HOW WILL I KNOW I HAVE SUCCEEDED IN FORGIVENESS

         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.”

 

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STEPS TO FORGIVENESS

                                      STEPS TO FORGIVENESS 

Now that we understand more about the myths of forgiveness and have exhausted all our attempts to deny our painful feelings; now that we know that holding onto resentment and anger hurts only ourself,  the question of “why” should I forgive becomes “how” do I forgive.          

 Step 1.  Declare an intention to forgive.

          There are a variety of ways to do this.  You may declare your intention in prayer where you first ask God to forgive you for your inability to forgive.  Ask that God be with you throughout this process as you struggle to give up your desires for retaliation, revenge, punishment, your feelings of superiority and righteousness and any other negative feelings that may arise in the processAsk for guidance, direction, courage and honesty. 

          You may choose to write out your prayer thoughts in a journal .   Be as honest and detailed as you can.  The greater the wound, the more public the nature of the offense the important it is that you seek help with this process from a spiritual advisor, therapist or trusted friend.  Be sure that the person you chooseis a good listener who can hear your words without attempting to judge or to solve the problem for you.

          Take time with this step; the more that you reflect on the meaning of forgiveness,  the more you will be aware of how your refusal to forgive is hurting you most of all. 

Step 2. Recall the hurt.

          Remember that it is a myth that if you forget about it than it will go away.   Name the offense and the offender.  Be as accurate and objective as possible.  What exactly happened?  What exactly is your injury?   What exactly did you lose? 

           If you found journalingwas helpful in Step 1, you may want to continue to do this.  If others have been helpfuland supportive with your first step seek their help again.   Be clear that you want them to listen without comment, asking only questions of clarification.  You do this so that you can be clear in your own mind about what it is you are trying to forgive.  In doing this you may begin to overlap with Step 3.

Step 3.  Feel your feelings.

          As you progress through Steps 1 and 2, it is common to feel the feelings about this incident more acutely.   Your may have numbed yourself to feelings over the years in an effort to forget about the hurt.  Some examples of the feelings that may be hidden are fear, pain, hurt, confusion, chaos, betrayal and particularly anger.   At times you may feel thatyou are in a continual “pity party” and be tempted to short circuit the process.  If you share these feelings with friends and they sympathize with you,  you might find you are enjoying the attentionof being a victim.   If this happens you may need the help of a professional counselor to resolve them.  What you must resist is the temptation to bury the feeling again. The goal of this step is to admit that a wrong wasdone to you and to set your sights on repairing yourself. 

4. Grieve your loss.                      Remember, “feelings” are NOT sinful so experience them all.   Feel the pain of the betrayal and the belief and innocence you may have loss.  Perhaps you want to blame God for the wounding and pain.   Take these feelings to God in prayer.   Anger, rage, hurt, tears, etc. give them all to God.  Pray for release from your pain, including and especially pain of the hardness of heart that you have done in an effort to protect yourself from further hurt.   Ask for forgiveness for you inability to forgive. 

5.Commit to forgive.                                                                                                Sacrifice your rights in prayer.  Remember the world view is that you have a legitimate right to dignity and retribution.  Christ’s view is to seek the healing of others.  Make your commitment tangible; write it in a journal or tell a friend or counselor.  Set a time table for yourself but allow for a revision in case it turns out to be more of a process than you anticipate. 

6. Empathize.                                                                                               This is where the process gets harder.  In “full disclosure,”  the writer finds this step sometimes takes a long time and is one she must revisit again and again. 

          Make an effort to understand the other person.  Try to see the other as a human being who is loved by God, despite his failings.  Endeavor to put yourself in that person’s shoes and to see things from his point of view.  Try to understand what he was feeling and why he acted in the way that he did.  Try to identify the pressure that made him hurt you.  Write a letter to yourself as if you were the other person explaining the hurtful acts.  Because you can do this does not mean you would have acted in the same way, it merely shows you can walk in the other’s shoes.   It is an attempt to break down the barriers that hold you back from forgiveness. 

7. Write a Certificate of Forgiveness. 

          This is an exercise for you and NOT to be shared with the person who hurt you.  Name the person and the acts for which you forgive her.  It may take you a long time to do this.  You may choose to write on paper or in your journal. 

8. Holding onto Forgiveness.          

          Building a forgiving heart is a lifetime spiritual growth process.  You will be hurt again and again, and you will hurt others again and again.  This is the nature of being human.  Each time you say theLord’s Prayer, ask God,  “How am I doing? 

Note again:  Forgiveness is NOT reconciliation! 

Anne L. Burton

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NEXT WEEK:  We will look at some of the signs that show you that you are succeeding in your quest to build a Forgiving Heart.  I will share with you some of the writings and prayers that I have found helpful in keeping me on track with this process.  

