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Forgiveness: Love’s Companion

January 25, AD2014

How many times have you heard someone say to you, “God tells us that we are to just forgive and forget.  Why don’t you?”

For most of my life, I heard that phrase quoted back to me as justification for hurtful behavior. Forgiving and forgetting was presented as the simplest remedy for miraculously mending otherwise irreconcilable differences from broken relationships to abusive behavior. It sounds so simple and refreshing like splashing cold water on your face and beginning anew. However, God never told us to forgive and forget.

The truth is that the phrase “forgive and forget” that is so often  referenced as being from Scripture is actually from classic literature. Both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes used the references in their work.  Shakespeare used the line, “Pray you now, forget and forgive,” from his play, \”King Lear\”. Cervantes used the line, “Let us forget and forgive injuries,” from his novel \”Don Quixote de la Mancha\”. And yet, this seemly virtuous act of forgiving and forgetting has been misused repeatedly, causing unnecessary anguish for those who have difficulty doing either.

Forgiveness:  A Lovely Idea

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says that forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.”

The act of forgiveness is not a born trait. It is an acquired virtue. When you have been hurt, and sometimes far more deeply than words can explain, forgiving the person who hurt you is absolutely the last thing you want to do. You prefer to vindicate yourself in a Walter Mitty-esque retaliation through fantasy reenactments, because to say, “I forgive you,” is just not enough. You want, no, you demand that the offenders experience the same pain with perhaps a bit more intensity than you experienced. You see simply forgiving the person as some sort of indirect acceptance for their behavior. However, forgiveness doesn’t remove any of the iniquities of the offender. It is the act of forgiveness that releases you from the bondage of pain, and places you on the road to healing.  God will take care of the rest.  (Romans 12: 19-21)

In the book entitled Forgiveness, a Catholic Approach by  Fr. Scott Hurd (Archdiocese of Washington, DC)  reminds us that forgiveness is a gift. “The forgiveness we are called to offer is a decision, a process, and a gift. It is a decision, because by forgiving we choose to let go of any desire for revenge or retaliation, and we free ourselves of the bitterness and resentment that hardens our hearts. Forgiveness is a process, because letting go of resentment takes time; we may need to make the decision to forgive over and over again. Finally, forgiveness is a gift of love that we give freely, without expectations, exceptions, or limitations. It is neither earned nor deserved. When we love the ones we forgive, we wish them happiness, not harm; well, not woe; heaven, not hell.”

Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta said it best, “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” Although we may prefer to escape to our Walter Mitty-esque world in punishing all of those who hurt us, the truth is, like it or not, we are called to love one another.  If we love God, we must love our fellow man.  Love walks hand-in-hand with forgiveness. Let’s face it. Love risks being hurt.

Forgiveness:  Amazing Grace

I appreciate the redemptive grace of forgiveness far more now than I did 30 years ago. My history is compiled with episode after episode of some form of abuse. What I have endured in my lifetime many people go to a movie theater to watch, and I’m not just referencing the teenage escapades of \”Mean Girls\”.

As a child, I didn’t think that my life was any different from anyone else’s. Scripture was quoted to me as justification for bad behavior. Of course, being the child who wanted to go to heaven and not hell, I accepted my circumstances. In fact, part of my coping mechanism was to see myself as part of the problem. Thus, I entered  my adult life only to experience greater abuses. I believed that I must be doing something wrong. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I wasn’t praying hard enough. I wasn’t doing all the things that God expected me to do. I was being punished.

I was raised to believe that we are all put here on earth to save people’s souls. I heard that reference in numerous Sunday morning sermons and tent revivals. Whether by personal witness or  intervention, we are here to spread the Gospel and win souls for God. It wasn’t until I entered therapy as an adult, and later converted to Catholicism that I learned a valuable lesson. God did not put me here to be anyone’s doormat. And He certainly did not send me here to save anyone’s soul. He already sent someone to do that. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)  As a Catholic Convert, I now proclaim the Good News with that disclaimer.

It is not my, or your, responsibility to purge the sins of those who sin against us. It is only our  responsibility to forgive them, so that we can embrace the full potential of the life God has planned for us, without carrying the unnecessary baggage of self-pity and resentment.

God tells us, “For I know the plans I have in mind for you. . . plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and coming pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me. . .and I will change your lot.” (Jeremiah 29:11 – 14)

This Scripture verse is perhaps one of my most favorite.  It reminds me that we are in God’s care at all times regardless of the conditions, and if we believe, trust, and seek Him, we will be released from whatever is troubling us.

