Editorial note: I wrote this piece about a year ago and am just posting it this May; I hope you enjoy!
Anne Lamott writes: “And I realized once again that we’re punished not for our hatred, for not forgiving people, but by it.”
Sometimes, the simple fact of the matter is that I am the slowest learner in the class. The problem student. And maybe the most forgetful too as I often require the learning of a lesson more than once. Sometimes I need a couple more knocks on the head than most require. Redundant? Yes. Unfortunate? You bet.
There I was… smack dab in the middle of a-sort-of-intentional-community…a group of twenty something’s spanning diverse backgrounds… you had your regular church-goers, your doubters, your intellectual types, your dreamers, your type A’s, your nurturers, your artists, and then you had me… the overly-analytical hippie with slight tendencies to avoid any and all confrontation. We regularly came together for scripture reading, communion, and confession. At several differing walks in life, we were able to commune with a fair amount of grace and decorum. Most of the time.
This was a particularly responsive night as we were sharing about personal fears, malaise, and struggles… vulnerable stuff. I, as any good analytic type should, weighed the options of whether to disclose my feelings of inadequacy and discontentment with the norm of my life. After a few moments of contemplation, I felt it my moral duty to divulge. “I’m frustrated with how I’d love to speak at my church, but can’t because I’m a woman.” I followed this statement with a rather lengthy diatribe of how I didn’t think the Holy Spirit distinguished between genders and that it just really hurt. Following my confession, one horrible girl piped up and reprimanded me for expressing such contention for the traditions of the church; she went a step further, turning her response into a rather personal attack of how “we” need to have stronger and more devout faith. In short, she verbally nabbed me. In front of the community.
There I sat, stunned, mouth agape, with no ability to respond whatsoever. Thankfully, someone veered the conversation to a lighter note as I sat dumbstruck. My first thought was that I had been betrayed by my fellow woman…a slap across the face from Mother Nature. On its heels came my disbelief at the audacity of this girl whom I once called a friend; I thought about the trust that had just been severed and the hurt that was flooding in. After a few moments of stewing, the anger set in. I began thinking of the offender’s major flaws and her general level of malfunction. I relished these thoughts and treated them as close friends for quite some time. I consciously chose to adopt a new enemy instead of forgiving a friend.
I have often heard, and even previously learned that when you don’t forgive someone, you really do it to the detriment of yourself. They hurt you… maybe physically, maybe emotionally, maybe spiritually, maybe all three, but nevertheless, they leave a mark you wish wasn’t there. You are left angry, hurt, and maybe resentful. I found that out. These emotions became welcome friends to my heart. They were the outlet in which I found solace… but they started wreaking havoc. Before long, they crept deeply in and took hold of the hope, joy, and peace that were in my heart. These were delicate. They were delicate. And I didn’t protect them. I chose not to forgive.
I’ve also heard that not forgiving means that you have given the perpetrators of your hurt more power over you than you could ever realize. You give them the power to control your joy, your peace, your hope. Your hope. They control your hope. That’s a lot of power to give away.
Forgiving them seems counter-intuitive. It seems like you are relinquishing your power, your stand, your pride and are becoming weak. But may I assert that perhaps the act of forgiveness is one of the most courageous, strength-requiring acts that a human can endeavor to achieve? It hurts to have been wronged and not be able to be recompensed or have been able to right the injustice that occurred. You were cut deeply and the breath knocked out of you. But as unlikely as it may sound, forgiveness is the route to healing of the hurt. Forgiving is taking that power that they once had over you and stripping it from them. It’s allowing a new day, to be just that.
A day that is yours again.
A day that you find your delicate hope, joy, and peace.
A day that you have courage again.
A day that you are a forgiver.
I’d like to say that I immediately forgave this fellow community sharer. I didn’t. The slow learner in me took a little longer and lost more sleep than I would have liked. But it happened… in my own messy way, I forgave her because I finally realized that the two of us weren’t all that different after all.
So for all the hurt that we have experienced or will experience: 1) Christ have mercy on us for the evil around this place and 2) Let us be courageous. Forgiving. Healing. Then, with all grace and strength, we rise.
Then, with all grace and strength, we rise.
What experiences have you had with forgiveness and how have these experiences changed you as a person?