Every year it seems that God gives me a theme to focus on, a growth area He gently (or not so gently) points out that requires my attention in order to stay on the path of becoming who He created and designed me to be. Although not a new revelation, it has become increasingly, painfully (and embarrassingly) clear that I have issues with forgiveness. I can recall in excruciating detail past wrongs and grievances, even the ones I think I have already forgiven, reciting the offense and its effects as though it occurred yesterday. The old emotions of hurt and betrayal accompanying the broken trust rise up in my chest and cause me to retreat and withdraw from that relationship all over again.
I know unforgiveness leads to bitterness, a poison that affects me rather than the person I have failed to release from their perceived offense. I also know that I was freely forgiven even though initially unaware of my own wrong doing and unworthy of this gift of grace by the Creator of the Universe. The (un)worthiness of my transgressor or the lack of an adequate apology do not excuse me from extending this grace I have received to another who has wronged me.
One of my favorite definitions of forgiveness comes from Richard Rohr in his book, Falling Upward: “Forgiveness is giving up your investment in and identification with your own painful story. This comes from a deep place of inner freedom and awareness of goodness -- God's, your own, and the goodness of the person you choose to forgive.”
When I read this, I realized I had over-identified with my history in ways that kept me trapped in my hurts and role as a victim. Holding onto hurts is just as unproductive and dis-empowering as avoiding or minimizing them. Instead, Rohr encourages his readers to stop resisting the pain of the hurt, to welcome it without over-analyzing or rationalizing it away, to pay attention to what that pain feels like in your body, and to simply acknowledge its presence there, holding space for it.
When we stop trying to avoid, minimize or medicate our pain, we find that it comes up and eventually passes through, from hurt to anger to grief, rubbing itself smooth along the way, until it becomes a small scar rather than a jagged, raw wound.
Rohr writes, “When you're able to welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human--and also what it means to be divine. You can hold this immense pain because you too are being held by the very One who went through this process on the Cross. Jesus was holding all the pain of the world . . . though the world had come to hate him, he refused to hate it back.”
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. We do not forget so much as we release the debt incurred when someone wrongs us. In The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu writes, “When we forgive another person, we help them recover their humanity.”
Isn’t that essentially what Christ did for us?