Dealing with the pain of forgiveness

An end of year reflection

Delta and Omicron. A new job. Importance of family and friends. Community. The blessing of another grandchild. Zoom. Social Media fatigue. And learning that I am cisgender (sorry, I’m slow).

These are some thoughts that come to mind when I think about 2021. (There are plenty of others but these will do for now.)

It was a year I was able to read a little bit more, and listen a little bit more to opinions, views and stories of people both like me and not like me.

One of the things that all this reading and listening has led to are reflections on forgiveness. Apart from self control, I find this one of most difficult qualities to practice. For instance, I think that I have forgiven someone, then fresh feelings of anger, resentment, blame and hurt arise. Blame is the biggest one to deal with sometimes.

Why has forgiveness been a big part of my vocabulary this year? Well, it’s been a year that I have also become much more aware of the stories of people who have somehow been abused or hurt by people with authority in Christian or church settings. Reading books like Let Us Prey by Darrel Puls, Escaping the Maze of Spiritual Abuse by Lisa Oakley and Justin Humpheys or listening to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill produced by Christianity Today have formed a mirror into my own experiences as a young man. I’m not ready to tell my story openly yet – perhaps its shame, embarrassment or the potentially unintended consequences on others, but I think I need to nurture this story in the incubator room a little longer before I can tell it. Maybe I never will.

However, one thing I can say, which I have (re)learned this year is that forgiveness is not easy, especially when you are dealing with the realisation that people have hurt you and used you, and you have no real recourse because the pain and hurt are years, perhaps decades old. You also have to deal with the mental anguish of self-reflection: understanding that my story may not accurately reflect their story; asking yourself, what was my part in all this? and trying to understand that nurturing a victim mentality transitions one into becoming an Ouroboros – a snake that takes hold of it’s tail and begins to devour itself.

Forgiveness, an attitude and decision

I have found that forgiveness is both an attitude and a decision. By attitude, it comes from a disposition of wanting the best for the other, which is totally other-worldly. It is not devoid of wanting justice or truth, but it yearns for reconciliation rather than vengeance. It is totally exemplified by Jesus’ words on the cross,

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”

Luke 23:34

It is also a decision. I remember the best thing I ever heard about forgiveness came from someone who mentored me for a year, while studying at Bible college. He simply said that forgiveness is the decision to bear the pain inflicted rather than inflicting it on the one who caused it. Turning the other cheek. Being unlike the “unforgiving servant” in Jesus’ parable – not grabbing the throat of my fellow servant who owes me, demanding, “pay back what you owe me”. (See Matthew 18)

Starting 2022, my hope is that I can continue to forge a path of forgiveness in my heart. I am convinced it is the better way to live and ultimately, proof that my faith in a God of forgiveness is genuine.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy

Matthew 5: 7

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