 

 

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The Case for Forgiveness

 In this week’s article we continue to look at some of the myths that may interfere with our ability to Forgive( Myths 9 - 13 are relisted below). If you have other myths that you believe are stumbling blocks please mention them in the comment box.  

 

  THE CASE FOR FORGIVENESS

               "Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”                                

MYTH 9.  Forgiving or asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness.   This is another myth that can result from being forced as a child to apologize when we are NOT sorry.  This short cut which parents take to smooth over hurt feelings and settle differences can result in a child feeling like forgiveness is something you say and do not mean.  It can also come from attributing false power to a person who hurts us.  Forgiving or asking for forgiveness takes self-knowledge and strength of character. 

MYTH 10. People who love each other don’t have to ask for forgiveness.  ”Love means never having to say ‘I’m sorry”” is a much quoted line from the old movie “Love Story.”  The exact opposite is true.  Closeness between two people exposes one to the other’s sensitivity and petty self-indulgences. It is the trivial that has the power to drive us crazy. This happens in marriages, families, close friendships and communities such as churches and schools. Often the offender is completely unaware of the offense. Over time the build-up of trivial slights can lead to a break in the relationship.  Asking for and granting forgiveness means we stop judging the other and communicate with trust and love.   

MYTH 11.  I can’t forgive until I know that the other person is really sorry and won’t ever do it again.    It is natural to want an acknowledgement of the hurtful person’s awareness of injuring us, but we can’t expect them to be mind readers.   Expecting an apology because you are sure “they know what they did” is to set oneself up for and endless round of hurt and recrimination.   Telling the person in a spirit of love and non-judgement allows them to say I am sorry.  But you have to be prepared for the fact that the other may have different values and may see the situation in a different light and/or respond with denial.  If your truly non-judgmental, you will accept the other’s view even though you may find it hurtful and you believe it is wrong.             Expecting a person to change and never hurt you again is to hold him to a higher standard than anyone can achieve,  Remember God knows that we will sin again, but does not withhold forgiveness for our sins.  

Myth12.  My offender is dead; I don’t need to forgive him.  If you are still rehearsing the hurts of long ago, then you continue to re-victimize yourself.  Doing the work of forgiveness helps to release you from these obsessions and frees you to live a fuller and more peaceful life. 

Myth 13. I have cut off all contact with my offender and therefore don’t need to forgive her.   Just as in the case of the offender who has died, if you continue to feel hurt by events of the past, you are the only one who can free yourself from this pain.  forgiveness is not reconciliation nor is reconciliation a necessary part of forgiveness.   You need not have an active relationship with the offender in order to forgive.

          When another person injures us, whether intentional or not, it fundamentally damages our faith in the worthiness of others.   We experience this as a loss, the degree of loss depending on the closeness and importance of the person in our lives.   In a great injury, something is broken psychologically and spiritually and even, sometimes physically.  The break erodes our sense of well-being, corrupts our experience of our worth and fragments our sense of control over our own lives and emotions. The injury cracks into our childlike belief that “good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people”,  that good people thrive and bad people are, or should be, punished. 

          This reasoning leads to the belief that we are bad unless we vilify the perpetrator in order to label them “bad”  and label us “good.”   We demand admissions of guilt. We seek revenge or at least some reparation as way of justifying the pain we have received. We do this despite the reality that there are some wounds for which there can never be enough payment to balance the injury. 

          Forgiveness is not about justice.   To link forgiveness and justice is to limit our capacity for forgiveness.  It is to give over the ability to heal our wounds to a system outside ourselves.  To join the two is to condemn the wounded to a life devoid of healing. 

          To link the two also defines the persons who can not be forgiven.

In cases where we are hurt by criminal activity, even if the perpetrator is caught and brought to trial, convicted and sentenced, the relief that is felt is often short lived as the wounded one still carries the loss that occurred.   If the accused is not convicted, then the victim feels doubly wounded and abandoned by society.  This places the wounded in the role of judge and jury who must decide what the conditions are for forgiving the other.  Often there is no way to really determine whether those conditions have been met.  Years go by and the wounded are still wounded without sufficient resources to seejustice served.  There can be no healing.  

          When the writer found herself in this position, she looked for ways to free herself from the pain she felt, believing that it was the wrong done to her that caused that pain.  Only when she realized that the person who had injured her had moved on with his life and that she was the one who continued to suffer did she begin to pray for release from the suffering.  The answer to that prayer came in the form of a wise counselor who showed her that the powers needed, the power of forgiveness, had been given to her by the Grace of God, that was her birthright through her Baptism.  She had only to let go.  Let go of hatred, the desire for revenge, the desire to see the other person punished, the desireto see the other person suffer and the need for an apology or admission of guilt.  She had only to let go of these desires, she only to forgive.   

