So, what have you heard about forgiveness so far? "Forgive and forget." "The past is in the past." "Time heals all wounds." While there may be pieces of truth in these maxims, they all seem to land on a final message that sounds something like "get over it." It is likely that if you're reading this "getting over it" hasn't been so easy, and here is the truth, my friend, it is not. Take courage. Forgiveness is not a light switch that we can turn on and off. If it was that simple I think many of us would have done it already and thereby released the burdens from our past long ago. While we may want to and need to move on unencumbered by life's hurts, can I suggest that this may be much more of a process and less like a simple choice.
Having the need to forgive would likely find its origin in an event that caused woundedness. Someone at some time hurt you tremendously. They were either ignorant, neglectful, mistaken, careless, thoughtless, reckless, or even malicious. This hurt can be magnified if the person who hurt us was in a role that should have provided care. That duality creates some of the deepest emotional injuries.
How have you tried to deal with this injury up to this point? Have you tried to make sense of the persons behavior? Have you talked to them? Have you talked about them? Have you played back the scenario a million times in your mind to no avail? You've pushed it down, ignored it, moved past it, but all the while there it is, vibrating somewhere in the back of your mind. You can feel trapped forever in a memory that you cannot effect or change. You may have approached the world with guardedness determined not to be injured again, or conversely, engaged the world with venom and enmity intent on being the predator rather than the prey. When we don't understand how to forgive we can spiral into all sorts of patterns that continue to injure ourselves and possibly those around us.
First, let us establish what forgiveness is. The word forgiveness is an accounting term. It means to write off a debt. The debt in this case is our reasonable expectation of another with consideration for the nature of our relationship and situation. What was the expectation you had of the person who hurt you? What was their role in your life? Was the expectation reasonable?
If you can, approach the person who hurt you and let them know how you have been hurt. Use an "I feel" statement. "When you did.... , I felt...." (I will write more about confrontation in another blog) Assuming you have done everything within your power, and there is no resolution to be had, it is time to engage in the one sided endeavor to forgive, write-off the reasonable expectation you had of this person. That still doesn't mean your expectations were wrong, or that you should give up on your expectations all together. It simply means you are no longer looking to collect on a debt that the other person simply cannot pay. They either don't have the skills to fulfill your expectation, or there is something else within them blocking them from accessing their abilities. Either way, at this moment, they cannot fulfill their role. Any attempt to continue and pursue a collection on this expectation will lead to frustration, and further feed resentment, bitterness, and anger until we become a lesser version of ourselves. No, it is not fair. Absolutely not. However, it is completely ineffectual to try to put the responsibility for our healing on someone else. So we move on to the process of forgiveness.
The road to forgiveness is not unlike the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. Odds are we have already gone through these emotions several times already, which is consistent with the grieving process as well, but without the final stage of acceptance. Now we are going to do this intentionally.
Identify the expectation. Recognize its goodness. See if it was appropriate.
Accept the outcome. Despite your efforts to communicate, compromise, and resolve this issue with the other person, they aren't able to be a part of the solution.
Accept your sadness. There is no way to sugarcoat it. This is a sad situation. They should have loved you better. They shouldn't have been a source of injury.
The burial. In my mind I have a little graveyard of expectations. Specific hopes I have let go of because I simply cannot get those things from the people I had anticipated would provide them to me. They are broken, injured people themselves (just as I am). So I release the particular hopes/expectations I had of the person who hurt me. See it in your mind as something you drop into the ground or into the ocean or watch sail away.
Return from the burial. I have had a few very impactful funerals in my life, and if you have had them too then you know the feeling of walking away with a hole in your heart. The person I lost was a source of love, comfort, wisdom, joy, etc. and as I have walked from the burial site, I can feel the lack of it. The needs don't go away, but now I have made myself available to receive those things from other sources.
Recognize your supports. God has a way of always providing, but it may not be in the way you anticipate. First, He is the source of every good thing. He is faithful. He loves perfectly. Look to Him for all your needs. Second, look around at the people who have been there for you in various ways at various times friends, family, teachers, neighbors, coworkers. Recognize how they have loved you. How have they expressed their care? Small moments? Big gestures? Hugs. A listening ear. A thoughtful gift. You are cared for. See it. Savor it.