Okay. I've been through a lot in the church. I've experienced some pretty traumatically nasty things. Church split. Fired. Resigned. I've experienced countless loss of friends, betrayals, and abuse. I'm not whining. I'm just stating some facts because I want to talk about forgiveness. Something I've had to do many times. As it has been done for me.
It's interesting when these things come up in conversation, the topic of forgiveness often comes up too. Some super-spiritual people assume that if you go through these horrendous things and you still feel the pain of it or talk passionately about the trauma, then you haven't forgiven. I just don't agree with that at all.
I was saying to Lisa yesterday that I wish I was like some wise guru who could, after he's been seriously hurt, just take a deep cleansing breath and let it all go instantly like a balloon. But I'm not a wise guru. No argument there.
I was talking with a friend the other day and we were asking ourselves how you know when you've forgiven someone. What is the test of forgiveness? Here some things I've concluded:
- First of all there has to be the admission that the person really did hurt you. It doesn't do any good denying that he didn't actually hurt you or that you didn't feel it. Forgiveness can't even begin with this attitude.
- It certainly doesn't mean you no longer feel the pain of what happened. Forgiveness can be extended to the one who wounded you. But it doesn't mean the wound loses its sensitivity.
- It is important to say "I forgive you!" Or, if it isn't possible or prudent to say so to the person, to pronounce, "I forgive so and so!" Speaking truth into our situation is a powerful reshaper of reality.
- You are willing to consider restoring the person to the original nature of their relationship with you before they hurt you. Willing. But in some cases this would be unnecessary and even unwise.
- A test for me has been that I have been able to have a cordial conversation with the person(s), and even have coffee together or a meal. This isn't always necessary, or wise, and sometimes not even possible. But when I felt it was possible, safe enough and helpful, I've done it.
Trust is often seriously damaged. It is valid to acknowledge that perhaps the person can't be trusted with the responsibility to be trusted at the level you trusted him at. Read that again. I meant it.
- The hurt doesn't deliver dysfunction to your life anymore. You have genuinely been healed of the cancerous dis-ease. When the memory emerges from out of the depths by surprise, it doesn't completely derail your life for an extended period of time.
- You are able to speak positively about the person (if that is possible). You can look beyond the personal hurt she inflicted upon you and see that she is not necessarily a monster, but that she is human just like you are, sometimes prone to make mistakes that hurt others, and that she has the chance to move beyond such destructive behavior.
- You can do all the above without them acknowledging their wrongs or apologizing for the wrongs they've done to you. Often people hurt us completely unaware of the ramifications of their destructive words or behaviors. I say this because Jesus exemplified this purest kind of forgiveness when he forgave his murderers. They didn't know what they were doing.
- Final and most important test: you are willing to risk loving and trusting again.
There could be more. But hey, you know me with my lists of 10.