Would you be willing to humor me as I try to explain why forgiveness, although a true principle, is not a magic bullet?
Yes? Ah, I knew I could count on you! I will begin by explaining that I actually do believe in forgiveness. My previous ramblings may have led you to believe otherwise, but I hope this post will clear everything up for you...and perhaps me.
In the Old Testament, there is a wonderful story about forgiveness. Truly it has become one of my favorite scripture stories. (Many thanks to James Ferrell in his book, The Peacegiver, who pointed it out to me.) The story is in 2 Kings somewhere....it seems that David...the killer of giants...had to go into hiding for a time because King Saul was jealous of him. During that time, David acquired a following, and they made their living by guarding sheep for a wealthy man called Naman. Apparently sheep theft by lawless highway men was a big problem during those times. Everything went as planned (meaning David and his men did their job well) until it came time for Naman to pay (a previously agreed upon price). Naman pretended not to know who the men were and called them thieves and highway man and refused to pay them.
When David heard this news, he was furious (understandably). He gathered his men and they prepared to march on Naman's house and kill every man in the household. Along the road, however, Naman's wife, Abigail met the men. She apologized, and asked David to forgive her. She brought with her everything that Naman had agreed to pay. David accepted Abigail's offering and turned away from killing Naman and his household.
In The Peacegiver, James Ferrel, points out that Abigail was a type of Christ, a foreshadowing. In the same way that she came to David, gave him everything that he had been promised and should have received and asked him to forgive her, our Savior Jesus Christ comes to us. Through the Atonement, He gives us everything that we should have received, or restores that which was lost by the one who sinned against us. Then because He has taken the sins of the world upon Himself, He asks us to forgive Him.
Notice, that Naman appears not to have repented, but David was given what he had been promised and asked to forgive Abigail. When we compare this to ourselves, we see that it is not necessary to wait for the people who have offended us to ask our forgiveness. The Lord took those sins upon Him, and now asks us to forgive Him. Forgiveness or punishment of Naman and in turn our offenders is between them and the Lord.
It is a beautiful story, isn't it. So why do I get so upset when people talk to me about forgiveness? Am I a hypocrite? I will try to answer the first question, and leave the second in your capable hands.
First, telling me to forgive assumes that I am angry with my abuser. It may surprise you to learn that I am not. Not yet anyway. Oh maybe a little, but not in the way I should be. Anger is a very difficult emotion for me to allow myself to feel and express. Anger, my own and other peoples scares me.
Besides, even after months of people telling me, and of me, telling myself, "It's not your fault"...deep inside, I still feel that it was. My inner child is utterly convinced that there must have been something inherently wrong with me in order to have been treated that way by someone who should have loved me. So, no I am not angry with him. I am angry with myself. So should I forgive myself then? But you said it was not my fault! If I forgive myself that means it was my fault and if that is true I am inherently flawed and unforgivable so it doesn't matter anyway. I know that is illogical, but the subconscious is not always logical.
I imagine that it is hard for you to comprehend that I am not angry with my abuser, but it's true. For example, just yesterday I was overcome with some long repressed emotion. I wept because he didn't love me. How I wanted him too! How I tried to please him! And yet it was never enough. I still feel the sting of that rejection.
The next issue I have with forgiving, at least for now, is that if you tell me to forgive now, before I have even had a chance to feel angry, that negates my right to be angry. Should I not be angry about what happened to me? Would you have me believe that I have no right to be angry about my stolen innocence? No right to be angry about the emotional, physical and spiritual repercussions I suffer because of the abuse? I am just beginning to allow myself to feel anger. Sometimes it flares up like a backdraft so suddenly and so intensely that it frightens me. I believe, however, feeling that anger is part of the healing process. Should I forgive now and miss this portion of the healing? Surely not. I need to feel this anger so that there will be something to forgive.
An overemphasis on forgiveness, implies to me more concern for my abuser than for myself. Yes, I know, forgiveness is for me...to relieve me of the heavy burden. Still just as blaming myself for the abuse is illogical (but none the less deeply ingrained in me,) so is the idea that "forgive your abuser" means you are more concerned about his welfare than my own.
Finally, when people talk about forgiveness, it feels to me that they think they are offering me a life preserver, a magic bullet...a quick fix. Here, Leslie, just take this forgiveness pill like a good girl and then we can all be happy again. I wish it were that simple. And because I feel anger (that confusing emotion) whenever someone mentions forgiveness, it reinforces a part of me that feels I am fundamentally flawed. "See, these nice church people want to help, and you just get mad at them...it is because you are bad."
There is a movie I love to watch called "The Testaments". It is about the Savior's life and so during parts of the movie you see Him going about healing people. I often weep when I watch that. I wish that He would come and heal me that way...in an instant. Though I know He could do that for me, I also know He won't. He still has the power to make the lame walk or to cure leprosy...or cancer...but more often He allows us to struggle through it...supporting us along the way...for reasons that surely must be clearer in Heaven than they are to us right now. And so...just as a person with cancer often passes through a dark and difficult time before healing comes (if it comes), I, too, must travel through a dark and difficult time on my journey to healing.
I do believe in forgiveness, and when I am ready I will forgive my abuser, and I will forgive God, and perhaps I will even forgive myself. But it's going to take some time, and in the meantime....
Don't rush me.
Photo Attribution: Jiri Hodan