I don’t believe forgiveness is a linear thing, anymore than grief is. And today I was struck by the fact that it is, undoubtedly, because the two are so closely related.
Anger, we are told, is a secondary emotion, and it usually is a cover for sadness, or grief (or fear). Forgiveness is a way to let go, to release that anger from our bodies, from our minds, from our beings. Grief is not linear, so forgiveness won’t be either. As we cycle through the pain of loss, and especially the anger of loss (one of the stages of grief), we will probably need to forgive again. Also, just as new losses can push us into reliving old losses and can bring up that old grief all over again, new things that anger us can cause us to remember at a cellular, emotionally deep level old injuries and present us with new opportunities to work towards forgiveness again, hopefully at a deeper level, for what has happened in the past.
This came up for me this morning as a scripture I read threw me back into an injury from almost two years ago, and the realization that while I had forgiven it at the time, I would now need to work to forgive it again. That while I had grieved the loss and the pain of that injury at that time, that it hurt again, that it cut again, and that I would need to grieve it, going through the denial, negotiation, anger, and depression again to come to a place of acceptance and then forgiveness once more. Ugh.
Grieving is hard work. Forgiveness is, perhaps, even harder work. It requires us to remember the humanity of the other, and to have compassion for their challenges and their histories that have impacted who they are today. It means letting go of the anger by walking through it to the other side. It means experiencing the pain of loss once more. And then, deep forgiveness requires self-reflection as well, and asks of us a commitment to look with intention and integrity at our own part in a situation. If a person cannot be self-reflective, forgiveness is unattainable. The more self-reflective a person can be, the more quickly a person will be able to pass through to forgiveness. But it seems that self-reflection is no longer in vogue. It is a difficult calling to look at our own failings, to own them, to admit (or confess) them and to attempt to make amends for them. I deeply believe it is the only way we can truly heal, but it is a challenge many simply cannot face.
I am reminded of Dumbledore’s conversation with Harry in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow’s about Voldemort. He said that even this evil man could heal, he could heal all the horrible, awful things he had done. There was hope for him, but it was only to be found in a decision on his part to look, to see what he had done and to feel remorse. Dumbledore also admitted that the pain of that remorse would be worse than he could imagine. And, unfortunately, it was a pain Voldemort was simply unwilling to experience.
Even with small things, people can be scared or afraid to self-reflect. And that fear of the pain of self-reflection keeps us from forgiveness. One might ask then if we are able to do that work and are able to forgive, why do we then have to forgive again?
Just as each time that grief resurfaces we have an opportunity to dive a little deeper into healing that grief, each time anger rises at another person, we have the call to dig deeper into compassion, self-reflection, and ultimately forgiveness.
Again, none of this is easy. As I sat with my own grief, pain and anger this morning I realized how much easier it would be for me to just remain hurt and angry and not do the work of self-reflection or the work of remembering that the others have histories and pain, too, that I need to approach with compassion and grace. It would be simpler to stay mad. To be holier than thou. To allow the anger and judgement to build safe but isolating walls between myself and those who hurt me. It would be so much less work. It would also be “safer”. I would then no longer have to be vulnerable to their actions, to their ability to injure me. I could walk away and self-righteously declare that I did not need that kind of “friendship,” and that this loss of relationship was THEIR loss for not treating me right in the first place. I could do that. But I would be lying to myself if I did. And I would miss an opportunity for deeper healing for myself.
So today I once again choose the harder path. I will take the time I need to journal and reflect, to grieve again, and to own my part in the problem. I will do what must be done to heal at the next level, and more, to forgive again. Their intentions and their choices ultimately are immaterial in this. The forgiveness must be given for the sake of my own soul, my own peace of mind, and my own walk towards wholeness. I would wish for all of you to find that peace as well. Blessings on your day.