In my work with single, high-risk mothers and women who experience abuse in intimate relationships, many conversations about forgiveness have arisen. I recently shared about choosing the path of forgiveness and I could instantly feel the tension rise. Their bodies shifted, their breath became short, their brows furrowed.
I could sense right away that they felt I was going to talk about letting their ex-partners off the hook and minimizing the wrong done to them. One woman said, “Yes, but if someone has ruined your life, it’s not so easy.”
Exactly right, I thought. Not easy at all! But yet absolutely necessary in order to experience healing and peace.
Many of us carry deep pain and find forgiveness to be quite impossible. There are hurts that feel like they’ve cut to the very heart of our being. There are wounds that are painfully slow to heal. When sharing about forgiveness, I tread carefully on the cracks and fissures we’re walking on. Encouraging someone to choose forgiveness is not done lightly.
Yet Jesus himself, who forgives all, for all, calls us to forgive. Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, and if we are to live lives that shine forth God’s good news, we have to learn the ways of living that make for peace.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his The Book of Forgiving, writes: “Without forgiveness we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberators.”
Carrying resentment towards someone who spoke hurtful words, or harbouring anger against someone who deeply wronged you, keeps you down, makes you feel insecure, unsettled and anguished, and prevents you from experiencing peace in your being.
When we choose to forgive, we can be filled with peace, and experience wholeness and the fullness of God’s gift to us. When we are free from the bondages of resentment, pain and hurt, we are better able to be a blessing to those around us, loving others from a place of security and inner well-being. When we love from a place of peace, our family notices, our friends notice and the world notices.
The Book of Forgiving offers a four-step forgiveness process to free ourselves from a cycle of hurt and retribution: tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship. The first two steps are important for the healing process of forgiveness, as attempting to forgive without telling your story and identifying the hurt can turn into an over-rushed and ill-fated process. Once a sincere forgiveness has been granted, we can choose to release the relationship or creatively pursue a new relationship out of the suffering, one that’s often stronger because of what it has endured.
In his book Forgiving As We Have Been Forgiven, Celestine Musekura summarizes forgiveness as followers of Jesus in this way: “Forgiveness is the gift that I have freely received and that I should unconditionally give. As a forgiven sinner, I am called to forgive. As a redeemed saint, I must not subject myself to the bondage of unforgiveness. In his grace, God did not allow me to sink into unforgiveness but called me to be an instrument of hope, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.”
Christina Bartel Barkman, with her four little ones and her pastor husband, seeks to live out Jesus’ creative and loving “third way” options.