - the first step of which is to acknowledge it as a possibility, and then as an aspiration. But if because of the above or other hindrances we are simply “not there yet” then we might borrow from the 12 Step community the idea of “a desire chip.” In AA people will often come to a meeting not just hung over but possibly even still smelling of alcohol. They come not to celebrate their sobriety but to declare their dim but existent hope for it. And in response they may receive and carry a desire chip. This chip is a totem, a symbol the can empower future progress toward the goal. And it is a concrete step. The thought process might go something like this:
“I’m so hurt and angry that I don’t even want to forgive. Even wishing to do that would feel like giving up, like a betrayal or concession…."
But I do recognize that ultimately holding this pain is hurting me and others and preventing my healing, so perhaps I can say that I want to want to forgive. Could that be enough for now?” The answer is an emphatic, “YES!” Take the step you can take. Make the progress that you see is available to you. In the end, that in itself will provide momentum and release for further progress.
If you or someone you know is struggling to forgive, whether you’re the victim or a close bystander or simply a concerned observer, telling your story is an incredibly important part of your healing. We are here to listen if you would like to speak. Please feel welcome to reach out and tell us your story. And wherever you go, may you be received with grace and love as you seek to move toward wholeness.