          “Only”  let go!!!  If that is what it required I felt doomed to carry this load for the rest of my life.  But gradually through counseling and study I learned the truth of this statement and the steps necessary to achieve it. 

          We need to forgive in order to heal the wounds in ourselves.  True forgiveness of a great wrong is an act of a mature personality.  True forgiveness dissolves the clear distinction between perpetrators and victims, between self and other.  It is the ultimate act of compassion.

 

                                                    -o-

 

          In the next section of this article we examine the Process of Forgiveness.

While steps in the process are easy to name, the actual “process” can be difficult long, painful, and arduous.   It is sometimes helpful to “journal” thoughts and feelings,  talk to a trusted friend or counselor or even gather a group of like-minded friends who will share in this process with you.

 

RESPONSES:  

Reply to Mickey:  I agree that anger is not the only response to being wounded.  However I believe that anger is at the root of hardening the heart to forgiveness that makes us suffer.

 

Do others have ideas on this topic?  More questions?

 

 

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Myths of Forgiveness

Who among us has not winced when we publicly pray “forgive us our sins as we forgive others”?   We say it in the Lord’s Prayer each Sunday but do you often then look around and wonder how you can really forgive one of your fellow worshipers.   We say it because The Great Commandment tells us to 'love our neighbor.”   Notice that there are no exceptions.  In fact Jesus specifically tells us to love our enemies. 

          What often prevents us from developing an understanding and a will to forgive are the many myths surrounding the process. During our childhood and early adulthood we internalize ideas about forgiveness from personal experience and from things we hear from parenting figures that seem to make sense.

We allow these myths and fears to get in our way and become locked into building a rationale for NOT forgiving.  In fact, in most discussions I have lead on the topic of Forgiveness,  most of these myths are raised in the question periodfollowing the first presentation.  Therefore, lets look at these myths before we go further in trying to understand the process that leads us to forgiveness. 

 1. I can’t forgive because I can’t forget.   

          “Forgive and forget”  is a cliche based on the notion that one can “forget” an egregious wrong.  Modern psychology tells us that this type of “forgetting”  ( called denial) leads us to bury the experience in the unconscious, something that can lead to serious mental consequences.  However obsession or continually rehashing the event in our mind or byrepeating it to others is not the same as remembering or recalling the offense.

          We must learn from our experiences, which means we must remember the important things that happen to us, especially when not to do so can lead us to continue to put ourselves in danger.  Denial is a defensive position we imagine will protect us from further hurt or humiliation.  In true forgiveness, we work through the emotion charge of the event until we have resolved the issues and the pain. 

2. If I’ve forgotten, it means I’ve forgiven. 

          As noted above, if you attempt to put the awareness out of your mind without working through your feelings you may do this by employing the defense of denial.  This is neither forgetting nor forgiveness.   Giving up from fear or emotional exhaustion is also not forgetting.  It is a defensive move and the desire for revenge is just below the surface.  It can also come from a false sense of “self” in which the victim needs to see herself ina place of innocence or moral superiority. 

 3. If I forgive someone but don’t feel it, than I am being a phony.         

          We must remember that “forgive” is a verb,  an action wordIt is not a feeling.   When we get to the section on the process of forgiveness you will see that it is not an attempt to feel better about oneself or to deny that one has been hurt.   Forgiveness starts with an act of will, a need to get ridoneself of a desire for revenge.  Just as in giving up any habit, one has to “wantto want to”  to begin. This is often the hardest step to take. 

 4. Some people don’t deserve to be forgiven.

This myth is based on the belief that good people thrive and bad people are punished.   The reality of this world is that bad things happen to good people and bad people often thrive.   The hard truth is that the person who pays the price of un-forgiveness is the victim.  The victim often becomes judge, jury and executioner.   These are not roles that lead to happiness. 

 5. If I forgive that means I have to trust the person who hurt me. 

Forgiveness has nothing to do with trust which is an issue for reconciliation.  Trust is based a belief that t person will act in a certain way.  Recalling how we were hurt allows us to be realistic in our expectations of future behavior.  Trust must be earned.  But forgiving allows the other a chance to change behavior,  make atonement and earn back our trust.  But this can only happen if steps to reconciliation are taken .  Forgiving is the first step towards reconciliation and not a condition for it.  

 6. To forgive a person who hurts you is to tell her that she can go and do the same thing again.

To forgive someone is not to condone behavior.  We forgive the person not the action or injury.

         

 7. Forgiving means giving up my anger and I need my anger to feel safe.

Getting in touch with anger is one step in the process of forgiveness, but we mustn’t get stuck there.  Processing the anger empowers us to act, whereas denying it only paralyzes. us.  We can forgive without forfeiting the right to use anger in self-defense, but we must be realistic about just how much it protects us.

