Monday, June 3, 2019

Don’t wait for things to change before forgiveness is given to those who hurt you.

In my many counselling sessions with people who have wounded and broken pasts, it is never surprising that one of the greatest struggles that a great majority of them have is the inability to forgive their enemies.  I’m using the term ‘enemies’ in a very general way, and this includes those who have caused them pain, betrayed them, given them grief, caused them any form of sufferings and torment in life.  There seems to be a very common belief and tightly held opinion that it is only when these people apologise and show remorse for their actions of hurt will forgiveness be given.  This kind of quid-pro-quo mentality is somehow hardwired in the makeup of humanity in general, and strongly militates against the true workings and value of forgiveness as taught and demonstrated by Jesus.  

When Jesus died on Calvary for sinners, there was no conditions attached.  He didn’t wait for all of humanity to change in any way, to soften their hardened hearts and to worship the only true God before dying. His conditionless dying on that hill of Golgotha was truly groundbreaking because he wasn’t waiting for anything to happen before he gave of himself in such a total way.  We sinners, however, have a very tough time with this.  We seem to be constantly setting up conditions and are waiting for something to happen before we give the forgiveness that is needed for wounds to heal.  

I often ask my counselees what they are waiting for.  It’s a very tough and sensitive question, but it is one that needs to be asked and also very important to answer and identify.  When a marriage is betrayed, one is often waiting for the infidelity to stop before forgiving the spouse.  When one had been abused, one is waiting for the abuser to admit their wrong and bring himself or herself to justice before being forgiven.  When something is stolen, the resentment is held in the heart and is held on with a death-like grip until it is returned before there is forgiveness.  When one had been forgotten to be thanked in some speech that was given, the forgiveness will only be extended when the words of gratitude (and the apology for being left out) are spoken before one is forgiven.  The examples are legion, as so many people are really waiting for something to happen, for some condition to be met before they forgive.  

While I can understand why people think this way, they are also showing that they don’t really understand the true power of forgiveness.  The power that forgiveness gives is the power of true freedom.  When there are so many conditions to our forgiving those who have hurt us, we are the ones who are unfree and held under evil’s bondage.  We are holding on to those hurts, and are using them as the revenge that we are taking on our enemies.  It is like a knife that we are holding to use against them, but in reality, our hands are really gripping the blade and we are hurting ourselves.

Waiting for something to happen, and setting conditions before forgiveness is extended really makes forgiveness unnecessary in the end.  I say to my counselees that it is like waiting for a cut to heal before one applies the salve and puts the dressing on the wound.  The dressing is needed precisely when the wound is fresh and gaping and the bleeding is profuse.  By the time the wound closes up and the keloid forms, the value and effect of the dressing is of little or no use.  

Many also wait for a memory to either fade away or be forgotten before forgiveness is extended. “Father, I can forgive, but I can’t forget” is the common response.  God doesn’t want you to have dementia before you forgive.  Again, forgiveness has no value if there is no memory.  Perhaps it is because of the power of our memory that Jesus told Peter that he is to forgive not seven but seventy-seven times. Each time the memory puts its sting into our hearts, jolting us back to that place of hurt which causes that stab to the heart, the will to forgive is needed to be activated.  It is for this reason that forgiveness is often not a one-time effort.  Painful memories that linger are God’s invitation to apply forgiveness, and this is where the merit of forgiveness on our very own souls is high.  There is very little merit when forgiveness is only given when the waves of anger in our heart have become a still, placid lake.  

Is this kind of living with a concerted will to effect forgiveness in a very purposeful and mindful way easy?  Not by a long shot.  One doesn’t automatically live this way.  If there is anything automatic about our living, it is when we return the abuse given by withholding forgiveness and mercy.  Rather, we need to be taught, and we need to be trained to function in a truly humane way towards our enemies.  It is to live counter-intuitively, and the Church gives us two models of this to look at – Jesus on Calvary, and Mary his blessed mother.

Jesus set no conditions and waited for no one to do anything before saving us so selflessly on the Cross.  Mary didn’t demand that those who were responsible for murdering her sinless son repent as she stood at the foot of the Cross.  She had every right to shake her fists to heaven and make demands from God but she didn’t.  She entered into the mystery of suffering in the same heart as her Son.  She too, set no conditions in her love for God.

If we are waiting for something to change, something to be said, someone to repay for some hurt before we start forgiving, we are very often the ones who are unfree, trapped and imprisoned, and not those whom we impose the conditions on.

1 comment:

  1. Tough really... But so true, needs much grace and trust that God will heal in good time. Pax! Thank you for the clear reminder of Jesus n Marys' forgiveness.