Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Forgiveness: It's a burden

I wish someone could explain to me how forgiveness works.

That sounds so childish, doesn't it? “Forgive and forget” is one of the first lessons I remember my parents teaching me when I was a child, and I've always tried to teach it to my children too. Don't hold on to the things people do that hurt you. Forgive them, and then move on. Forgiveness is life itself. Refusing to forgive someone poisons wells so that the water becomes bitter. It salts the earth so that the crops won't grow, and festers like an open wound until it kills the injured relationship.

Forgiveness is basic to the Christian faith. The disciples asked Jesus how to pray, and he put forgiveness right at the heart of the prayer he taught them. And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

This goes far beyond a mere religious observance like fasting or showing up at church on Sunday. Jesus made it clear that forgiveness is absolutely mandatory for anyone who wants to be counted his follower. For if you forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins. 

It doesn't even matter how badly the person wronged us. The people crucified Jesus, and his final words still included a plea for their pardon. Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.

It doesn't matter how many times the same person has hurt us. The disciples came and asked Jesus how many times they should forgive the same person, and even generously suggested that seven times would be enough. Not seven times, Jesus answered, but seven times seven times.

In some ways, that doesn't sound so hard. Anyone can forgive a moment's rudeness or an evening of disrespect. At an opportune moment, or in the light of the morning, you approach the offender, show her the injury and let her understand how she hurt you. Most people are decent enough to be mortified, apologize profusely and make things right. You'd be a cad not to forgive in that situation.

But those slights are mild, like forgetting to say thank you, or slapping someone in the face. Forgiving affronts like that is easy. The big stuff is much worse. How do you forgive someone who betrays a confidence and leaves your secrets exposed and your shame laid bare to the world? How do you forgive your abuser, or someone who breaks his marriage vows? How do you forgive anyone who denies, rejects or mocks who you are; or who dismisses the agony you're going through and blithely tells you to get over it?

How do you forgive people who swear before God that they will walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with you, and then abandon you when it starts to get dark?

How? Goddam it, how?

Copyright © 2016 by David Learn. Used with permission.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think part of the process of forgiving is letting the other person go to see you as they think you are - let them see you as unworthy, ugly, broken, not worth their time or effort or love.

Let them.

There's been way too much emphasis in secular therapeutic practices on the idea of "closure" - you can have it, need to find it, need to believe that it will finalize and file away the hurtful experience you've had.

I no longer believe in the necessity of closure, or even in the idea that it's usually possible to find and obtain.

I've come to a place, since recently realizing the practical death of my closest adult friendships, where I can no longer rage against what other people see me as, and I can no longer hope for some definitive end or final explosion that says, "this is the pivotal point where the relationship died AND the conflict ended".

I have to just walk away. Forgiveness is about taking off the blinders, the myopic lenses through which I have seen others, viewing them as "required" to be so-and-so, yet failing, or seeing them as "supposed to" be a certain way towards me, but not doing it.

Forgiveness frees them to answer to no one but God, as we must all do.