I truly believe that forgiveness is a grace that comes from God.  However, it is also a gift that we give to ourselves.  No one can rob you of your joy, except by giving them permission.  By holding on to anger, resentment, hostility, and self-pity, you do nothing to heal yourself, and delay living the life that God intended for you.  Yes, life is full of injustice, abuse, inhumanity and suffering.  You will always find indignation, condemnation, and arrogance.  There are offenders who will never acknowledge their wrong doing, and victims who will never forgive. Yet, withholding forgiveness is merely a futile attempt to inflict pain on an offender who will never feel that pain.  In fact, you have to get to a place in your life where you understand and appreciate that there is nothing in this life that you could do to that person that God doesn’t already have planned for them – – – if they do not acknowledge their sins, and seek God’s forgiveness.

Forgiveness:  Let Go and Let God

It is important to reiterate here that by forgiving someone you are not called to forget. You are called to let go. You are not called to dismiss memories.  You are called not to obsess over them.  Remembering is part of the healing process. In time, the memories and the hurt fade, leaving you with wisdom to share with those who might also be suffering. Let the apostle Paul’s experience in the Ephesus prison inspire you through his letters to the Philippians.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

Here is a man who suffered and used his experience to help others. He did not recall his experience in a vindictive way, but as a testimony that through God all things are possible. Paul later became a saint. I cannot guarantee that suffering will ensure you sainthood, I am confident that by letting go and letting God you embrace a more fulfilling life; rising from the ashes as a living testimony.

In October 2006, the Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was tested. A lone shooter walked into a school and fatally shot ten young girls.  The senseless murder was difficult for the nation to understand.  However, the Amish families who lost their precious children were poised to show the nation and the world the true meaning of forgiveness.

It was later revealed that the shooter, Charles Roberts, who committed suicide at the scene, had been tormented for nine years by the premature death of his young daughter.  He never forgave God for her death.  In his despondence, he took the lives of those ten girls as some sort of restitution, and then took his own life. How do you forgive?

In a culture where condemnation, finger-pointing and lawsuits abound, the Amish community showed the grace of forgiveness by reaching out to Charles Roberts’ family.  In fact, during their grief, the Amish families visited the Roberts’ family to help comfort them in their sorrow.  In perhaps the most profound example of forgiveness as God teaches, these quiet, simple and humble families, far removed from modern culture, transcended any sensationalized story that day, but merely living out God’s teaching publicly.

Forgiveness:  An Rx for Peace

When forgiveness seems impossible for you, take a moment to reflect on the life of Jesus. If anyone who ever walked the face of the earth knows the true purpose and redemption of forgiveness it would be our Savior, Jesus Christ. What hurt could there be done to us in this lifetime that is worse than what Jesus endured? He was truly a victim. He knew the betrayal of friends, abandoned by those he loved, and he was physically abused, chastised, condemned, tortured, and executed. Yet as he hung on the cross in pain that many of us will never know, he asked God to forgive those who hurt him. (Luke 24:34) “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  

How many times have you said or done something to someone and later asked yourself, “why did I do that?” All too often people act upon impulse; a conditioned response based upon their personal experiences. For them, they have no clue why they did what they did. Then there is the pure evil factor. There are times when events can be nothing more than pure evil with no explanation. The events simply defy reason. Your objective is not to understand why. Your mission is to forgive – “for they know not what they do.”  Otherwise, they would have possessed the love of God and would have never hurt you.

Remember that forgives is a process.  It is not a single act.  It doesn’t occur with one prayer, or as a band-aid applied toward reconciliation.  It is a spiritual surgical procedure.  It requires patience, care and convalescence.  When you are ready to let go and let God, the peace process begins.

For your consideration, here is my prescription for seeking peace through forgiveness. It may not work for you, and that’s alright. Take the time to find your strategy and embrace the blessings that God has waiting for you.

1 Acknowledge and accept that you did not come to earth to be anyone’s doormat, or to save anyone’s soul.  Give Christ all the glory and honor.

2 Recall the hurt inflicted upon you and acknowledge any culpability.

3 Pray for strength and guidance to forgive the person by name, and their actions.  This effort will not take a minute, it may take years.  That’s alight.  Forgiveness is a process.  Wounds take time and care to heal.  Give yourself permission to heal and grow in wisdom and grace.  This is not a quick fix.

4 While attending Mass, place that person’s name on the altar (figuratively speaking) during prayer intentions.  Tell God that you release them to His care and release them from your hurt.  Again, ask God to heal your wounds, mend your spirit.

