“merely glanced at the title, glared at Dwight and asked, ‘Why the hell should I?’” (Buerhens 6)That’s a person who has given up on forgiveness.
In such cases, the work will be hard, and no one can say “you should” – no one can say the work will be worth it. The grace of forgiveness – the grace of being able to forgive, and the grace of coming to be forgiven – can, if not short-circuited, have a power to raise new life from a kind of death. Forgiveness can
“break through the normal calculus of morality that calls for evenhandedness and balance.” (Lewis Smedes, religious psychologist)We can’t make the grace come. We can take some steps to invite that grace: steps for both the injured and the injurer.
For the one who has been harmed, the first step is to tell the truth about our pain. We have to be able to say that we’ve been hurt and how. Even articulating that hurt may be arduous. It’s often difficult to speak one’s pain frankly.
One barrier is an inner belief in our invincibility. A person may deny her or his own suffering because to hurt is to have an unacceptable weakness. And acknowledging this hurt means recognizing that we can be hurt again. Or we may fear that acknowledging a hurt will make it worse.
An Offender Reconciliation Program in Wisconsin “brings the victim of a crime together with the perpetrator of the crime, in front of a trained mediator,” if the victim desires such a meeting, and the perpetrator is willing. One woman met with the drunk driver who had killed her husband.
He said, "I’m sorry."
And she said, “‘I’m sorry,’ won’t cut it. I lost the love of my life. My other half. I suffered depression. I had to deal with being a single parent with three kids.” (Larsen 3-4)
Sometimes we aren’t ready to get, don’t want to get, don’t need to get, to forgiveness. Just the first step of speaking her pain – without expecting that she accept his apology: “it became possible for her to get on with her life” (Larsen 4)
At the next step we do face a choice. Having named our pain, grieve it. If we don’t grieve, we are much more likely to pass on the very same injury to others. Unitarian Universalist minister Rebecca Parker writes:
“The capacity to grieve unlocks the psycho-magic of passing the pain on to someone else. Grief allows the pain to pass through one with its full power. The ability to mourn is the foundation of the capacity to forgive, and it is strengthened by those operations of grace which mediate comfort and consolation to us.”The final step, then, is letting it go. Again: you can’t make yourself let it go, and you certainly can’t make anyone else let something go, but you can deliberately open yourself to inviting the release to come. Letting go releases the violator from the obligation you would place upon them to suffer for their violation, or be punished for their sin.
This is not a release from accountability. Forgiveness involves "calling another to accountability, but relinquishing the desire for retribution” (Parker 16). When I say accountability, I mean accounting for ourselves to one another – a relation in which we accept the task of trying to make our selves make sense to another human being – who has seen our past behavior as making no sense.
The injurer, for her or his part, also has steps that can help open the iron gate through which forgiveness may enter. Here, too, truth-telling must be the first step. Tell the truth about the violation. Acknowledge responsibility. Accept the call to accountability.
Step two is justice-making. This is about restorative justice, not retributive justice.
“One cannot always repair the damage one does, but one can commit oneself to create healing or transformation somewhere, somehow” (Parker 21).In the example from Gandhi, the man could not bring back the child he killed. What he could do was commit to creating healing or transformation somewhere, somehow. We can’t always put thing back, make things right, but we can make things better – create healing or transformation somewhere, somehow.
In the end, as at the beginning, forgiveness is a form of love, and like love generally, it is a need. We need it in both directions. We need to love; we need to forgive. We need to be loved; we need to be forgiven. As the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said:
“Nothing we do, however virtuous can be accomplished alone. Therefore we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own. Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love, which is forgiveness.”* * *
This is part of 4 of 4 of 'Forgiveness'
Previous: Part 3
Beginning: Part 1