Forgiving means forgetting
She said she forgave him. He assured her that the affair was over. He seemed beaten down. Contrite. She was magnanimous. Forgiving.
Twenty years later she had still not let a single opportunity pass to put her husband in his place. This was not forgiveness. The life they led together but separated by an old wound was a life of vengeance. Revenge. Suffering.
If unhealed emotional wounds could be seen, the way a fresh deep cut can be seen, then our stores, churches and ball fields would look more like the site of a plane crash. The walking wounded stumbling around in shock, not realizing how life-threatening the wounds truly are.
But when we seek healing for these hurts, it can sometimes lead to more needless pain and suffering. Often we seek the easiest route to healing. Letís just get things smoothed over. Or better yet, letís just act like there is no problem. Why tell my friend who handles my investments that I think heís hopelessly messed up my chances at a happy retirement. Better to make excuses. Move the money slowly. Then talk to everyone I know about him behind his back. Thatíll be easier.
Donít deal with your Dadís alcoholism. Never bring it up to him or anyone else. Instead, just ignore your Dad. Cut him out of your life. Then take every opportunity to make your Mom suffer for allowing that man into your childhood home. Never mention why you act like you do. Just get your revenge slowly by slowly. And when the old pain from the times he hit you or the words he said in drunken anger resurface, just stop by the liquor store on the way home. Youíll be fine.
If you act like nothing happened. Or if you heal just the surface, you will leave the hard work of healing undone. Then the emotional wound will fester under the surface and lead to infection. You wonít be any closer to healing the wound. Youíll just be hurting all the worse.
So how do we get to real healing? How can we truly treat the emotional wounds rather than let them fester? It takes forgiveness. Real, true, lasting forgiveness.
Real forgiveness can take time. Forgiveness of big hurts takes a process in which you come to see what needs to be forgiven, you come to see the person who hurt you as God sees them, you give up on revenge and you let go of the hurt. What you donít do is ignore the problem. You donít forget that it happened and you donít always reconcile and bring the person back into your life.
We have already seen how futile it is to act like you are not hurt. Youíve read this far into an essay on forgiveness, so face it. You have things to forgive. But also face the fact that you might not have found everything you need to forgive yet.
For example, you know that you need to forgive your uncle for sexually abusing you as a teen and you arenít sure that you can. But have you yet realized that means you need to forgive your Mom for always sending you over to his house while she was at work, even after you tried to warn her that you didnít want to go. See how that works? There may be more to forgive than first meets the eye.
Then once you discover what all you need to forgive, donít bother with forgive and forget. At least not in the way you probably think. Sure you need to heal the pain so that you can leave the hurt in the past and not replay the old tapes of the wound over and over in your head. But forgiveness is not the same as amnesia. You need to remember, but remember the pain as a healed event. Then you are not doomed to repeat the same mistake and you can learn and grow in healthy ways from the old pain.
Realize that some of the people you need to forgive have already died. Thatís OK. Forgive them anyway. You donít need the other person in order to forgive them. When it is possible to let the person know you forgive them, that can be helpful and healing, but it can also be a bad idea. Use discernment. Some people need to be forgiven, but they also donít need to be a part of your life again.
The other part of forgiveness is taking responsibility for your own actions. If your trusted friend and business partner stole lots of money and bankrupted your company, there is much to forgive. But you also have to hold yourself accountable for not having put proper controls in place. He may be to blame for what he did, but you also need to forgive yourself for the part you played.
So hear is another myth to bust about forgiveness. The hardest person to forgive is not the one who caused you the greatest hurt. The hardest person to forgive is your self. Seeing others as God sees them, means also seeing yourself as God sees you.
When Jesus said, ďFor if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive youĒ (Matthew 6:14) he wasnít just being mean and saying ďdo this or Iíll punish you.Ē Jesus was describing the way the world works. To find forgiveness, you need to become forgiving. It is in giving forgiveness to others, that you will find the path to accept it for yourself.
Youíve read to the end and I promise that I have not said all that needs to be said. What you need is to talk to a pastor, or counselor, or trusted friend. You need to lay the hurts out to someone who can help you sort out how you can begin the process of forgiveness. Then you need to take the steps to let go of the hurts.
Hereís how youíll know you have succeeded. If you truly forgive someone, when the old wound resurfaces, you wonít have the anger, the resentment, the negative energy rise up like it does now. You will remember the pain. You will see how you have grown from finding the lasting healing for yourself. Then you will know you have truly forgiven.
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church. His daily update though-provoking offerings are online at http://kingofpeace.blogspot.com)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526