If forgiveness is an action and a process, you may wonder how you will know if you have truly forgiven someone. The process of forgiveness that I have outlined over the past few weeks is one in which movement is from stunned innocence—that of a wounded victim—to and through the tortures of obsession—in a surprising expansion of meaning.
In the beginning when we are hurt, we feel powerless. It is necessary to gain some sense of mastery over our life. As discussed, if the way that we choose to do this is through the building of psychological defenses against the world, we remain locked into victim hood.
When we are hurt, we rehearse over and over what happened. We lose sleep over it. We may talk about it endlessly to anyone who will listen. Or worse, we may feel so humiliated and shamed that we bury it deep inside and don’t tell anyone. This eats at our souls and sense of well-being. We may believe that the only thing that will bring us relief is to hold the unrepentant person accountable. When this does not happen, we try to handle in our mind what we can’t handle in the world. We want to retaliate or rescue and repair the situation as a way of handling our humiliation.
The only way to free ourselves is to deal with the wound, the hole inside that we are filling with anger, hatred, bitterness or denial. In working through the process given above, we need to “turn it over” and pray for the gift of forgiveness we need to pray for the strength to build a Forgiving Heart. It is inevitable that we will have to forgive again and again throughout our lives. The more we work at this process of forgiveness, the deeper our capacity to forgive the “un-forgiveable,”
When you can think about the person who hurt you without rancor or anger, when you can put yourself in the other’s shoes and walk in them without pain, when you can look at the person and see another beloved child of God, then you will know that you have forgiven.
An Exercise in Forgiveness
Picture yourself facing the person who hurt you, clenching your fists. In your closed hands, you hold resentment and anger. Now you open your hands and find them empty. You reach out your empty hands. This is forgiveness.
The following is an excerpt from “Things Hidden—Scripture As Spirituality”
by Richard Rohr, (St. Anthony’s Press, Cincinnati, Ohio 2008,
NOAH’S ARK OF FORGIVENESS
“In Genesis 7 we find the famous story of Noah and the flood. The story is one of genius. God tells Noah to bring into the ark all the opposites: the wild and the domestic, the crawling and the flying, the clean and the unclean, the male and the female of each animal (Genesis 7:2-15).”
“In itself this is understandable. But then God does a most amazing thing. God locks them together inside the ark(Genesis 7:16).”
“Most people never note that God actually closed them in! God puts all the natural animosities, all the opposites together and holds them together in one place. I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things unreconciled that teaches us—leaving them partly unresolved and without perfect closure or explanation. How to live in hope has not been taught well to Christians. The ego always wants to settle the dust quickly and have answers. But Paul rightly says, ‘In hope we are saved, yet hope is not hope if its object is seen’ (Romans 8:24)”
“The ark therefore is an image of how God liberates and refines us. The ark is an image of the People of God on the waves of time, carrying the contradictions, the opposites, the tensions and the paradoxes of humanity.”
“The“…gathering of contraries is, in fact, the school of salvation and the school of love…in honest community and committed relationships…the encounter with ”otherness.”
“Eventually we give this mutual deference a word: forgiveness…Forgiveness becomes central to Jesus’ teaching, because to receive reality is always to “bear it,” to bear reality for not meeting all, if any of our needs. To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is. “
“I think forgiveness is the only event is which you simultaneously experience three great graces. God’s unmerited goodness, the deeper goodness of the one you have forgiven, and then you experience your own gratuitous goodness too. That is the pay off. This makes the mystery of forgiveness an incomparable tool of salvation. There really is nothing else quite like it for inner transformation, which is why all spiritual teachers insist upon it, both in the giving and the receiving.”