It is no wonder that people are so confounded by forgiveness.
It is either treated so lightly that it is given like a blessing to someone after they sneeze.
Or the challenge of 70 times seven feels too great a summit to reach.
But I have discovered something recently.
When we forgive, we forgive an act.
You (name act)ed me.
I understand why you (name act)ed me.
I have come to terms with why you (name act)ed me.
I forgive you for (the act).
So why is it so hard to let go? Why do shades of the act come back and haunt us?
Does forgiving an act have to be done in layers?
What are we missing?
What we are missing is what is under the act. The violation.
Kathleen Norris, in her book, describes at great length the idea of acedia. She calls it many things.
I tend to call it, exhaustion. In any discipline that we put real effort into, we have periods in which we can make no more effort. We have come to the end of our strength. And it’s time for rest.
The problem with a spiritual discipline is that we judge ourselves for resting. We think it is a failure. Or weakness. When it’s really just fatigue.
What I am going to write about here is different from acedia. Or even depression.
It is the quicksand of the soul.
It can be found underneath the accumulation of “acts” done against us. Like the basement under a room full of shelves that hold our wounds.
This basement has been filled with the leaking from our wounds. Our tears. The echo of our footsteps as we pace the room above. Scraps of paper that we used to write on, trying to express our anguish.
And it is, in truth, here where we become stuck. Overwhelmed by what we are realizing.
And what we are realizing is that the person who acted against us does not want to be in relationship with us.
To whatever degree.
Each and every act that we feel needs to be forgiven is a message that we are not wanted in that relationship.
Our basement, what I am calling our quicksand, is the voice of the world that tells us we are not wanted.
And how do we forgive that?
How can we even forgive that?
And that’s the real snag: We Can’t.
We can’t because being unwanted isn’t an act. It’s a fact.
I had an affair with your best friend, and I am leaving you to be with her.
You can forgive the betrayal, but you have to live with the rejection.
You have no choice.
So how do we approach this?
How do we find our way out of this kind of quicksand?
Well, we change words, for one thing.
We don’t use the word, forgive.
We use instead the word, then.
As you no longer want me as your wife, THEN I honor your decision.
How’s that for a radical change?
For every decision that is made by others about our relationship with them, we are given a chance to make our own decision.
And the wisdom of what to decide comes from Jesus.
And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.
If you don’t want what I have to offer you, then I shall go my own way.
If you close the door on our relationship, in any way, THEN I respect your act, and I will go on with my life.
Now in real life, for the most part, just doing that will defeat the person who has acted against you.
They violated you so that they can see you cringe into the corner and weep from your woundedness.
But all an action of violation is is a way of changing your own life. One act of change may hurt longer than another.
But if you know that you are basing this change on showing the other person respect for what he has done, perhaps even seeing that the spiteful act will, in the long run, make the other person suffer for the loss he has created, you will free your spirit and be released from quicksand.
The key is to communicate to the other person your willingness to honor him.
To make your bow of respect public.
Otherwise, it will be imagined that you are sitting at home frozen by your anger and shame.
And, trust me, there is nothing like getting up and saying, He wants our relationship broken, then so be it, to get your mind off from being focused on the hurt.
After that, the exercise of forgiveness becomes a most comprehensible thing to do.
Understanding that beneath everything, the violence was an act to break up your relationship, then the act becomes understandable. It is given its real dimensions. Its face becomes very clear.
Jesus even offers us brotherhood in this.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.