Wednesday, January 20, 2016
The Gift Of Forgiveness
A long time ago—say about 6-7 years?—I approached my mother and asked her forgiveness. I have no memory of what I said or did that I felt compelled to apologize for, but I do remember that I was prompted by the Spirit to do so because it was the upstanding, righteous thing to do...and I also recall that it wasn't anything major.
I don't know. I'll have to think about it.
I don't know if I'll ever be ready to forgive you.
Without any hint of melodrama I can assure you her response speared my heart. I came to this person—my own mother—with an open, hopeful heart expecting at least a grudging 'ok'. Maybe an 'I'm still angry, but I forgive you.' Or maybe even 'I'm not really ready to forgive you yet, but thank you for apologizing. I just need some time.'
I don't know.
I can still hear the venom in her voice as she said these words with a bitter, satisfied look in her eyes. The message was clear: I deserved to feel terrible for what I'd done/said. And feel terrible I did, but not because of what I'd done; I was sincerely apologetic. There was nothing more I could do. My conscience was clear.
I still felt terrible, however, because of the denial. To her, there was little to no hope of pardon, a thing which she took immense satisfaction from. I was stunned, of course; when someone bares their heart to you like I did to my mother, you don't sit there and question whether or not you know if you can forgive them, too busy considering how much saying so will hurt the other person. It is cruel and unusual punishment of the worst kind.
That moment so scarred me it nullified everything else surrounding the occasion (hence why I can't remember what I was even apologizing for). In the years since, I've never asked someone for their forgiveness. If I wrong them I simply apologize and move on. But I don't ask for their forgiveness. The wound went too deep. The only One I can manage to ask without the words sticking in my throat until I give up is God, Who is trustworthy and always graciously forgives me.
You're probably wondering why I'm bothering to tell you all this.
This is why: because forgiveness is precious. It is hope and redemption, and to deny someone—especially someone who is sincerely repentant—those things is despicable and shameful.
The other day on a forum I frequent, someone was asking for advice about whether or not to involve her son into the life of the MIL after all the MIL had done. There were, of course, varied responses, many of which weighed the offenses and proceeded to answer via merit. One poster indicated that she'd gone through a similar circumstance and, though the MIL had approached her and asked her forgiveness and asked to be involved in the life of the grandchild, was refused (forgiveness and all).
That made me so sad. I can understand gradually incorporating the MIL into the life of the grandchild to demonstrate actual repentance—because let's face it, some people are crazy and/or vindictive and will hurt our children if we give them opportunity!—but to refuse forgiveness? That kind of attitude and thinking doesn't make you look better than the other person; it puts you on the same, or even a lower, level. I would be extremely disappointed if my mother denied me a relationship with my grandmother because of unforgiveness.
This is coming from someone who understands what it is to be wronged...and when I say I understand what it is to be egregiously wronged, let me tell you, I DO.
I grew up with a woman who was, and is still, very sick. The neglect and verbal abuse I suffered is not something I'm revved up to speak about...but I can and will if necessary. I learned how to shield myself from this person by literally becoming someone else in front of her. I learned how to shut off my feelings (a thing which later became unfortunate, as I was unable to feel at all when I got PTSD...and it took me a very long time to feel again and to resist the tendency to turn said feelings off when I was hurting). I even learned how to play the manipulation game as a means of survival.
I still forgive this person. I let them know I forgive them. (I normally wouldn't do this unless said someone approached me, but the situation surrounding my confession merited it.)
When I find it difficult to forgive a particular thing, I surrender it to Jesus and say it is my will to forgive ____ for ___, and I am granted release and relief; I can feel the weight lifting and know that my desire to forgive has been granted.
Whether major or minor, forgiveness is not something to be given based upon merit. I'm going to repeat that because it is so, so important to grasp: forgiveness is not something to be given based upon merit. Why? Because if something could merit forgiveness, it wouldn't be forgivable; it would simply be excusable.
Things which wound us deeply enough to require forgiveness can be eased by an apology, and of course forgiveness can come more easily when we see that someone is remorseful, but ultimately we cannot truly forgive someone solely because they've demonstrated sorrow. An apology is great, but it doesn't negate what happened. It doesn't fix it. In other words, there is nothing that could be done to gain the necessary pardon; the offer of forgiveness is a gift.
Forgiveness is a choice to extend grace. I can choose to forgive someone regardless of whether or not they apologize. I can choose to forgive someone regardless of whether or not they're even aware they've wronged me. Forgiveness accepts wrongdoing (or perceived wrongdoing), and grants redemption in the midst of it.
Forgiveness is a beautiful gift. Offering it to someone will be one of the greatest things you ever do in your lifetime...so be brave, and be gracious. Everyone needs compassion—perhaps especially when they're at their worst.
**I don't want anyone to confuse forgiveness with renewal of trust. Trust is something that must be earned, and setting up—and remaining within—healthy boundaries is necessary for all parties involved. I can forgive someone for never being there for me, but I'm not about to wait up for them when they say 'I'm going to come to ____' until I see evidence that sustains such belief (though I will likely keep such thoughts to myself). Likewise, I can forgive someone for abusing me and violating my trust...but I'm not about to hand my heart back to them on a silver platter so they can do it again.**