The Salvation of Forgiveness
Oh, to be all the way alive! Oh, to sink into the bliss of holy peace! Oh, to simply be in the very heart of God and to let that power flow through us!
Don't you want to be free of anything that gets in the way of God's love?
Is it perhaps time to let go of the anger and the pain?
Is it perhaps time to forgive?
We use the word "forgiveness" a lot in churches. We say the Lord's prayer and ask God to forgive us, and we tell Go we have forgiven:
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.
We confess our sins, and then together proclaim, 'In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Thanks be to God."
But rarely, too rarely, do we talk about how to forgive, about our endless struggles to forgive, about whether or not we really, truly, all the way believe (in our deepest places) that we are forgiven.
Forgiveness is tough stuff.
And forgiveness is essential to our living out our vocations, our call to bear God's love into the world. I have come to believe that if we do not take forgiveness seriously -- as something we do with intent and commitment -- our ability to live lives of love is profoundly damaged. (Check out Matthew 6: 14-15)
We are commanded to forgive because it is essential for us to do so. It is time for us to consider what forgiveness really means. Here is my snazzy, theologically complicated definition:
Forgiveness is getting the gunk out of the way so that we can be all the way alive in the endless flow of Love that is God.
As Annie Lamott has so brilliantly said, failing to forgive and holding on to our anger is like drinking rat poison and expecting the other person to die. Okay, so quite aside from the fact that wishing that other people dead flies in the face of that whole "Love Others" thing, we need to understand that the person we hurt most when we fan the flames of our indignation and live clenched inside our wounds is our very self. We kill ourselves.
I started on a journey of trying to understand forgiveness some thirteen years ago when I was in the midst of divorce. I was so hurt, so bereft, so tender and damaged. And some of the pain converted itself into rage. I would wake up with every muscle clenched. Without me seeming to will it in any fashion, I was stiffened into anger.
I didn't want to be that way. I didn't want to be that way for my daughters. It was a kind of prison.
So, I went to this workshop on forgiveness. I learned that forgiveness is separate from justice, that it doesn't really have anything to do with fairness. I learned again about mercy and grace -- which are in a world apart from our internal systems of keeping accounts and weighing wrongs. I learned that while I couldn't pull off reconciliation by myself, I could forgive alone -- well, alone in the arms of God and the abundance of that kind of love.
I wrote a long letter detailing my grievances. I poured out my heart and told the truth, writing through even the humiliation of having been so hurt. I looked upon myself with tenderness -- a great antidote to shame -- and I wanted freedom for myself. And I started to forgive him. First, for my own sake. Second, for the sake of my daughters. Third, for the sake of my work in the world. And, in all that, because God told me to. Forgiveness is a process. It didn't all happen the day of that workshop, but it started to happen.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation -- though one day we will all be reconciled in that Love of God which heals the broken. I wasn't able then to try to draw near to my ex-husband. That would not have been good for me. But I tried hard to pray for God to bless him. Something like, "Go with God, but go." Sometimes in the midst of forgiving we still need to protect ourselves.
But I started to heal. I unclenched. I opened my heart back up. Love could flow again..
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