Friday, December 11, 2009

Well, you asked.

Forgiveness. It's perhaps the hardest thing a Christian is asked to do.
I can feed people. I can clothe people. I can give physical things quite easily. I have a surplus of them, as most of those in the U.S. do. And I'm considered among the decidedly un-wealthy. What I can't always give is that place in my heart, reserved for honored guests and confidantes. I can forgive a lot. You just may not get a chance to do it all over again.
Recently, I was talking with my children about "extraordinary forgiveness", which is precisely the kind being a follower of Christ demands. Extraordinary forgiveness is the kind that confounds nearly everybody other than the one giving it away. Usually, it is the one requiring it that is the most confounded. And out of that startling relief, a new understanding should emerge. A humbling understanding. An uplifting understanding.
We see examples of this in grand, sweeping ways - the Amish community forgiving the man who murdered their children, extending a loving hand to his widow or the parents of a murdered child lobbying against the execution of the murderer - but it exists in smaller ways as well. We just generally overlook it or it exists in matters so personal, unless directly involved, its sounds go unheard over the greater thrum of the world.
There are lots of things I can't imagine forgiving anyone for. To see someone forgive what seems to me to be unforgivable is evidence of what a human can do, when tested.
Recently, a certain famous athlete was revealed to be a philanderer. That particular issue is not really of importance here. Rather, it's the reaction to that issue. There are a lot of opinions out there about what his wife should do in this situation. I couldn't say, myself. I am not privy to the complexities of anyone's marriage other than my own. And even on familiar territory, I am often lost.
No, more to the point here is the public reaction to what this one wife will or won't do re: her husband's transgression(s).
I really shouldn't read any public commentary on the Internet. It just raises too many issues for me. Truthfully, I am a much happier when I don't know what [insert on-line moniker here] thinks about every.single.thing on the Internet. But like the tongue in a cavity, I often find myself poking around, even though I know I should just leave it alone.
Once you get beyond the idea that I shouldn't have even been reading the story to begin with, much less the comments and then, forgive me my trespasses, I ask you to ponder along with me about a much larger issue. Why would anyone believe that a spouse who forgives is a "stupid", "ignorant", "self-loathing", "just in it for the money anyway", "half-wit"? How could anyone *not* see the inherent strength required to forgive an unforgivable thing?
It's such an outrageous and super-human feat that, truthfully, it requires somebody big - like God - to back it up. To forgive someone is not just to nod your head in their general direction and go on with your life. To forgive is to invite them back to your table, even if they don't deserve it. Ever. It's to acknowledge that, "Hey, you've done something so bad, I should kick you out of the box seats in my heart, but I'm not." it?
The truth of the matter is that I am as confused about forgiveness as pretty much everybody else. Alongside the above statements, which I truly believe, I also think there's a limit to how much someone can possibly take. Let's say you forgive the unforgivable once or twice or 23 times, and then are asked to forgive it again. Do you? Can you? My grandmother used to say, "Jesus said to turn the other cheek, not to lie down and let them wipe their feet on you." And I agree with her. At a certain point, it becomes a destructive cycle, doesn't it? Let's set it up like this:
I trespass - mightily.
You forgive.
I do it again.
You forgive.
I do it again.
You forgive...again.
And, once again, there's me breaking your heart.
And you're coming back with all the love you've got.
And I chuck it in the bin.
You pull it out.
I toss it back.
And on and on, ad infinitum.
I could be wrong, but I don't think that's what forgiveness is all about. It's not the only part of God's bargain. Forgiveness, when taken seriously by the forgiven is a transformational act. When you hurt someone, when you misstep, when you falter, being extended grace is the moment you should experience some fundamental shift in yourself. It's an exchange. It's the restoration of trust, more than the mere absolution of guilt.
It takes work to forgive. You have to reach out beyond yourself and grasp at a new future, close your eyes and jump. Being forgiven, that takes work to. Maybe more. Because you have to reach out beyond yourself and be better than you've been. You have to realize the power you wield over others, pledging great awareness and care in the future.
And if the forgiven takes that forgiveness for granted, what then?
Because there are people in my life that I have forgiven, but on whom I have also closed a door that is not likely to be reopened. And I am just fine with that. In fact, I am better for it.
Parents are tough people to forgive, but believe it or not, I've forgiven mine. And not just for not letting me have what I wanted when I wanted it. I've forgiven abandonment, a little face beaten far too swollen to be seen in public for a few days, and well, lots, lots more. Just trust me.
Forgiveness, I think, is a two part process. To have a relationship with anyone, it has to be an exchange, even among parents and children. My son may say something really hurtful or disappoint me in some huge way, but when I forgive him, I expect him to keep up his end of the deal. And his end of the deal is to not do the same thing again, at least not immediately. He is 10.
See, a long time ago, when I forgave my parents for really committing the biggest wrongs ever experienced in my life, it was a quiet and private process. I didn't seek my father out to let him know I'd absolved him of all his wrongdoing. And I didn't tell my mother, either. I just let it all go and the walls I'd erected in my heart, I took them down. No one knew they were there. There was no reason to broadcast their absence.
Now, my father, I guess he gets a pass. I don't know him. He really couldn't be more absent than he already is. I guess he could be dead and therefore there'd be no potential for change in the future. But then, not really because that's just not going to happen.
But my mother, she broke my heart. Not just once. But over and over and over again. And every time, from a very young age, I just forgave it. People want me to forgive. I say, "I have forgiven." And my forgiveness, which cost me dearly, was disregarded and I was hurt again and again. And at a certain point, you just have to put your hands and shout, "Stop!" Don't you? Or do you?
Forgiveness is the most beautiful thing in the world. I struggle with it. Unquestionably.
And poor Tiger Woods' wife. I wish her luck. I do.


