I’m in a bit of a pickle. Over the past year, I have completed most of the works of mercy. But there is one that I have avoided with a vengeance — forgiveness.
Forgive others. It sounds simple compared to some of the other works of mercy that have been more time-consuming. After all, I wouldn’t have to find a person in need or an organization to help. I don’t have to make phone calls or appointments. I don’t even have to go anywhere. Doing it lies within me. Yet, when I get into the elusive details of this fundamental teaching of my faith, forgive and forget easily turns into forget. As in, forget it.
The concept of forgiveness truly mystifies me. I picture a magician waving a wand, saying an incantation – maybe even a small cloud of smoke appears. Poof! Ladies and gentlemen, we have forgiveness!
Except we don’t.
I don’t want you to misunderstand either. I am a very easy going person. I don’t hold grudges. There’s nobody I wish ill on and to my recollection there never has been.
A few months ago, a decades old wound was opened. I was surprised how bad it both hurt and angered me when it was something so far removed from my life.
Would I have felt that way, if had I forgiven this person?
For days I thought about the encounter. I hated that it bothered me. I was mad at myself for being bothered. I felt angsty, confused and sad. I thought a lot about the person I was at the time. It occurred to me that I needed to forgive myself as much as anyone.
The experience made me wonder how many of us really ever heal. I think, more accurately, we move on –and only because there is no other choice. Life doesn’t stop for broken hearts, it’s indifferent to unfairness, and the world doesn’t so much as pause because someone insulted your intellect or even caused you physical harm. Life just keeps going no matter how big the injustice or grievance. It just goes.
Then, one day you look back and think how horrible that was and maybe you mourn a bit, or maybe you celebrate how far you have come from that place. But either way, there is a wound, a scar, a battle-mark – whatever you want to call it. It’s there because it’s a part of the experiences that make you who you are now.
This past year, by focusing so much on others’ suffering, I have thought a lot about my own. I understand how certain experiences that I have long considered painful, left more than a scar. They left me with insight, wisdom and compassion.
Would I change them if I could? The only answer I have to this is more questions – What would I change them into? Is trading my plight for someone else’s going to mean less pain – or just different?
Hurting is part of our human experience. Perhaps that is way Jesus emphasized forgiveness so much because He knew how much we would hurt one another. But through His love, He has transformed my wounds into arguably the best parts of me.
But does realizing that mean I have forgiven? Maybe it’s a part of it.
Jesus had been mocked, humiliated and brutalized. While he hung from a cross He offered forgiveness to those who were still scorning him. That certainly helps me to understand how important it is to Him that we forgive one another. But it doesn’t help me understand how to do it. What actually changed in His heart?
Many experts advise that it is important to forgive others so that you can attain peace within yourself. Somehow, I don’t think Jesus forgives us for His own peace of mind. Although it does make sense that if you harbor anger, resentment and hurt, you’re not going to have peace – or much room from happiness.
I have been to retreats where we burn little pieces of paper with big hurts on them. This seems to help in a pyromaniac kind of way — where it’s fun to just burn something. Still I’ve never forgotten what I have written on those slips of paper.
But maybe forgiveness isn’t about forgetting.
Perhaps it’s about remembering and loving someone anyway.
I did an internet search on forgiveness. I read a few articles and pages of profound quotes. It gave me a better understanding of why I was so confused. Forgiveness is complicated.
First off, the importance of forgiving others appears infinite on the internet. It’s kind of funny to me, actually. Because if everyone knows how important it is, why is the world so angry?
One thing I learned that made sense to me was this — forgiveness is a decision. When you make it, you turn it over to God and He replaces resentment with peace so that you can really let go of a grievance, not let it victimize you over and over again.
That seemed like a pretty good answer to my question on how to forgive. I really liked the part about turning it over to God. While I feel like Miss Bossy Britches delegating my grievances to God, I also realize He can turn the most hideous hurts into something beautiful. I can’t turn them into anything more than an empty box of Kleenex.
Then, I found this scripture from Proverbs 10-12 “Hatred stirs up strife; but love covers all offenses.”
It made me think of the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding — What the World Needs Now Is Love by Jackie De Shannon. I don’t know why I picked a wedding song that came out before I was even born. It certainly wasn’t a standard love ballad, and I wasn’t a 1960s flower child.
Still, I chose it because I thought of my marriage as bringing more of love’s sweet goodness into the world. Our love was more significant than two individuals because the nature of love is not confinement. Love spreads.
I wanted everyone to know love the way I did. So the song made sense to me. Just as the scripture from Proverbs does – “love covers all offenses.”
Maybe I don’t understand the complexities of forgiveness, but I do understand what it means to love. I can do that.
So, have I forgiven offenses? I have made the decision to, and am delegating the rest to God. As I do, I can almost hear him say to me, “Mercy Me! I’ve got work to do!” And already I feel better.
For my part, I am simply covering offenses with love.
Because of all that has changed in the world since I danced to that song on my wedding day, there’s still one thing that there’s still just too little of – love, sweet love….