5 The of act of releasing is an effort that many people find helpful. Write the offender’s name and actions on a piece of paper.  Hold the paper in hand, acknowledge before God that you forgive them, and ask for God’s mercy and grace on their soul.  Pray that God will release you from the hurt you have suffered, and ask Him to replace that hurt with peace. Now you can either wad up the paper and throw it in the trash, or burn it and cast the ashes to the wind.  Regardless of the method you choose, this act is a physical and emotional detachment from the memory.

6 Find peace in mercy. Remember as much as you would ever wish harm on the person who hurt you, they will stand before God in judgment one day, just as you will.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matt 5:7)

NOTE:  If you suffer from a deep hurt from physical, sexual or emotional abuse, please seek Christian counseling and find the healing that you deserve.  God does not want you to suffer in silence.  You are a child of the Most High God who loves you beyond your comprehension.  Give Him the opportunity to help you heal.  It is possible.

© 2014. Diane McKelva.  All rights reserved.

“Forgiveness:  Love’s Companion” ® Trademark of book by Diane McKelva pending publication.

Resources:

Life Of The Beloved by Henri Nouwen

When Bad Things Happen To Good People by Harold S. Kushner

Forgiveness A Catholic Approach by Fr. Scott Hurd

Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy by Donald B. Kraybill

A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard

Catholic Charities (Contact them for referral for Christian counseling for abuse)

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Recognized as the former Editor in Chief, Diane McKelva is now the Editor Emeritus of Catholic Stand. You can learn more about Diane and her work here.

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  • FrScott Hurd

    Thanks for the fine article and the reference and link to my “Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach.” Best wishes with your own book, and may God continue to bless your writing.

    • Oh, thank you, Father. How blessed I am that you would take the time to read my article and thank me. Thank you for visiting Catholic Stand, and for your insights into forgiveness. Peace be with you.

  • Ms_Scotty

    Thank you, Diane.

  • David Peters

    Diane, this is one of the best articles I have ever read, and certainly one of the most important. Thank you sharing from your own life. I think we can all apply what’s written here at some point in our lives. It is not easy to forgive, but I love your emphasis on healing for us, the process involved, and loving others. Wow.
    Articles like this are why I love Catholic blogs. Thanks and God bless.

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  • John Darrouzet

    Diane, you have written your best post ever in this one!

    At the heart of the message from Jesus is forgiveness. You have uncovered how it is love’s companion. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Robbe Sebesta

    Diane, I feel like you were supposed to write that directly to me, for me. How utterly selfish of me to feel that way, but I do. And I thank you.

  • Phil Dzialo

    Forgiveness is not closure:: It’s a process which is long and painful. Here is my story of closure….hope it sheds light.

    http://healingandempowerment.blogspot.com/2012/07/moving-from-apology-to-forgiveness-to.html

    • Phil, I feel blessed that you would share such a personal story here with us. Reading your story, and “meeting” your handsome son, Adam, gives me a greater understanding of who you are with respect to your position on Catholic Stand articles/issues. Of course, you know that I’m going to say that I admire you and Sharon for your abundant love and compassion for your son. Although you might not feel that you are performing anything less than a parent should for his child, when I look into the eyes of your son in the photo, I see a grateful soul who is blessed to have you as his father. Likewise, I’m confident that Adam has and is touching people’s lives in ways that you will never know. Adam, his story, and your journey has certainly touched mine. Peace be with you. Diane.

    • Phil Dzialo

      Thank you for your kind words

    • jamey brown

      Thank you for the courage and honesty in sharing your story, Phil. I can somewhat empathize with your suffering since I had a similar story with a little sister who was severely retarded and also suffered with terrible seizures. Seeing someone so innocent suffering so much drove me to Atheism at age 13. I eventually went on to drink and drugs for nearly 2 decades. When I sobered up, a girlfriend gave me the book “I Aint Much, Baby–But I’m All I’ve Got” by Jess Lair. It was the perfect book for me at the time. It said on the very first page that many substance abusers become Atheists because they see the whole world as revolving around themselves; but when they sober up they see that everything revolves around something great at the center–like planets around the sun. Many become believers at that time. I took those words to heart. While I see that your story
      is much different than mine, there might be some connections. After decades of sobriety I have come to learn that a greater good does come out of every evil, out of every tragedy. Your care for your dear son Adam and the other poor children with disabilities is certainly an inspiration to me, and I am sure, to many, many others. Thanks once again.