          The idea of anger as protection begins with the childhood believe in anger as punishment and power.  It comes from being afraid of our parent’s anger.   When we are hurt it is natural to feel anger but wielding anger as power comes from weakness and an attempt to appear invulnerable.  it is like owning a monster dog and keeping it caged.  It must be fed and we do this be rehearsing how we have been wronged and attempting to scare people away with our rage. 

8. If i give up my anger, then the person will get off Scott-free.

          Another belief learned in childhood is that my suffering makes the other person pay.  Parents who use withdrawal to control their children teach them about abandonment as punishment.  Children experience the pain of abandonment deeply and will often comply with parental demands for an apology in order to stop the pain.  Believing that the adult feels this pain because we are angry is simply not true.  Most often the offender goes on with his life obvious to the anger of the other. 

9. Forgiving or asking for forgiveness is a sign of weakness.  

This is another myth that also results from childhood training and is a sign of someone who was forced to apologize whether or not she felt sincerely sorry.  Forgiveness takes strength and self-knowledge. 

10. People who love each other don’t have to ask for forgiveness.

          “Love means never having to say “I’m sorry” is a much quoted line from the old movie Love Story.  The exact opposite is true.  Closeness between people exposes one to the other’s insensitivity and petty self-indulgences,  It is the trivial that has the power to drive us crazy.   Over time the buildup of trivial slights can lead to a break in the relationship.  Asking for and giving forgiveness means we stop judging the other and communicate with trust and love.

 11. I can’t forgive until i know that the other person is really sorry and won’t ever do it again.

          It is natural to want an acknowledgment of the hurtful person’s awareness of injuring us, but we can’t expect them to be mind readers.  Expecting an apology because you are sure “they know what they did” is to set oneself for an endless round of hurt and recrimination.  Telling the person in a spirit of love and not judgment allows them to say I am sorry.  But you have to be prepared for the fact the other may have different values or may see the situation in a different way and respond with denial.  If your are truly non-judgmental, you will accept the other’s view even though you may find it hurtful and believe it is wrong.

          Expecting a person to change and never hurt you again is to hold him to a higher standard than anyone can achieve.  Remember, God knows we will sin again, but does not withhold forgiveness for our sin.          

 12. My offender is dead.  I don’t need to forgive him.

          If you are still rehearsing the hurts of long ago, then you continue to re-victimize yourself.  Doing the work of forgiveness helps to release you from these obsession and free you to live a fuller and more peaceful life.

 

 13. I have cut off all contact with my offender and therefore do not need to forgive him. 

          Just as in the case of the offender who has died, if you continue to feel hurt by the events of the past, you are the only one who can free yourself from the pain.  Forgiveness is not reconciliation nor is reconciliation a part of forgiveness.  You need not have an active relationship with the offender in order to forgive.

 

Anne L. Burton, d.Min.

Sept. 14, 2016

 

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FORGIVENESS

                                              

               Welcome readers to St. Brendan’s on-line parish discussion on FORGIVENESS.  I want to start with a note of appreciation to The Rev. Edward Dufresne for providing the inspiration for this effort with his moving and informative sermon on Sunday, Sept 3, 2016.  In the discussion on Dietrich Bonhoeffer following the service one of the questions  Pastor Dufresne asked was:

     “Do you feel you have the power to forgive in the name of Jesus?

I think that this is a most provocative way to begin our discussion.  I also think I have no better way to respond than to share with you a paraphrase of a sermon by the Rev. Franklin Clark Fry which I heard in January 1994.

 

                           THE SOURCE AND THE FLOW 

          We love God because God first loved us.  (1John 4:19)

 

It is all that simple. The Father loved so ardently that He gave His son.  The Son loved so lavishly that He gave strength, faith, health—eventually even his life blood that we might be forgiven and redeemed.  The Father and the Son loved so persistently that together they gave their Spirit without ceasing into our hearts.

 

All that we as Christians are called upon to do—all that we can do—is to be an open watercourse for that divine love and forgiveness..   We do not create any part of it. It would be an arrogant illusion to think we did.  We must not blockade it.  If we do, we are adversaries of God not God’s children.  We are simply to reflect it back to God and out to God’s world.   Our calling is to give it free flow.

 

That means we are never generous.   We never give any gifts.  We never give our forgiveness.  We are merely to be the channel for the good gifts, including the gift of forgiveness, which comes in a steady stream from God   God expects us to take the forgiveness which God pours into our hearts and to see that it is used for the thing that is closest to God’s heart.  The building of the kingdom through God’s church.  It is all that simple and that imperative.

 

So, the question: 

 

Do you feel you have the power to forgive sins in Jesus’ name?

 

Let us hear from you.  

 

 

Anne L. Burton, D,Min,

Sep 6, 2016

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