Healing begins with forgiveness
Having a melancholic temperament makes forgiving others quite a feat. As a child, I was sensitive to jesting, even if it was done in a lighthearted and impersonal matter. Because of my insecurities and bottled up shame, I internalized everything people said, asked, or commented about me: my glasses, braces, bushy hair, shy nature, favorite shoes (black high-top sneakers —totally uncool) — everything.
As an adult, I found many people’s theology of forgiveness a bit superficial, or maybe just lacking in some way. There always seemed to be something beyond the cliche, “Forgiveness isn’t for the other person; it’s for you.” As I recalled various people who have hurt me — some significant betrayals — I confessed my unforgiveness. Always, the priest told me to pray to want to forgive the person, which I did.
FORGIVENESS IS LIKE GRIEF
Sometimes forgiveness, like grief, is a journey that waxes and wanes like the moon. There are flickers of grace that penetrate the hardened heart, breaking through the holes created by various wounds of our past. During those times, we truly want to forgive those who have caused pain in our lives, and our prayers for them reflect this. The cooperation with grace, then, fills those heart holes with God’s healing light.
But healing doesn’t happen in a flash. Most of the time, when we hear about forgiveness, we think it does — or should. Instead, it’s gradual. It takes time for deep spiritual healing to really take place. Sometimes it’s a lifetime, and we need to be patient with the process.
I certainly don’t have a comprehensive understanding of how to forgive or some universal checklist that will undoubtedly work for you. What I know is what I have learned and experienced. And the beginning of true, lasting healing must start with forgiveness.
WILLING THE GOOD OF THE OTHER
How do we get from a place of bitterness and resentment (which is anger pitted against someone, possibly for years, based on personal injuries) to authentic Christian charity? I’m talking about willing the good of our (perceived) enemies. This is no small task, especially in our polarized and divisive culture.
It seems as if, regardless of how a person identifies politically, spiritually, or otherwise, there are vultures, vipers, and trolls swarming the internet just waiting to attack. As Christians, we are called to reflect God’s love, and I’m not talking about the marshmallow fluff-type love. I mean the hard, tough love of speaking truth in charity, or maybe refraining from speaking in order to truly listen to someone else.
Forgiveness is a crucial component to our journey toward healing in relationships. We simply can’t obtain, maintain, or spread peace in the world until we start working on ourselves — how we treat others, respond to unkindness, and ideally, turn to God in prayer with humility.
FORGIVENESS INVOLVES MEEKNESS
Humility and meekness go hand in hand. In fact, some believe meekness is a simple synonym for humility, but there are a few differences. Consider what unforgiveness does to your heart: you become angry, bury your pain, turn away from others, and become embittered. Meekness softens the heart and makes it more malleable to give and receive love. It is related to uprightness, simplicity, unity, and compassion.
When your heart is open, it becomes receptive to God and is more easily capable of receiving grace. It helps you become more sensitive (compassionate) to the feelings of others and even their motives, so that you refrain from harsh judgment in the name of “justice” or “truth.” Meekness involves incredible emotional and spiritual vulnerability, which feels frightening. That’s because hardness of heart encases us in this protective shell, so that we don’t risk being hurt again. But meekness asks us for the courage to love, and that means we might get hurt.
FORGIVENESS AND MERCY
Forgiveness is also an act of mercy. If you think about the person who has hurt you the most in your life, it’s almost automatic to make excuses about why you haven’t forgiven him or her. Unforgiveness focuses on finding fault, placing blame, shirking responsibility, and labeling someone as “inferior” to oneself.
But forgiveness asks us to take the plank out of our own eyes before constantly nitpicking about someone else’s splinter (see Matthew 7:3). That means — in humility — acknowledging our own weaknesses, faults, bad habits, and defects. It also means accepting the truth that we are capable of committing grave evil, as well as achieving holiness.
If we look at those who have hurt us through the lens of mercy, we begin to understand their humanity. In turn, they no longer appear to be monsters and mongrels, but mere people who are wounded — just like you and me. In embracing their brokenness, we embrace ours, too. That’s what leads to true forgiveness, because it’s not just about getting justice; it’s about forgiving ourselves as much as we do others.