lisha said...

Ah...forgiveness. Luke 17 shares what Jesus said ("even if they wrong you seven times a day, you must forgive them")-- but, you have to look at the verse before where the wrongdoer is qualified (when another believer sins/does you wrong). He is talking about how believers treat one another. However, Colossians 3 also tells us that we must forgive anyone who offends us. He never said that they had to ask for our forgiveness, just that we had to forgive. We forgive for ourselves, not the offender. Forgiveness is not saying what they did was right, but that we are not going to let their offense keep us from loving them as Christ commanded.

Forgiveness is not an easy thing for me to do, but I am working on it. It gets down to reminding myself that life is not all about me, but all about God.

Love your words!

sabrina said...

I will have to say I have not forgiven my mother. Maybe this is partly why I am full of angst and turmoil within. I can't fathom that mothers treat children this way although far worse evils are done daily. Maybe one day I will learn how to forgive her so I can move on.

trisha said...

I know I don't really know the true meaning of forgiveness but I am trying

Jennifer said...

Sabrina, I think you just have to accept that you are incomplete and constantly growing and changing. There are things you are not ready to do today, but in a month? A year? Or two? Think about how different you are now than you were 5 years ago.
The saying "forgive and forget" I think is just stupid. I think it's supposed to mean "forgive and don't hold a grudge", but that's not what it has come to mean. I can forgive. I can not hold a grudge. I can't forget. And not forgetting does not mean that I've retreated to lick my wounds in private. It does not mean that my forgiveness is incomplete. It means only that I remember. And I refuse to deny the truth of what happened. The end product of that is only misery.

Christi said...

so thought provoking. and moving. your words bring me to my knees, and not in some "I have to pray right this second" kind of way, but in a "that just knocked the breath out of me" kind of way. There's at least one person in my life I don't think I'll ever forgive....despite the many counseling sessions spent with the counselor explaining how beneficial it would be for me to do so. and like you, I wonder "really....forgive them....AGAIN? at what point does it cross over from forgiveness to inability-to-stand-up-for-myself?" and your comment here....about "forgive and forget" being a silly notion, and likely not what was's like you got in my head. I've thought and felt (and said!) this for years. you move me Jenny. Thank you for the beautiful post, and for sharing so deeply of your heart and life.