Words of Hope: Forgiveness Work
I have been mediating on a sentence I wrote last week. “Dad did the work of forgiving his father.” Work is a true description of the forgiveness process. It is the purposeful effort necessary to achieve a specific end. What is the specific end? The end goal is a heart completely healed of bitterness, rage, apathy, revenge, and hatred. A mind set free from resentment. Literally set free from re-feeling the wrong repeatedly whether replaying the scene in our minds or reliving the experience in our waking thoughts.
Forgiveness is the work to reclaim the mind and heart for love to enter. My mouth no longer needs to prosecute and garner a sympathetic group of listeners. I find bitter story telling tends to do the opposite, it galvanizes people for a moment in solidarity, but eventually this bitter story telling creates even more loneliness and fracture. Why? Because bitterness and resentment can never bring healing, meaning, or closeness which are vital for friendship and intimacy.
A friend is reeling from a brutal divorce. Her husband had an affair in her home under her nose for many months. When she confronted him with evidence, he called her a liar and became aggressive. Another friend of mine had a teacher make her stand for twenty minutes because she didn’t know the answer to a problem. The entire class was forced to watch her while she stood there quietly weeping. Another person I know had a child killed by a drunken driver. All these stories are part of the tremendous work of forgiveness. These stories, each in their own world of suffering and heartache, ask something of us. What is our response to injustice, harm, cruelty, or evil?
What shocks me the most are often those with the most to forgive do so with such tremendous grace. I think of my mom forgiving her abusive father, telling him for over ten years she loved him. Ten years without a reply. I think of the mother of Amy Biehl forgiving the men who stabbed her daughter to death and now adopting one of the men who killed her daughter as her own son and taking his child as her grandchild.
Stories like these make my petty bitterness seem paltry and small. These women humble me and remind me to do the work of forgiveness even when I don’t “feel” like it. I take my broken stories, wounded thoughts, injured pride, harmed self to God, who can redeem all and ask Him to help me walk forward whole, restored, forgiven, and forgiving.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32