Because I work with victims of abuse and domestic violence, I think a lot about what forgiveness isn’t.
– Forgiveness isn’t allowing a wife allowing a husband who beats her back into the home because he has apologized and promises not to do it again.
– Forgiveness isn’t “forgetting” and allowing a sex offender to be around vulnerable children.
– Forgiveness is not staying quiet about abusive or potentially abusive leadership practices.
– Forgiveness isn’t forcing the victims and victim’s parents into a meeting with a child molester and commanding them to “forgive” so they do not report the crime to the authorities.
– Forgiveness is not allowing a manipulative person to continue to manipulate or enabling an addicted person to continue to use.
Forgiveness is not preventing someone from experiencing the consequences of their own choices.
The problem was that I was focusing so much on what forgiveness isn’t that I wasn’t realizing what forgiveness is even though it is one of the most important tenets of Christianity. Jesus mentions it in the Lord’s Prayer, the story of the debtor, and when Peter asks him how many times he should forgive, he says seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21).
A few weeks ago I was reading Nadia Boltz-Weber’s fantastic book Pastrix . I was challenged by her chapter about forgiveness, Doormats and Wrinkled Vestments, which begins with Peter’s question about forgiveness. She recounts how this verse was assigned on day she was supposed to preach on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She talks about the problems she has with forgiveness. She asks “Isn’t forgiving over and over just the thing that keeps battered women battered?” and compares forgiveness with being a pansy and a doormat.
She, like most of us, had the idea that evil is fought through retaliation, an eye for an eye. However she realized that by holding on to anger, it chains us to the evil that was done.
She asks “What if forgiveness, rather than being a pansy way of saying it’s OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain that links us?”
This week I realized that I needed to forgive someone. They apologized almost two years ago. I kept telling myself that it was ok, I was ok, or at least I should be ok. If I wasn’t ok, didn’t that make me weak? It took me that long to realize that they hurt me and it was not ok and I was not ok. I am somewhat of an idiot when it comes to processing emotions, especially my own. I often know that something is wrong but it can take hours, days, weeks or years to realize why. I was trying to be stronger and more stoic and simply ignore my hurt feelings. I know that I have needed forgiveness so many times in my life for so much that I have done wrong, but for me to be the forgiver seemed both too pious and too weak. I finally accepted that willing away and ignoring the hurt wasn’t working. I was finally able to acknowledge the hurt and am the process of forgiveness.
It is a daily process for me to let go of the right to retaliate and let go of the anger, to open my fist that was clutching this wrong so tightly to my heart, and to wake up the next day and intentionally start again with my hands open.