Many deep thinkers, all wiser than I, have written about forgiveness. They have shared their stories and their reflections on those stories, and I have learned much from them. But I have also learned much from reflecting on my own story – as well all can. Recently, I had an experience that reinforced what I have learned over the years about forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is a choice.
- The Holy Spirit helps us make and live with that choice.
- It may take years or even decades for feelings to follow that choice.
But during my difficult summer of learning and understanding, I also learned something new about forgiveness. Here is the story:
The pain I caused this person goes back three decades; he said then “You are dead to me.” We saw each other twice in that nearly 30 years but had no real conversation. This summer after he connected with me by mail to voice his sadness about my cancer diagnosis, I felt it might be time for a change. I knew that he would be in town later in the summer, so I asked if we could meet. He agreed. My hope was that we could begin to treat each other kindly and with respect. I had no thought of “apologizing,” but I did hope that some amends by creating a new relationship so that we could move beyond the pain we both experienced in our relationship.
We spent two hours together. There was some humorous reminiscing, some talk about people we have in common, a bit of updating on life since “then.” But most of the time I sat in astonishment at the transformation of the mild and extremely passive-aggressive person I once knew into someone whose life is fueled by anger and a critical spirit. In his words, the end of our relationship taught him “not to take anything from anyone anymore.” So he does and says what he feels. The whole conversation made me sad and yet joyful. Here’s where the joy comes in.
♥ my years of training for consciousness (“me seeing me”) were extremely helpful in this situation. As I listened, I could step outside of the Karen who listened with some fear and anger of my own to the litany of rage and frustration this man shared. I could instead access the Karen who felt sad for this man’s unhappiness and who could respond gently and quietly to his vendetta against the world by saying that there are other ways to deal with real and perceived injustice – and then letting go of any need to sway his thinking.
♥ initiating an experience of amends can complete the cycle of bitterness in a life and lift a huge weight of guilt from a soul. I did harm, but this person did not attempt to transform his pain so that he could be a wounded healer. Instead he is wounding others. I am not responsible for that. I am able to grieve for a lost relationship and pray for healing for this person who believes I destroyed his life.
Richard Rohr has written a powerful description of what happens when we cannot forgive and/or make amends. He says that “we always find some way to avoid the transformation of our pain.” We can fight: look for a person whom we can attack or hate and feel heroic for doing so. Or we can play victim: blame someone else and our “pain becomes [our] personal ticket to power because if gives [us] a false sense of moral superiority. . . . You don’t have to grow up, you don’t have to let go, you don’t have to forgive or surrender – you just have to accuse someone else of being worse than you are.”
Rohr goes on to explain how we can avoid the hate and bitterness of hurt and guilt by transforming our pain:
“The crucified and resurrected Jesus shows us how to transform pain without denying, blaming, or projecting it elsewhere. In fact, there is no “elsewhere.” Jesus is the victim in an entirely new way because he receives our hatred and does not return it, nor does he play the victim for his own empowerment. He suffers and does not make the others suffer because of it. He absorbs the mystery of human sin and transforms it rather than passing it on.”
My goal is to continue to “absorb the mystery of human sin” (my own sin and that of others) and transform it – not pass it on.
All Richard Rohr quotes are from his “Daily Meditation” for July 4, 2016.