It isn’t very often that accomplishing the process of forgiveness doesn’t wind up feeling like a waste.
Because after it is all over, after we’ve cried and wrung our hands, pulled at our hair and tried to look the other way; after we’ve said, enough is enough, I don’t hold it against you any longer, it’s too much work to be this angry at you; after all that, we’re still left with the shadow of judgment.
Yes, you did this to me.
Yes, I have forgiven you. I really have.
But I now see you for who you are. I see what you can do to me.
We want forgiveness to be this complete washing out of our minds, our mouths, our hearts, our souls. We expect forgiveness to heal our relationship with our abuser, to put us back to where we were before the event ever happened.
But our thoughts will not stop tapping us on the shoulder, going, but what about. . . ? He did that to you, after all. What else is he capable of? And when is he going to do it to you again?
And the shadows of our doubts and fears seem to take up a dance of their very own.
We have released our abuser from any more guilt on their part, but we are left with a bound heart. A heart that sighs under the weight of our increased knowledge and understanding of our opponent.
And, let’s face it, we don’t want that.
If we’re going to go through all the trouble of forgiving someone for what they did to us, we don’t want be stuck looking at our abuser askance for the rest of our lives.
Judgment is just an opinion of the other person. But when this opinion has been recreated by pain and anguish, it’s an opinion that is more heavy to carry.
Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
I’ve known people throughout my life who have taken the second half of this passage literally. They have sat down with a pad of paper and written out seventy forgiveness sentences for a week.
But I’ve never known one person who felt satisfied by this process.
A hand cramp, possibly, but no release.
But when I look at this passage, it’s not about the number of times we forgive someone (by the count on our fingers), it’s about how many times the offender hurts us, putting us in the position of having to forgive him yet again.
It’s not us that has to count up to seventy times seven. It’s our offender that gets to hurt us seventy times seven times. He’s the one the gets to keep track of the number.
How many times does that make it that you poked your finger in my eye?
And how many times are you going to poke me in the eye again?
Oh, until I stop.
So, it’s get pushed down, get up, dust yourself off, forgive the other person. And get pushed down again.
But if we don’t do the forgiving between pushes, the pushing down will drive us insane. Literally.
I’ve been mulling this over a lot during the past few weeks, and I’ve wondered what we can do to keep the process of an ongoing forgiveness going.
And I’ve come up with:
(1) An acknowledgement that we are willing to repeat to ourselves infinitely that we love the other person. And if we bind ourselves to God and assume the gift of absolute love, then we are able to love above and beyond the hurts.
(2) A commitment to the relationship. A written (if only on our hearts) statement that we will wipe the mud off of our faces once again, and reach out our hand for a shake. Who knows, we might even get a hug out of it. Before the next smearing of mud, that is.
(3) Gratitude. The more I think about life, relationships, anger, forgiveness, and judgment, the more I appreciate gratitude. It’s amazing how effective slipping even one small thing we are grateful for in the other person during a storm of critical thoughts.
But most of all, I have recognized that being wounded again (and again) gives us the opportunity to heal that hurt that lies deep down inside us that this wounding is stirring up. We get to live through again (and again) the humiliation, the self-doubt, the wanting to hide from the world for the rest of our lives, until we get to the point of going, ah, all right, so be it.
And I love you.
And I’m in a relationship with you.
And you keep doing this thing that hurts me. A lot.
So be it.
You are forgiven.
And when this process is repeated (and repeated), we are given the opportunity to see our judgments for what they truly are: just thoughts.
Just smoke in the wind that we can watch blow across the field.